Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Deaths of 60 million people in Americas in 1500s and global climate change

Aztec emperor Moctezuma II on the balcony of his palace before his murder by Spanish captors in June 1520. Library of US Congress

A Hendrick Avercamp's (1585–1634) painting of a Dutch waterway frozen in the extreme cold of winter: 'A Winter Scene,' c. 1610–1620, oil on panel, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Scientists report that in the century following the four voyages (1492–93, 1493–96, 1498–1500, and 1502–04) to the Caribbean and the Americas by Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), Italian Cristoforo Colombo, Spanish Cristóbal Colón (he was apparently a native of Genoa), European colonialism resulted in the deaths of 60m people. The European diseases and genocide that killed about 10% of the world's population triggered a climate crisis in Europe in particular, that brought famine and political upheaval. However, claims that revolts from Ireland to China and Japan in the 17th century all related to climate change are not valid.

It is estimated that the population of the Americas fell to just 5 or 6m within a hundred years. For comparison, Europe’s population in 1600 was 78m spread over less than half the area.

The Spanish campaign finally vanquished the Aztec Empire on 13 August 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) and Xicotencatl the Younger (1484-1521), the leader of the indigenous Tlaxcalans, captured Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, which became Mexico City that was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán.

“It wasn’t 600 to 800 Spaniards who conquered [Tenochtitlán]. It was thousands and thousands of Tlaxcalans, Huejotzingas or other peoples, who were under the Mexica yoke and wanted to liberate themselves,” archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma told Radio Formula.

“Cortés had 30,000 to 40,000 Mesoamericans fighting with him,” said Aurelio López Corral, an archaeologist in Tlaxcala. “He couldn’t have done it on his own.”

Jared Diamond (born 1937) in his 1997 book 'Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies' said that only 14 large animals have ever been domesticated: the cow, sheep, goat, pig, horse, Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, llama/alpaca, donkey, reindeer, water buffalo, yak, Bali cattle, and Mithan (gayal, domesticated Gaur), and none have in the past 4,500 years. Only one large animal, the llama/alpaca, was domesticated in the Americas.

Jared Diamond:

"We now know that, thousands of years ago, animals were ...the source of our major epidemic infectious diseases: smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis and others. The diseases infected us from domestic animals such as cattle, pigs and camels, with which we come into much closer, more frequent and more prolonged contact than with wild animals. It all began around 10,000 years ago when people began to domesticate livestock.

Almost all of our livestock were domesticated in Eurasia, from Eurasian wild ancestors. The only large animal domesticated in the New World was the llama, which didn’t infect us because we don’t milk or cuddle llamas as we do cows and calves, or sheep and lambs. That is why the major epidemic diseases of history have all been Eurasian diseases. Compared with Eurasia, the Americas were a healthy environment, and Native Americans a healthy people, until Europeans arrived, bringing their livestock-derived diseases. That is also why Native Americans lacked their own equivalent of smallpox to give back to Europeans."

Human-made climate change before the Industrial Revolution

William Ruddiman (born 1943) is a palaeoclimatologist and a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. He has for decades been highlighting the human or anthropogenic impact — relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature — on the environment that predates the Industrial Revolution.

In a 2007 paper, he wrote that "major plagues in Europe (the late Roman Era and the medieval Black Death) correlate with decreases in CO2 levels. The largest CO2 drop, which began in the 1500s, occurred at a time of mass mortality caused by early contact of indigenous Americans with Europeans. By affecting atmospheric CO2 concentrations, pandemics played a role in the century-scale temperature oscillations of the last 2000 years."

The Holocene is the current geological epoch and it began almost 12,000 years after the last glacial period.

Prof Ruddiman argues that instead of a new Ice Age, humanity has been saved by two innovations: farming and herding. When farmers burned trees and cleared other vegetation, they released carbon dioxide. However, when they planted rice in paddies — growing rice produces methane, a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide — and herded animals, especially cattle, they produced methane.

The two greenhouse gasses were produced in sufficient quantity that offset what would have been the beginning of another Ice Age. According to Ruddiman the Holocene we humans have lived through for 12,000 is not natural but an anthropogenic phenomenon.

Researchers at the University College London in a paper published in 2019 said the “large-scale depopulation” of the Americas resulted in massive tracts of agricultural land being replaced with trees and other new vegetation.

The change caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere resulted in the cooling of the planet, with globally lowered surface air temperatures dipping by 0.15C in the late 1500s and the early decades of the 17th century.

“The great dying of the indigenous peoples of the Americas resulted in a human-driven global impact on the Earth system in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” wrote the UCL team of Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis.

This scale of regrowth is estimated to have drawn down sufficient CO2 the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere eventually fell by 7-10 ppm (that is 7-10 molecules of CO2 in every one million molecules in the air).

"To put that in the modern context — we basically burn (fossil fuels) and produce about 3 ppm per year. So, we're talking a large amount of carbon that's being sucked out of the atmosphere," co-author Prof Mark Maslin told the BBC."There is a marked cooling around that time (1500s/1600s) which is called the Little Ice Age, and what's interesting is that we can see natural processes giving a little bit of cooling, but actually to get the full cooling — double the natural processes — you have to have this genocide-generated drop in CO2."

The authors note:

"A global synthesis of over 500 paleoclimate records shows that 1577–1694 is the only period of significant global cooling within the past two millennia, and the only part of the Little Ice Age (LIA) that was global in extent.

...The impacts of aerosols from large volcanic eruptions can also be ruled out as the dominant cause of carbon uptake on land from 1520 to 1610, despite such suggestions in the literature. Of the forty largest eruptions in the past 2500 years, only one occurred in the 1520–1610 period (Huaynaputina, Peru, in 1601), whereas two occurred in the century prior (1453, 1458, both Kuwae, Vanuatu) and two in the century after it (1641, Mt Parker, Philippines; 1695, unknown location). For documented tropical eruptions, which have the potential to impact the Earth system for longer, there were five during 1520–1610 compared to four during the following century; while only five extratropical eruptions occurred during 1520–1610 compared to 14 over the following century.

Probably the most similar 100 years in terms of total volcanic eruptions to 1510–1610 was 1610–1710, which did not show a large increase in terrestrial carbon uptake. Volcanic eruptions typically cause global temperatures to drop for a minimum of two to a maximum of ten years. Such short-term change of the expected radiative forcing does not reflect the temporal pattern of land carbon stock increase inferred from the isotopic signature of Antarctic ice-core CO2 records or double-deconvolution method. Overall, modelling studies investigating the impacts of volcanic eruptions suggest that they decreased surface air temperatures modestly over the period of the long LIA that affected the northern hemisphere between 1440 and 1920 but are unlikely to be the primary cause."

The Little Ice Age

According to NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen more than 1°C (degree Celsius) and 2°F (degrees Fahrenheit) above the late 19th century. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.

For reference, the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago, was about 5.5°C and 10°F colder than pre-industrial temperatures.

Antarctica's ice sheet is between 1.6 and 6.4 kilometres (1-4 miles) thick. If it melted, the sea level would rise by about 60 metres (200 feet).

The National Geographic says that the Laurentide Ice Sheet was almost 3 kilometres (2 miles) thick and covered North America from the Canadian Arctic all the way to the modern US state of Missouri.

The last Ice Age covered 25% of the Earth's land area according to USGS (US Geological Survey).

Climate change data typically are at average global levels and the data may appear to some people are not likely to be consequential.

The Little Ice Age (LIA) was a term coined by François E. Matthes in 1939 in a paper published by the American Geophysical Union. It covers a pattern of unusually cool weather roughly from the 16th to the 19th century. However, the contours are often from 1300 to the mid 19th century.

The LIA was not comparable with an Ice Age. It followed the so-called Medieval Warm Period with cool wet summers and cold winters that were common in the Northern Hemisphere in the late 1500s and the 17th century. There were no big ice sheets but glaciers expanded.

Besides the catastrophe in the Americas, sunspot activity and ice flow from the Arctic have been cited as causal factors.

NASA has noted that “Between the mid-1600s and the early 1700s the Earth’s surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere appear to have been at or near their lowest values of the last millennium. European winter temperatures over that time period were reduced by 1.8 to 2.7°F (1-1.5°C). This cooldown is evident through derived temperature readings from tree rings and ice cores, and in historical temperature records, as gathered by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Virginia.”

There isn't reliable Irish weather data for the 1600s due to the end of record-keeping with the dissolution of the monasteries, and the upheavals caused by the Williamite and Cromwellian Wars.

Data available show that the summer of 1641 was the third-coldest recorded over the past 6 centuries in Europe while the winter of 1641-42 was the coldest ever recorded in Scandinavia.

In the century both the Bosporus and the Baltic were frozen so thick that people could walk from one side to the other. "In 1695 Iceland was completely surrounded by sea ice, and according to other sources the sea ice reached halfway to the Faeroe Islands."

According to Central England Temperature data dating from 1659 to the present day, the coldest autumn (September-November) was in 1676 with a mean temperature of 7.50°C (45.50°F); the coldest winter (November-February) 1683/1684, −1.17°C (29.89°F); the coldest March 1674, 1.0°C (33.8 °F); the coldest May 1698, 8.5°C (47.3°F); the coldest June 1675, 11.5°C (52.7°F) and the coldest September 1674, 1675 and 1694 10.5°C (50.9°F).

The coldest February on record was in 1947, −1.9°C (28.6°F).

The bad weather in Europe triggered famines and also superstitions. In Germany the main region for murdering humans as witches, people were accused of literally being responsible for the terrible weather.

In 1626 up to 900 hundred were massacred in Würzburg in southern Germany.

This was a time of the wars of religion in Europe known as the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Armies engaged in savagery on a then-unprecedented scale.

In Spain, the dynasty known as the Casa de Austria (House of Habsburg) ruled the 17 provinces of the Spanish Netherlands, which comprised modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and areas of France and Germany.

The Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) mainly between seven northern provinces that had adopted Lutheran or Calvinistic Protestantism and Spain. The Dutch declared independence in 1581 and the Dutch Republic was declared in 1588. It would survive until a French invasion in 1795.

William the Silent, the Prince of Orange, would have become king but he was assassinated in 1584.

Despite climate change, the Republic would become the richest country in the world.

The Dutch flagship of the naval force that defeated the Spanish at the Battle of the Downs, English Channel 1639

The century from the conclusion of the Twelve Years’ Truce with Spain in 1609 until either the death of Prince William III in 1702 or the end of the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 is known in Dutch history as the “Golden Age.” It is said to have been a unique era of political, economic, and cultural greatness during which the small country on the North Sea, with a population of 1.5m in 1600, ranked among the most powerful and influential in Europe and the world.

First Modern Economy: Myths on tulips & most valuable firm in history

The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC: 1602-1799) — United East India Company in English, but commonly known as the Dutch East India Company, became the colonial enterprise. In the 1620s the Dutch massacred or enslaved about 15,000 inhabitants of the Banda Islands (in modern East Indonesia). The islands were known in Europe as the Spice Islands and the Dutch wanted to create a monopoly in the spices trade for the VOC.

In 1639 the Dutch ended Spain's role as a global naval power when it defeated a 75-ship armada in the English Channel.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) finished his famous painting in 1642 that became known as De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) from 1790 when it was said that "the varnish was grimy enough to suggest a crepuscular and mysterious night scene." It depicts members of an Amsterdam civic militia company.

The Rijksmuseum opened in The Hague in 1800. It then moved to Amsterdam in 1808 and in the same year, the City of Amsterdam loaned the painting to the museum. Its height is 379.5 cm × width 453.5 cm × weight 337 kg × weight 170 kg.

Geoffrey Parker, who was born in Nottingham, England, in 1943, is an emeritus professor of history at Ohio State University. In 2013 his monumental book, 'Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century,' was published and it chronicles revolutions, droughts, famines, invasions, wars and regicides — in effect a global crisis that extended from Ireland to Japan, and from the Russian Empire to sub-Saharan Africa. North and South America, too, suffered turbulence.

He noted incorrectly "Although humans seem to have played no part in precipitating the climate crisis of the seventeenth century, they suffered and died from its consequences all the same."

Parker wrote that in the mid-seventeenth century "more wars took place around the world than in any other era until the 1940s."

Prof Parker on wars (summary):

In the six decades between 1618 and 1678, Poland was at peace for only twenty-seven years, the Dutch Republic for only fourteen, France for only eleven, and Spain for only three. Jack S. Levy, a political scientist, found the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe to be "the most warlike in terms of the proportion of years of war underway (95%), the frequency of war (nearly one every three years), and the average yearly duration, extent, and magnitude of war."

The historical record reveals at least one war in progress between the states of Europe in every year between 1611 and 1669. Beyond Europe, over the same period, the Chinese and Mughal empires fought wars continuously, while the Ottoman Empire enjoyed only seven years of peace. The global "Conflict Catalogue" compiled by Peter Brecke, another political scientist, shows that, on average, wars around the world lasted longer in the seventeenth century than at any time since 1400 (when his survey begins). War had become the norm for resolving both domestic and international problems.

Finally, throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the mid-seventeenth century witnessed almost unprecedented human mortality. When China's Yongzheng emperor looked back in 1729 on the turbulent transition from Ming to Qing rule two generations before, he claimed that "over half of the population perished" in the violence.

In Sichuan (once a densely populated province), "people lamented that they did not have a single offspring. The few who survived had lost hands or feet or had their ears and noses sliced off," he continued. "Older people who had witnessed [the devastation] would weep as they described it." In Germany in 1635, Hans Conrad Lang, a clothier living in Konstanz, believed that war and epidemics had caused "so many deaths that the like of it has never been heard in human history."

Parker concluded: "In the 17th century, the fatal synergy of weather, wars and rebellions killed millions. A natural catastrophe of analogous proportions today — whether or not humans are to blame — could kill billions. It would also produce dislocation and violence, and compromise international security, sustainability and cooperation."

In 1609 the Plantation of Ulster resulted in Irish ancestral lands being stolen by the English government. The dispossessed Irish took revenge on planters in 1641. Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 at the head of an English army and it began a campaign of massacres against the native Irish. In a report to the Speaker of the House of Commons Cromwell said that his army had delivered "a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches."

Yes, weather was important for the farmer or soldier — think of the French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte in the Kremlin on the evening of September 14, 1812, after leading his Grande Armée into Moscow with the city in flames, no enemy in sight and a long trek home!

Voltaire (1694-1778), the famous French writer, wrote in 1767: “En effet l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs” — “Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.” 

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 did not stop Europeans from fighting each other. James J. Sheehan, emeritus professor in the humanities at Stanford University, wrote in his 2008 book "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe": "Between 1648 and 1789, the European powers had fought forty-eight wars, some of them, like the Seven Years’ War in the mid-eighteenth century, lasting several years and stretching around the world. Between 1815 and 1914, there were only five wars in Europe involving two great powers; all of them were limited in time and space, and only one of them involved more than two major states. From the end of the Franco- Prussian War in 1871 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the European states were at peace with one another. This was the longest period without war in European history until it was surpassed toward the end of the twentieth century."


There was no universal "climate crisis" in the 17th century.

In 2019 researchers in the journal 'Nature' stated "that the warmest period of the past two millennia occurred during the 20th century for more than 98% of the globe. This provides strong evidence that anthropogenic global warming is not only unparalleled in terms of absolute temperatures but also unprecedented in spatial consistency within the context of the past 2,000 years."

They added "Here we use global palaeoclimate reconstructions for the past 2,000 years, and find no evidence for preindustrial globally coherent cold and warm epochs. In particular, we find that the coldest epoch of the last millennium — the putative Little Ice Age — is most likely to have experienced the coldest temperatures during the fifteenth century in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, during the seventeenth century in northwestern Europe and southeastern North America, and during the mid-nineteenth century over most of the remaining regions."


Cromwell's report from Ireland 1649 Cromwell (1599-1658) is the most hated English leader in the history of Ireland. An American once told me that he was the first modern democrat!

He was a Puritan who banned Christmas celebrations.  H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), an American journalist, satirist, social critic, cynic, and freethinker, known as the "Sage of Baltimore" and the "American Nietzsche," memorably dismissed the religion: "Puritanism — The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, maybe happy."

Counting the Dead: Estimating the Loss of Life in the Indigenous Holocaust, 1492-Present — the total number of indigenous deaths throughout the Western Hemisphere between 1492 and 1900 "appears to be about 175m. And the number of indigenous people who have died in the hemisphere because of war, repression, racism, and harsh conditions of life since 1900 surely runs into the millions."

The economic rise of the Western World

Slavery and myth of American exceptionalism

Estimating average global temperaturesNASA 2021: "Today’s temperature data come from many sources, including more than 32,000 land weather stations, weather balloons, radar, ships and buoys, satellites, and volunteer weather watchers."

Map of European Colonial Empires from Imgur; BBC interview with UCL London scientists on the Americas

The level of heat the Earth traps has roughly doubled since 2005, according to research from NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that was published on June 15, 2021.

“The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented,” said Norman Loeb, a NASA scientist and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The Earth is warming faster than expected.”

The scientists say that "the doubling of the imbalance is partially the result of an increase in greenhouse gases due to human activity, also known as anthropogenic forcing, along with increases in water vapour are trapping more outgoing longwave radiation, further contributing to Earth’s energy imbalance. Additionally, the related decrease in clouds and sea ice lead to more absorption of solar energy."

Coastal areas and regions of the world with high populations that are already encountering extreme heat will be on the frontline.