Attributed to Gysbrecht Lytens (1586-1656), Dutch School. “Winter Landscape,” 1630. Credit Christophel Fine Art/UIG, via Getty Images
NATURE’S MUTINY How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present By Philipp Blom
From around 1570 to 1710, temperatures in the earth’s Northern Hemisphere plunged by an average of about 2 degrees Celsius — roughly the same amount by which the planet’s temperature is supposed to rise under the more catastrophic predictions of our warming futures. Two degrees colder meant a growing season shortened by three weeks. The apocalyptic changes that are coming — bigger storms, higher seas, longer heat waves, more insect-born disease — remain, for now, a task for the imagination. But the impact of those long-ago icy winters, frigid summers and torrential autumns requires no imagination: It’s all recorded in contemporary sources.
In “Nature’s Mutiny,” Philipp Blom, a German historian, treats this one well-documented period of climate change, the so-called Little Ice Age, as an experiment in what can happen to a society when its baseline conditions, all ultimately dependent upon the weather, are shaken. The premise of treating historical sources as a way of answering current questions is so good that Blom should have stuck to it. He is tempted, however, into making everything new in the 17th century a result of climate change, and this can only be true by so diluting the notion of causation as to render his claim meaningless — or just plain vulnerable. Continue reading “Climate Change and Human History”→
Addressing the Annual High-level Panel Discussion on Human Rights Mainstreaming on 25 February, Sri Lanka said that having actively engaged in a number of inter-governmental processes, and observing the overwhelming desire of the stakeholders to build consensus and collective outcomes over the last several years, it believed that the “picture is not entirely bleak”, and “there is still hope that multilateralism can deliver despite challenges.”
Defining the distinctive capacities of Homo sapiens relative to other hominins is a major focus for human evolutionary studies. It has been argued that the procurement of small, difficult-to-catch, agile prey is a hallmark of complex behavior unique to our species; however, most research in this regard has been limited to the last 20,000 years in Europe and the Levant. Here, we present detailed faunal assemblage and taphonomic data from Fa-Hien Lena Cave in Sri Lanka that demonstrates specialized, sophisticated hunting of semi-arboreal and arboreal monkey and squirrel populations from ca. 45,000 years ago, in a tropical rainforest environment. Facilitated by complex osseous and microlithic technologies, we argue these data highlight that the early capture of small, elusive mammals was part of the plastic behavior of Homo sapiens that allowed it to rapidly colonize a series of extreme environments that were apparently untouched by its hominin relatives.
There is growing evidence that Homo sapiens had a unique capacity to adapt to a diversity of extreme environments, both within and beyond Africa, when compared with other members of the genus Homo1. Nevertheless, studies of migrations of our species into Europe, the Middle East, and Asia have often focused on its increased efficiency in hunting, butchering, and consuming medium-to-large game in open “savanna” settings2,3. Alternatively, coastal settings have been highlighted as providing homogeneous, protein-rich resources that stimulated human evolution as well as migration beyond Africa from the Late Pleistocene4,5. Focus on these environments has meant that small mammals have been neglected in discussions of the human colonization of new environments, despite the fact that a specialization in their procurement is often considered a feature of technological and behavioral “complexity” or “modernity” unique to our species6,7. Concentration on Europe and West Asia in this regard has linked increased usage and capture of agile, but abundant, small mammals to human population growth or climatically driven crises associated with the end of the last glacial period6. Nevertheless, the onset and behavioral context of small mammal hunting in other parts of the world, and beyond temperate environments, has remained poorly studied. Continue reading Specialized rainforest hunting by Homo sapiens ~45,000 years ago→
Globally, Sri Lanka ranks as the sixth most vulnerable to climate change. But this reality has not taken hold in Sri Lankan polity. This is partly because we do not have sufficient analysis of climate change impacts nor a communication strategy to help public and policymakers understand it better.
When many countries are planning large-scale interventions based on specific localised impact assessments, we are literally dancing in the dark.
The four years from 2015 to 2018 were the warmest globally since records began in 1880, a trend mirrored in Sri Lanka. This country saw a sharper rise in temperature between 1960 and 2000 than the global trend while 2016 was the highest recorded. The impact has been substantial.Continue reading Dancing in the darkness of a climate crisis→
Greta Thunberg, center, skips school on Fridays to demonstrate for climate action at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. Elisabeth Ubbe for The New York Times
STOCKHOLM — It’s complicated being Greta.
Small, shy, survivor of crippling depression, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl skipping school to shame the world into addressing climate change, drew a parade of fans one Friday in February on a frozen square in Stockholm.
Six Swiss students had traveled 26 hours by train to seek her support for their petition for a tougher Swiss carbon emissions law. An Italian scientist told her she reminded him of his younger, activist self. A television news crew hovered around her. Women from an anti-smoking group came to give her a T-shirt.
Greta nodded, whispered, “Thanks,” posed for pictures. Made exactly zero small talk.
All this attention, she said out of earshot of the others, is great. It means “people are listening.” But then, a knife-blade flash of rage revealed itself.
“It’s sometimes annoying when people say, ‘Oh you children, you young people are the hope. You will save the world’” she said, after several grown-ups had told her just that. “I think it would be helpful if you could help us just a little bit.”
This is signature Greta. Wry. Blunt. Sometimes sarcastic. The opposite of sweet.
It surfaced again on Friday, when Prime Minister Theresa May’s office dismissed school walkouts in Britain as a distraction that “wastes lesson time.” Greta swiftly struck back on Twitter: “But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 yrs of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
As the annual initiative, Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) from February 15-18–where birdwatchers around the world are invited to count and report details of birds in the area in which they live– marks its last day tomorrow, a veteran ornithologist here has said it was important to keep a tab on what are regarded as common birds too.
Prof. Sarath Kotagama says that while many are concerned about the declining numbers of rare birds, the numbers of common birds, too, could dip towards extinction without anyone realizing it and, therefore, it was important to take a count of those birds too.
The latest ‘State of the World Birds’ report published by BirdLife International reveals that while highly threatened species continue to go extinct, what were once considered common and widespread species too are in sharp decline. At least 40% of bird species worldwide (3,967) have declining populations, compared with 44% that are stable (4,393) according to the report.Continue reading Count the birds: Public urged to join global initiative→
A senior climatologist in the committee that studied a proposal to produce artificial rain for hydropower generation has urged the Government to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and environmental impact study before taking the project beyond its trial stage.
The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) this week signed an agreement to facilitate the rainmaking initiative with technical expertise from the Thai Government. The project is expected to benefit Sri Lanka in periods of drought to avoid buying expensive power from independent power producers, Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake was quoted as saying.
Sri Lanka has abandoned an initiative to use satellite technology during natural disasters, leaving Rs 72 million worth of equipment unused for four years before finally dismantling it, the Auditor General (AG) has found. The project was initiated in 2011 and given up despite the country facing severe natural disasters in previous years, states the latest report of the AG on the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). The DMC found out that the satellite technology equipment was not compatible with its other systems, only when the full system was installed.
Higher than normal ocean temperatures off Sri Lanka’s coast is threatening to damage the best coral reefs in the island, according to surveys done by marine scientists of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).
“Underwater surveys shows widespread bleaching or whitening along the reefs, especially in shallow depths (of less than 10 meters) in the south and south west coast and also reported in Jaffna and Bar Reef in Kalpitiya,” a statement said. Continue reading Mass bleaching of Sri Lanka coral reefs→