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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 Calcutta Botanical Gardens, A Paradise For Nature Lovers

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Calcutta Botanical Gardens
Image credit : Wikipedia

The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, also known as the Calcutta Botanical Garden, is located in West Bengal. Its earlier names were the Royal Botanic Garden and the Indian Botanic Garden. It is under the BSI (Botanical Survey of India) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests

 This sprawling garden one of the must-visit places in West Bengal for nature lovers. There is a wide range of plants that inhabit different types of birds. So, if you have a passion for photography, you’ll fall in love with this place. 

History of the Calcutta Botanical Garden:

The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden was founded by Colonel Alexander Kyd in 1786. He was an army officer working under the British East India Company. He created this garden to identify and grow different plants special of commercial value. Sir George King designed the interiors of the garden. William Roxburgh filled the area with plants brought from all parts of India and developed extensive barium over the years. 

So, prior to India’s independence, the British people referred to the garden as the East India Company’s Garden. Recently, in 2009, it got its name as the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in honor of the great scientist.

The Great Banyan Tree: a rare beauty

One of the most famous landmarks of the Botanical Garden that attracts tourists from all corners of the world is the Great Banyan Tree. Reckoned to be the world’s largest tree, it has a circumference of 330 meters approximately. It spreads gloriously over four acres of land, making it as large as a small forest. Though there is no official age record of the Great Banyan, its estimated age is at least 250 years. References to this gigantic tree have been found in travelogues dating back to the early 19th century, thus validating our statement.

After being hit by two great devastating cyclones in the years 1864 and 1867, the main trunk of the Great Banyan got fungus-infected and had to be cut out in 1952. But, because of its thousands of aerial roots, the tree did not cease to thrive and expand. The aerial roots originating from the branches and reaching the ground makes it look like a beautiful canopy of banyan trees. Such is the beauty of this tree that it inspired Brain Aldiss to write a novel, Hothouse, based on it. 

Major attractions of the Calcutta Botanic Garden:

The Calcutta Botanical Garden is the abode of 12,000 perennial plants and thousands of dried out plant species collected from all over the world. Other than the enormous Banyan tree, the garden is adorned with several other beautiful plants brought from Java, Sicily, Brazil, Malaysia, Sumatra, Nepal and other places: 

  • There are mango trees, Cuban Palms, banyan trees, tamarind trees, Bougainvillea, Citrus, Jasmine, Ferns, Hibiscus, the mad tree, mahogany trees, orchids, muli-haired bamboos, creepers, and multiple kinds of cacti. There are also unique floricultural, arboriculture, and aquatic plants.
  • Some exotic species of plants that you can spot here are Bread Fruit Tree, Giant Water Lilies, the Shivalinga Tree, Double coconut, and Krishnabot. 
  • Another interesting fact is that the famous tea cultivated extensively in Darjeeling and Assam was initially developed in the Botanical Gardens. 
  • There is a serpentine lake for tourists to enjoy boating. 
  • The ancient library of the Botanical Garden has an impressive collection. 
Animals that you can spot inside the Calcutta Botanic Garden: 

You can also spot different types of animals inside the Calcutta Botanical Garden premises. Some of them include the Indian Fox, jackals, and the Indian mongoose. A great variety of snakes also inhabit the gardens. 

Which is the ideal time to visit the Calcutta Botanic Garden? 

As the weather of Kolkata is extremely humid in summer and monsoon, winter is the best time to explore the city. So, plan your visit to the Botanical Garden between November and March. 

Conclusion: 

If you are in the city, you must pay a visit to this eco-friendly venue. The entry fee is only Rs 10 for Indian citizens and it remains open from 10 am to 7 pm. Daily walkers of the locality go for a yearly membership available at Rs 200 only. A one-day-trip with friends or family would be enough to explore the gardens. 

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Tree Planting An Exceptional Way To Mitigate The Consequences Of Climate Change

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Kids are ready to plant trees
Nature Talkies

Global warming is the rapid rise in the Earth’s average temperature. It is one of the major reasons behind drastic changes in the climate of several places. Trees are the greatest resource or natural technology that we can use against climate changes due to global warming. One of the easiest as well as cheapest methods of reducing the severe outcomes of climate change is tree planting measures. Planting billions of trees worldwide will effectively remove excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. So, environmentalists have suggested restoring the forest cover of the planet. Let us take you on a journey to the beautiful world of trees for better understanding of their capabilities.

Carbon absorption potential of trees:

  • Trees absorb the carbon that is one of the primary greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Plants take help of sunlight energy for performing photosynthesis. During this process they use water and carbon dioxide for creating glucose. In the end, they feed on the carbon and thus maintain a balance in the carbon content of the air.
  • Trees do not just capture carbon dioxide but also assist the soil in capturing and storing carbon. However, it is the oceans that absorb majority of all carbon emissions and suffer the devastating consequences of ocean acid unification.

How many trees do we need to plant to make a significant change?

Nature Talkies

The ‘Global Tree Restoration Potential’ study conducted by several scientists can help us answer this question. They measured the tree cover of the earth with the help of 80,000 satellite images and also mixed those results with climate variables such as topography and soil. The outcome was a global map indicating where more tree planting should take place for best results.

The good side of the story is that almost two-thirds of the planet’s land area have the potential of growing trees and supporting a forestall area. So, planting of billions of trees in the near future can solve our problem of global heating. Agro-forestry is an excellent forest management strategy in this respect.

How fast is the climate changing? When do we act?

Climate change is taking place faster than we can imagine. Therefore, we must act now to control the situation. As per recent studies, 0.9 billion ha of forest cover can easily store 205 giga tonnes of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. So, all nations should join hands and embark on a mission of planting trees in all possible places.

Trees that have higher potential to intake carbon dioxide than others:

The amount of carbon any tree can hold is known as carbon sequestration. They sequester the carbon by storing it in leaves, roots, branches and trunks. So, the trees that can store most carbon dioxide are the ones with dense wood and large trunks. The good thing is that many trees are there that fit this criterion:

  • Pines- Pines do an excellent job in sequestering carbon. The Ponderous, Hispaniola, white and red pines are not just great landscape plants but also beneficial in nature. As pines are extremely tall, their trunks store a lot of carbon dioxide.
  • Oaks- Oaks have dense wood and large canopies, two characteristics required for carbon sequestering. Besides, they are tall and attractive, enhancing the beauty of our planet.
  • Other coniferous and deciduous trees- Other than pine and oak, there is a wide range of conifers and deciduous trees that have fantastic carbon-absorption qualities. Some such deciduous trees are black walnut and horse- chestnut. Christmas tree is again another evergreen species of tree that has great carbon sequestering ability. So, we should focus on planting more of those trees.
Other ways of addressing global warming and climate change:

Other than tree planting initiatives, mitigation efforts to reduce global warming include development of advanced technologies to reduce the rates of carbon emission, preservation of existing forests, coastline protection, lessening the usage of fossil fuels and increasing usage of renewable energy sources like wind power, solar power, hydro-electric power and several others.

Conclusion:

If all us unite and take the vow of making the world a better place to live, soon there will be greenery all around us. With the restoration of forest areas, alterations in global climate will not be the greatest threat anymore.

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Radioactive Contamination: Causes, Effects, And Solutions

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Air pollution
Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

Radioactive contamination or radiological contamination can be defined as the deposition of as well as the presence of harmful radioactive elements on the surfaces of liquids, solids, and gases, even the human body. 

Sources of radiological pollution:

There are both human-made and natural causes of radioactive contamination. Let us try to understand those causes. 

Radioactive contamination may take place when radioactive gases, particles, or liquids are released in the environment. For instance, if a specific radionuclide used for making nuclear medicine is accidentally spilled, people can unknowingly spread the material as they wander about without even knowing it. 

Another reason behind radiological pollution includes processes like nuclear fuel reprocessing that releases radioactive xenon.

Nuclear fallout is the distribution of radioactive contamination by the total number of nuclear explosions that took place in the atmosphere between the 1950s and the 1980s. The exact number is 520. 

Naturally occurring radioactive pollution

A wide range of radionuclides naturally occurs in the environment. Elements such as thorium and uranium, as well as their decay products, exist in soil and rocks. Potassium-40, another primordial nuclide, is present even in the body of human beings. Other nuclides such as carbon-14, which can be found in all living things, are incessantly produced by cosmic rays. Though these are minor levels of radioactivity and therefore, pose little danger. However, they contribute to confusing measurement. 

NORM (naturally occurring radioactive materials) are concentrated or brought to the earth’s surface by human activities such as mining, extraction of gas and coal. 

Harmful outcomes of radioactive contamination

  • Genetic mutations- Radiation has severe effects on genetics. It damages DNA strands and results in a genetic breakup. Infertility, disfigured births, and blindness in infants are depressing outcomes. 
  • Soil infertility- Radioactive materials even pollute the soil when released in the environment. Radioactive elements react with the nutrients present in the soil, thus leaving the soil not just infertile but highly toxic. Crops harvested in such toxic soil spread diseases in both animals and humans. 
  • Diseases- The most common and most dangerous disease related to radiation is cancer. Other such disorders are anemia, hemorrhage, leukemia, premature aging, premature deaths, and cardiovascular complications. Leukemia, for example, is the result of radiation in one’s bone marrow. 
  • Burns- Radiation also gives burns, sores, and red lesions in our skin, sometimes leading to skin cancer. 
  • Cell destruction- Alteration of animal and human cells is another negative impact of radioactive contamination. The human body is unique as it is made up of millions of cells and each of these cells has its distinctive purpose. Radiation distorts these cells, and this explains the permanent failure of several organ systems and organs. So, with excessive pollution around us, deaths and lifelong illness are inevitable. 
Solutions of radioactive pollution:
  1. Proper disposal of radioactive waste- We cannot dispose of dangerous waste like regular waste. It can be either buried or incinerated. Since there are risks of leakage, storage of this waste should take place in concrete, heavy containers. Diluting the radiation is another available option. 
  2. Banning nuclear tests- There is no denying that nuclear power can be extremely destructive. Though the nuclear tests take place in deserts, studies prove that they escape from one ecosystem and reach another, affecting many lives. 
  3. Proper labeling- Containers having radioactive substances need to be clearly labeled so that nobody touches it without protective gear. Labeling is essential as a simple touch of any radioactive material, radiation enters the body. 
  4. Proper storage- Containers containing radioactive materials must be stored properly. To begin with, such materials need to be kept in radiation-proof containers. This will ensure no leakage or seeping during handling. So, proper storage can reduce the number of cases of sudden leakage. 
  5. Alternative sources of energy- Considering its threats and damages to the environment, it is better to discontinue the usage of nuclear power and depend on alternative sources of energy. Energy sources such as wind power, hydro-electric power, and solar energy are environment friendly. 
  6. Reusing- Since it is difficult to dispose or store radioactive waste, recycling and using it for other purposes is a smart option. 
Conclusion:

Nuclear tests need to stop for the greater good of all living organisms of the earth. 

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