Yesterday, I wandered over to my husband Kelly’s bookshelf in search of something to read. I came away with Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos by William J. Burroughs. In the pages I have read so far, Burroughs pushes back the dates of early humans by thousands upon thousands of years compared to what most people think. But I already was aware of that research, because Kelly is fascinated by prehistory and reads widely in the field.
What was completely new to me, and quite intriguing, is that evidently the climate of the planet stabilized about 10,000 years ago — but before that, humans were contending with very erratic climate. Using ice core and other data, Burroughs paints a chaotic picture of climate… often very chaotic. A lot of those early migrations must have been to get away from ice or drought.
Consider the implications of evolving in a radically different type of climate. If, as seems to be the case, for more than 90 percent of the time that our species has existed on this planet, it has had to grapple with an immeasurably more capricious climate, the consequences for how we evolved are profound.
Indeed, around 70 thousand years ago, we may have come perilously close t being wiped out by the hostile environmental conditions of the time. Our very ability to survive these challenges was a consequence of whatever skills we had then.
Furthermore, the combination of surviving these challenges and the process of natural selection must have ensured that the climate is deeply etched into our genetic make-up. It may also link deep within our psyche.
It’s got me reflecting. Maybe we have some long-buried skills to draw on that we don’t know about. But there is nothing in reading this book that makes me less determined to do my bit for combating human effects on the climate! In fact, reading about the drastic changes makes me all the more interested in living simply and helping others to do so.