Video: 8,050 Years of Human Impact on the Land

Posted by Ben Jervey

We tend to think of climate change as being a recent development. A product of our post-war lavishly industrialized consumer lifestyles. And while it's true that the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions have come in the past couple of generations—and all but a tiny percent since the Industrial Revolution—there is evidence that humans were impacting the climate as long as 8,000 years ago. Back then, the impacts all had to do with land use—largely clearing forests, which absorb carbon dioxide. 

Alexandra Witze writes about some new findings about humans' early climate meddling in Science News, saying "humans working the land put nearly 350 billion metric tons of carbon...into the atmosphere by the year 1850." She puts these numbers in context:

For comparison, between 1850 and 2000 people added 440 billion tons of carbon, mostly from burning fossil fuels — surpassing in a century and a half what had previously taken humankind eight millennia.

The video above tracks the change in land use over the past eight millenia. You can watch the land use changes spread from Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent out to India and Northern China, to Europe in Classical times, and on.