Different ways of coping with climate change in pre-Columbian Amazonia

Most of the general public knows about the collapse of the Maya. They are aware that Maya cities in the tropical forest were abandoned and the ruling elite disappeared centuries before the Spanish conquest. We felt, however, that the overall perception was different in the case of Amazonia, especially with the number of recent publications reappraising the size and complexity of pre-Columbian populations. Many people imagined that Amazonia was becoming gradually more populated, with growing impacts on the environment, and societies becoming increasingly more complex until the arrival of Europeans caused their demise.

A challenge for that scenario was the fact that the archaeological data from various parts of Amazonia showed abrupt changes and abandonment of settlements before 1492. This was clear, for example, in the disappearance of the Eastern Amazonian Marajoara culture – famous for its beautiful painted pottery. In the Bolivian Llanos de Moxos, the pollen record showed changes in land use about a century prior to the Columbian encounter, coinciding with the abandonment of the large habitation mounds in the region.

By 2015, the palaeoecological data collected by the Leverhulme project “Pre-Columbian human land-use in Amazonia” were showing ubiquitous transformations in the Amazon long before the arrival of Europeans. The trend was too evident to be ignored, and author José Iriarte decided to present the results in the XIX INQUA Congress in Nagoya, Japan. Palaeoecologist Henry Hooghiemstra was in the audience that day. As José and Henry talked over a cup of coffee after the presentation, the idea for this project was born. Read more.

Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say

Thousands of annual heat-related deaths could be potentially avoided in major US cities if global temperatures are limited to the Paris Climate Goals compared with current climate commitments, according to a new study published today in Science Advances.

The research is highly relevant to decisions about strengthening national climate actions in 2020, when the next round of climate pledges is due in 2020.  It was led by the University of Bristol, together with experts from likes of the University of Oxford, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was co-authored by Will Roberts, a Senior Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow at Northumbria University who specialises in understanding how climate has changed through history.

The Paris Agreement aims at keeping global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an ambition of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Nations in the agreement are required to submit their climate pledges every five years.

Climate scientists and epidemiologists from the UK and the US combined observed temperature and mortality data with climate projections of different warmer worlds, to estimate changes in the number of heat-related deaths for 15 major US cities.

Their findings showed that limiting warming to the lower Paris Climate Goal could avoid 110 to 2,720 annual heat-related deaths during extreme heat-events, depending on the city. Read more.

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