A new study in the journal Science suggests that climate change contributed not only to the fall of the Roman Empire but to the Black Death that took place in the 14th Century. This study is causing renewed interest in the subject in certain quarters.
According to Reuters:
“Good growth by oak and pine trees in central Europe in the past 2,500 years signalled warm and wet summers and coincided with periods of wealth among farming societies, for instance around the height of the Roman empire or in medieval times.
“Periods of climate instability overlapped with political turmoil, such as during the decline of the Roman empire, and might even have made Europeans vulnerable to the Black Death or help explain migration to America during the chill 17th century.
“Climate shifts that affected farm output were factors in ‘amplifying political, social and economic crises,’ Ulf Buentgen, of the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, told Reuters. He was lead author of the report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.”
Mind, each of these periods of “climate instability,” which seems to be the new phrase that has replaced “climate change,” which replaced “global warming,” took place before the Industrial Revolution and hence could not be blamed on human causes. The exact extent of climate change or climate instability is under dispute, with evidence that the crisis has been hyped by politicians seeking more political power and scientists seeking more government grant money from those same politicians.
Arguments over the causes of the fall of Rome have been raging likely since 476 AD, when the last Western emperor was deposed. Causes suggested include the increasing bureaucracy of the Roman government, failure to deal with barbarian incursions (i.e. illegal immigration with swords and spears), the tendency of Roman magistrates to attempt to seize the Imperial Purple by force of arms, the decadent behavior of Romans, the rise of Christianity, and the decline in native Roman population as opposed to that of the barbarians.
Throwing in climate to the mix will be of interest to academics as they chew over why Rome fell. It is, however, difficult to imagine how the question relates to policy debates today. Climate change has occurred throughout the history of Earth. The Medieval Warming Period lasted from 600 to about 1100 AD. There followed a period known as The Little Ice Age that lasted until the middle of the 19th Century. Currently, most scientists believe we are in a general warming period, though there have been some periods of chilling as well in the last and current centuries.
These cycles of warming and chilling appear to be natural occurrences. How much such cycles are affected by human activity will continue to be a matter of debate. The historical data related to the fall of Rome might have lessons in not so much how to stop climate change but how best to adapt to it.
Source: Climate a factor in Rome’s rise and fall: study, Alister Doyle, Reuters, January 14th, 2011