Down and up

I’m in the middle of The Instead, an amazing conversation between Emily Abendroth and Miranda Mellis. Among many, many other ideas and interests in the book, this expansion of the term “Anthropocene” stopped me in my tracks (Mellis is quoting from Scientific American):

“The death by smallpox and warfare of an estimated 50 million native Americans–as well as the enslavement of Africans to work in the newly depopulated Americas [North, Central, and South]–allowed forests to grow in former farmlands. By 1610, the growth of all those trees had sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the sky to cause a drop of at least seven parts per million in atmospheric concentrations of the most prominent greenhouse gas and start a little ice age. Based on that dramatic shift, 1610 should be considered the start date of a new, proposed geologic epoch–the Anthropocene.”

So colonialism cooled the climate long before industrialism warmed it, by making room for trees to grow where land had previously been tended (kept open) by a large indigenous population! The complication of assumptions there, on multiple layers, and the nuance in human history of earth-dwelling, is vital. We need to understand these as basic facts.

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