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The Little Ice Age Did Change Human History

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Which of these ring in your mind when you hear the word ‘Little Ice Age’: primitive people wearing animal skins trekking across miles of continental glaciers, desperately looking for food or Snowball Earth?

Glaciologists have proved that there have been numerous ice ages. A larger number of them occurred before human beings first appeared on the planet. And the most familiar image of ice ages is relatively a mild one. However, some ice ages went beyond just northern hemisphere ice sheets to the point that the entire planet froze over, for hundreds of millions of years – Snowball Earth.

Well, planet earth seems to have three distinct settings:

  • Greenhouse: The global temperatures, particularly in the tropical regions, rise to a point where there are no ice sheets.
  • The ‘icehouse’: There may be some ice sheets, but their extent varies significantly.
  • Snowball Earth: The entire planet freezes to form a giant snowball!

One of the major mysteries glaciologists have been unable to explain fully is why ice periodically advances and retreats.

It’s easy to forget how variable global climate can be from a geological time perspective. This is because these extreme changes are hard to imagine. Actually, glaciologists are still puzzled over how the planet emerged from the most recent ice age. It is an event that ushered in a warm climate and probably the rise of human civilization.

Think of it this way…

Within a geological blink of an eye, continental glaciers in the northern hemisphere began to collapse gradually. Warm temperatures spread quickly southwards. There was a point in time when crocodiles swam in freshwater lakes in the North Pole, and probably health palm trees grew in Antarctica.

This sounds like a wild imagination, but the earth oscillates between phases with all ice sheets and phases without ice. Currently, we are in the middle phase. Probably this is the main reason we all have a faulty perception of global climate as stable and accommodating.

The Little Ice Age

In the approximately 5,000 years of documented human history, there was only a single period in which humans got a real taste of the climate’s potential for moodiness. This period began early 14th century and lasted for a couple of hundreds of years.

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Image Credit: Northumbria University, Newcastle

It is during this epoch, often referred to as the Little Ice Age, the global temperatures dropped by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. While this doesn’t sound like much change compared to the extremes associated with Snowball Earth, people who lived through this period documented that it was dramatic.

Philipp Blog, a Vienna-based historian, strongly believes that it’s no coincidence that there is a complicated link between economic, intellectual, and social disruptions associated with the changing climate and the exploration, emerging markets, and the intellectual freedom. The latter was the birth of the enlightenment. The entire Little Ice period marked the end of the Middle Ages and ushered in the modern world.

The changing world

The Little Ice Age appears to be a perfect example of how often humans find a consensus around all aspects of global climate change.

Well, that’s a joke.

For sure, scientists used different techniques to assess historical temperatures. They have proved that during the Little Ice Age period, the earth became cooler. Besides, there are written accounts of ‘increased cold’ in the form of records of wine growers, diaries and letters, sermons, and more.

Whatever the cause of the decrease in temperature, according to Blom’s arguments, the effects were more pronounced. In China, one of the most powerful countries globally currently, the Ming dynasty crumbled in 1644. It was undermined by erratic harvests among other factors.

In the European continent, lakes, rivers, and harbors froze. This led to phenomena including the ‘frost fairs’ on the famous River Thames. Birds iced up and fell dead from the sky, and most women died of hypothermia. Probably you read about the King of France whose beard froze while he was sleeping. It’s not just a story. It’s the reality of ice age.

Some of the famous events in European history have been linked to this ice age. For example, the Spanish Armada was crashed by an unprecedented Arctic hurricane in 1588. Besides, the Great Fire of London in the late 16th century was caused by the extremely dry summer that succeeded the harsh winter.

Do you ever wonder why the most admired violins in human history made by Guarneri and Stradivarious are associated with the Little Ice Age? According to Blom, trees took longer to mature due to the extreme cold, which led to dense wood with outstanding sound quality.

Changes in social institutions

Image Credit: New Scientist

Blom cites research that proves that the most consequential impact of the decreased global temperature was the disruption of the grain harvest. This created a fundamental shift in social order in the entire European continent and beyond. The Little Ice Age caused long periods of continent-wide and probably global agricultural crisis. For hundreds of years, grain harvests didn’t reach the previous yield level, and this affected the fabric that held societies together.

Before this epoch, society was more organized along feudal lines. A more significant number of the population was peasant farmers who toiled in farmlands owned by the wealthy ‘Lordly’ social class. Typically, town life was dominated by highly restrictive guilds. As documented by Blom, this lifestyle valued social capital but didn’t encourage anyone to go beyond their station. This kind of social order had lasted for so many centuries.

But things changed with the advent of Little Ice Age.

Panics, food riots, uprisings, and rebellions became common. Coupled with the spike in witch hunt and trials, these sudden, negative changes weakened the social cohesiveness. In the pre-scientific world, witches were believed to be directly responsible for weather changes. So, who was responsible for the falling temperatures and chaos associated with it?

Witches?

Yes… at least that’s what most people thought. And it made sense just like any other explanation.

Over time, more pronounced society structural shifts emerged. Peasants didn’t have surplus grain for their feudal lords, and the entire feudal system collapsed. Local crops were failing, trading activities got disrupted, the money concept, and the ability to purchase or even sell something with cash took on a significant role. Cities such as Amsterdam and others gradually became thriving economic centers of rapidly growing commercial networks. What’s more, the population in these areas grew tenfold within just 100 years.

It is during this period when markets and laws of markets emerged and took on a critical role in human affairs. The new dispersion created a foundation for the new breed of ruthless, ambitious, and money-minded man. Amsterdam became a home of the world’s biggest company (Dutch East India Company), an exploitative business organization. Blom’s works reveal a story of Jan Pierterszoon Coen, an official in the Dutch East India Company, who burned down the Jakarta City and led an expedition to punish every trader who violated the company’s code.

He executed merchants, killed about 15,000 people in the islands, and even sold their supervisors to slavery. Blom argues that the rule of markets and exploitation became inseparable, a situation that led to the justification of the exploitation of both people and natural resources. This would later worsen and lead the entire world to the contemporary moment of environmental issues.

But not everything associated with the Little Ice Age was negative. The 17th and 18th centuries were majorly characterized by the rapid expansion of trade across Europe and the formation of empires. This was linked to the growth in technology and more sophisticated methods of harnessing nature’s power. Besides, these 200 years saw the specialization of agricultural regions that gave rise to international markets.

 

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The Great Ice Age: Palaeoecologic and Natural Climatic Changes Following It

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The Great Ice Age
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It is natural for us to forget how variable the earth’s climate has been centuries ago, across different geological time frames. The main reason behind it is the extent of such variability is beyond our imagination. Can you picture the earth as a big ball of ice, from the North Pole to the South Pole? No matter how difficult it is to imagine the earth shrouded in ice entirely, the truth is the oldest and longest period of glaciations existed for three hundred million years. Yes, we are talking about the Great Ice Age.

What is an Ice Age?

We can define an Ice Age as a prolonged period of decrease in the Earth’s temperature, resulting in the expansion of ice sheets as well as alpine glaciers in polar regions. An ice age is characterized by the presence of huge sheets of ice or glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere and extremely cold climate throughout the year. There are remains of glaciers from the previous ice age in places like Antarctica and Greenland.

What gives birth to an ice age?

An ice age is not something that happens overnight. These ages have shaped the geography and history, but what factors result in the formation of one such age?

If in the northern hemisphere, temperatures in summer remain below the freezing point for thousands of years, an ice age begins. The earth’s orbit and tilt affect which areas get minimum sun rays.

The previous ice age:

The Earth has witnessed at least five ages with glaciers covering significant portions of the planet over a period of 4.6 billion years. The Pleistocene Epoch started nearly 2.6 million years from now and has ended 11,700 years ago. Humans evolved in the Pleistocene Epoch and inhabited almost all regions of the planet towards the end of it. The stage that followed it is currently known as the Holocene Epoch.

How was the climate during the Great Ice Age?

The climate used to be drier and colder during the Great Ice Age. Since most areas were covered with enormous sheets of ice, the rainfall was at least fifty percent less than current times. There were summers and winters, but the cooler summers failed to melt the ice. The average temperature of the Earth was 12 degrees approximately, not enough to melt snow in northern regions. As the snow piled up on the snow, glaciers formed.

Life on earth in the Ice Age

Even if human beings evolved, several species of large mammals became extinct due to the harsh climate of the Ice Age. One of the primary sources of information about the existence of life during this period in Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. Remains of plant life, insects, animals, and human skeletons are preserved here. Some of the animals inhabiting the Earth at that time were woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, and mastodons. Other mammals such as macrauchenia, tenrecs, and moonrats thrived in this era.

The latest ice age did not witness any dinosaur as they became effaced from the face of the planet millions of years before that. Crocodiles, turtles, lizards, pythons, and various other reptiles could be found. Birds also flourished, including geese, eagles, hawks, and ducks.

When it comes to vegetation, there was limited vegetation in most areas. Conifers, cypress, yews, oaks, and beeches were among the plants that survived the cold weather conditions. Prairie grasses and flowering plants such as rose, lily, and orchid could be spotted on the ground.

Mass extinction

Approximately 13,000 years from now, seventy-five percent of the large animals of the Ice Age died out. Scientists have tried to understand for years the causes of such mass extinction. Two big reasons are vast climate change and overhunting by humans. Natural disasters in selective portions have also been responsible for wiping out large populations of animals.

Can we experience an ice age again? After learning about the Great Ice Age, if you are wondering whether we are heading into another ice age, we’ll answer your question. Scientists have pointed out that there might be another ice age in the future. However, global warming is instrumental in delaying the process. So, researchers have predicted that humans might start experiencing another ice age after at least 100,000 years.

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Environmental Justice: Definition, Principles, And Importance In Today’s World

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Environmental Justice
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At the beginning of the 1980s in the United States of America, environmental justice became popular as a concept. It emerged as a social movement to enable the fair allocation of environmental burdens and environmental benefits.

What do we understand by the term “environmental justice”?

We can define environmental justice as meaningful involvement and fair treatment of all human beings irrespective of their color, race, income, or national origin in matters of implementation, development, and application of environmental laws, policies, and regulations. So, it stresses the equitable distribution of benefits and environmental risks, as well as rights to individuals and communities to flourish and function in society.

Affected groups:

Among groups most affected by environmental injustice are the racial minority and the high-poverty groups. Poor people report at least 20 percent of health problems due to industrial impure air releases.

A wide range of environmental justice matters has affected African-Americans. Cancer Alley is one infamous example. The place has offices of 125 companies producing petrochemical products, impacting the lives of residents.

Indigenous groups have suffered a lot due to environmental inequality. Native Americans have been subject to abuses because of mining activities for extracting uranium in Western America.

Environmental justice and its key principles:

  • Environmental Justice promotes the holiness of Mother Earth, interdependence and coexistence of all life forms, ecological unity and freedom from environmental destruction.
  • Environmental justice opines that public policies should be framed free from bias or discrimination of any kind, offering justice and respect to all humans.
  • Environmental justice also affirms political, cultural, economic, and environmental rights to all. Environmental Justice gives the right to all communities to take part in decision making, planning, enforcement, implementation, and evaluation as equal partners.
  • It demands universal protection against perils like nuclear testing, extraction, disposal, and production of hazardous or toxic elements as all have the inborn claim to clean land, food, air, and water.
  • Environmental justice is there to safeguard the rights of victims who have been subjected to environmental lawlessness. Such people are eligible for receiving quality treatment and full compensation.
  • Environmental justice points out the necessity of educating existing and future generations in ecological and social matters.
  • It clearly states that all workers should get a healthy and safe work environment and nobody can be forced to select unemployment or unsafe livelihood.
  • It also prohibits military occupation, exploitation, and repression of peoples, cultures, lands, and other forms of life on Earth.
  • Last, but not the least, environmental justice also requests us, the individuals, to make sensible choices when it comes to consumption of Mother Earth’s resources and produces less waste. We should make healthy lifestyle choices for the sake of future generations and the healing of the natural world.
Why do we need environmental justice?
  1. Our relationship with the environment- It defines the relationship of human beings with the environment. Empowerment makes us realize that preserving and protecting the environment is mandatory for protecting humans and other life forms.
  2. Sustainability- It is only through environmental justice that we can comprehend sustainability. Sustainability tells us that how to utilize renewable resources and reduce our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy.
  3. Conservation of resources- It also highlights the significance of fair usage and conservation of natural resources. Unfair distribution can lead to acute scarcity of resources in several areas.
  4. Fair distribution- It also increases awareness about the fair distribution of the resources of the planet. Justice applies whenever one group has more resources as opposed to another, also when one person attempts to take resources from the environment of another person.
  5. Strengthens environmental policies- Another positive aspect of environmental justice is that it reinforces environmental policies, regulations, and laws. Justice is of two types, namely, procedural justice and consequential justice. Environmental justice’s principles give strength to laws by advocating equal use of resources for all.
Conclusion:

Environmental justice is of supreme importance in its struggle for maintenance and improvement of a healthy and clean environment for all, and especially for the weaker sections of the society who have been surviving closest to pollution sources. The Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, 1972’s Pittston coal incident, and case against Chevron Refining in 1993 are notable instances from the past of environmental justice applied for the welfare of wronged citizens.

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Canadian Environmental Policy: Workings And Impacts

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Canadian Environmental Policy
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Each government has its own way of dealing with things. However, almost all the governments of Canada invested equally in order to maintain the environmental harmony intact and keep the rich biodiversity of Canada alive. In order to deal with the serious concerns of climate change and maintain the air and water clean, Canada has taken aid from many global partnerships. Canadian Environmental Policy works on the basis of those contracts and deals.

Environmental Crisis of Canada:

There are various issues related to the environment that Canada is facing-

  • Canada’s one of the biggest sources of income is the Oil and Gas industry. However, it contributes a lot to the harmful greenhouse gas emissions as well.
  • The air in the cities is of really poor quality.
  • There is plenty of fresh water available in Canada. However, the constant usage of that water has started ruining the biodiversity altogether.

All these problems have made Canada face the crisis of climate change more strongly than ever. That is why; the workings of Canadian Environmental Policy have become more than necessary with time.

International Agreements:

There are many international agreements that have helped the Canadian government form the structure of Canadian Environmental Policy.

  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change:

UNFCC was formed in order to address the issues related to climate change. There are almost 195 parties involved in this treaty. Canada’s contribution here is to provide data related to greenhouse gas emissions. Canada also plays the part in properly by taking proper steps to reduce gas emission. It also helps other countries from the third world to fight climate change with the aid of resources.

  • Paris Climate Agreement:

195 nations signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 with the aim of keeping the issue of global warming under control.  The goal was to limit the increase of temperature within 1.5 degrees Celsius from the earlier 2 degrees Celsius on a yearly basis.

  • Climate and Clean Air Coalition:

This partnership was made between the government, the public, and the private sectors. The aim of this partnership is to replace the short-lived climate pollutants or better known as SLCP. These pollutants are extremely harmful to the health of the planet as they belong to the group of greenhouse gasses. Not only that, but they are also responsible for global warming and poor quality of air as well.

  • Global Methane Initiative:

This international association seeks to reduce methane pollution. Another aim is to use methane as a source of energy. GMI takes special notice of all the production and consumption systems of oil and gas, agriculture, sewage system of the municipality, etc.

Federal Acts:

Apart from international partnerships, the Canadian government has taken several steps on its own as well.

  • Clean Air and Climate Change Act:

This act is actually an amendment to the Environment Protection Act. According to this act, greenhouse gasses are a threat to both the environment and the health of human beings.

  • Energy Efficiency Act:

The Energy Efficiency Act helps the government to regulate the import and export of products that consume energy. According to this Act, any product that consumes energy must be appropriate according to Canadian rules in order to get into Canada. Another aim of this Act is to use alternative sources of energy more and more.

  • Regulatory Framework for Air Emissions:

The aim here is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants responsible for corrupting the air quality. The Industrial sector, transportation, consumer products, indoor air quality- these are the main four aspects for which this framework is dedicated to.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act:

This Act was established in 1999. This Act was immensely important for it made the government more empowered to use its full potential for protecting the health of both the environment and human beings. Canadian Environmental Protection Act established a proper standard for protecting the environment.

Apart from these, there are several other acts in work as well- The National Energy Board Act, Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Environmental Assessment Act, Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, and many more.

All these acts work together to create a proper environmental policy and help Canada deal with climate change issues and other problems associated with it.

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