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Environment Rules Mankind

Posted March. 14, 2003 22:46,   


How the environment has changed the course of the history?

Written by Ishi Hiroyuki and others. Translated by Lee Ha-joon. 286 pages and priced at 9,800 won.

Where the Homo sapiens, the forefather of mankind, came from some 200,000 years ago still remains the biggest mystery in the study on humans. Both the Australopithecus and the Neanderthal man that lived before the Homo sapiens proved after a series of high-tech DNS tests to be irrelevant to today`s mankind.

The Homo sapiens spread rapidly through Europe and Asia during the cold age some 500,000 to 700,000 years ago, to reach the American continent across the Bering. While the Neanderthal men were virtually extinct some 33,000 years ago due to the freezing weather, the Homo sapiens continued to flourish inventing Old Stone Age tools.

Then, they were put on the brink of extinction about 20,000 years later as the average temperature of the earth fluctuated 7 to 8 degrees for fifty years. Conifers, trees growing in cold climate, were all gone. Before the ecosystem was adjusted to the new environment, the number of human beings dropped to 10,000 from 400,000.

Mankind has indeed been ruled by the environment since the very beginning. As scientists found out that the earth`s climate changed drastically during certain periods, instead of going through a gradual change, a field of science called environment history, which studies environment`s influence on the human history, emerged in the 1980s.

And the four origins of human civilization, which are Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus and the Hwang Ho, are now revisited by the environment history. Before the Hwang Ho there was Long River civilization engaging in agriculture in the Yangtze valley, and before the Harapa in Indus there was Baratal civilization in the south.

As the earth`s climate turned severely cold and dry from 5,700 to 4,000 years ago, environment history scientists hypothesize, the two earlier forms of civilization disappeared due to an exodus by nomadic people.

As the human civilization advanced, however, it was environmental destruction caused by humans, not a climate change that haunted back humans and changed the course of the history.

One instance is the rage of a pest in the 14th Century Europe, which cost one third of the population. Through the 13th Century, people relentlessly cut down trees for clearing, taking advantage of the mild climate. But the temperate dropped sharply in the 14th century, agricultural productivity declined. The cold weather, in the meantime, accelerated destruction of forests, which led to growing population of big rats carrying the bubonic virus. Then the scourge of the pest hit the European continent, ending the European civilization in the Middle Age.

Europe`s desperate search for New World during the 16th century has a deep relationship with the destruction of forests. It looks like there was a temporary recovery of the Europe’s forest resources due to pest and population reduction during the 15th century, but as destruction repeated and shortage of resources occurred, they had to search for New World.

The environment history doesn’t merely exist for new analysis on the past history. Mankind has been indulging large-scale environmental destructions after Industrial Revolution but the result of these destructions started to come back to mankind. It connotes the possibility of humankind extinction and this is central focus of this book.

This book consists of the random speeches of three Japanese environmental scholars, Ishii Hiriyuki (Professor of Environmental Studies at Tokyo Graduate School), Yasuda Yoshinori (Professor of Environmental Archeology at the International Japanese Cultural Center) and Yuasa Takeo (Professor of History of Civilization Comparison at Tokiwa University). Since it is conversational style, it is sometimes not so exact and there are frequent Japanese regional viewpoints. However, in a sense the style helps readers understand well, which is a good point of this book.