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News articles on history
Mongabay.com news articles on history in blog format. Updated regularly.
(04/29/2013) A new short documentary highlights the battles over monster dam projects imperiling local people and wild rivers. Examining the Belo Monte dam in Brazil and the Ilisu dam in Turkey, the documentary argues that such hydroelectric projects cannot be deemed "green" energy as they overturn lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems.
Humans killed over 10 percent of the world's bird species when they colonized the Pacific Islands
(03/25/2013) Around 4,000 years ago intrepid Polynesian seafarers made their way into an untamed wilderness: the far-flung Pacific Islands. Over a thousands or so years, they rowed from one island to another, stepping on shores never yet seen by humans. While this vast colonization brought about a new era of human history, it also ended the existence of well-over a thousand bird species according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Scientists nearly double the number of biogeographic realms
(01/02/2013) In 1876, British biologist Alfred Russell Wallace published a map of the world that outlined how related animals were spread over the Earth. For example, Wallace was the first to publicize that North American biodiversity was substantially different from South America, and that an invisible line separated Southeast Asian biodiversity from that of Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands. With Wallace's research came the founding of biogeography, or the study of species in relation to geography. Today, scientists with the University of Copenhagen have updated Wallace's map—nearly doubling the number of biogeographic realms—with support from data on over 21,000 species.
Elephant ancestors and Africa's Bigfoot: new initiative works to preserve a continent's wildest tales
(08/20/2012) Paula Kahumbu, the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, is on a mission to reconnect young Africans with the natural world through storytelling. In a new initiative dubbed Africa's Wildest Stories, Kahumbu and others are recording the wit and wisdom of African elders in Kenya as they share their love of nature and the way in which Africans, for millennia, have co-existed with their environment and its astounding wildlife.
Experts dispute recent study that claims little impact by pre-Columbian tribes in Amazon
(07/05/2012) A study last month in the journal Science argued that pre-Columbian peoples had little impact on the western and central Amazon, going against a recently composed picture of the early Amazon inhabited by large, sophisticated populations influencing both the forest and its biodiversity. The new study, based on hundreds of soil samples, theorizes that indigenous populations in much of the Amazon were tiny and always on the move, largely sticking to rivers and practicing marginal agriculture. However, the study raised eyebrows as soon as it was released, including those of notable researchers who openly criticized its methods and pointed out omissions in the paper, such as no mention of hundreds of geoglyphs, manmade earthen structures, found in the region.
Pre-industrial deforestation still warming atmosphere
(07/03/2012) Fossil fuels were not burned in massive quantities prior to the Industrial Revolution, but humans were still pumping carbon into the atmosphere due to land use change, especially deforestation. In fact, a new study in Environmental Research Letters finds that deforestation prior to 1850 is still heating up our atmosphere today.
Rio+20 and economic perils in Europe: opportunity for linkage
(06/19/2012) This month, momentous events will occur on the global scene that will set the tone for whether 2012 will be a hopeful year or one in which dislocations and disconnects are further exacerbated by political failings. The EU will decide on its fiscal and monetary union that hinges on Greece’s recent June election, which backed the political party that wants to stay in the Euro zone, but insists on adjustments to the earlier-negotiated economic rescue package.
Oceans heating up for over 100 years
(04/02/2012) In 1872 the HMS Challenger pulled out from Portsmouth, England to begin an unprecedented scientific expedition of the world's oceans. During its over three year journey the HMS Challenger not only collected thousands of new species and sounded unknown ocean depths, but also took hundreds of temperature readings—data which is now proving invaluable to our understanding of climate change.
Humans drove rainforest into savannah in ancient Africa
(02/09/2012) Three thousand years ago (around 1000 BCE) several large sections of the Congo rainforest in central Africa suddenly vanished and became savannah. Scientists have long believed the loss of the forest was due to changes in the climate, however a new study in Science implicates an additional culprit: humans. The study argues that a migration of farmers into the region led to rapid land-use changes from agriculture and iron smelting, eventually causing the collapse of rainforest in places and a rise of grasslands. The study has implications for today as scientists warn that the potent combination of deforestation and climate change could flip parts of the Amazon rainforest as well into savannah.
Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn
(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.
Will Taiwan save its last pristine coastline?
(01/05/2012) Voters in the January 14 Taiwanese presidential election will decide the fate of the island’s last pristine wilderness known as the Alangyi Trail. Amongst the three candidates, only one (Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party) may support the conservation of Alangyi Trail and its coastline. One of the top domestic stories of 2011 were the efforts by the Pingtung County government, indigenous tribes, and NGOs to preserve the Alangyi Trail, according to the Taiwan Environmental Information Center. Alangyi is now a major issue reflecting steadily growing environmental concern amongst the Taiwanese, but its fate is sadly uncertain.
Evidence mounts that Maya did themselves in through deforestation
(12/08/2011) Researchers have garnered further evidence for a smoking gun behind the fall of the great Maya civilization: deforestation. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, climatologist Ben Cook presented recent research showing how the destruction of rainforests by the Mayan ultimately led to declines in precipitation and possibly civilization-rocking droughts. While the idea that the Maya may have committed ecological-suicide through deforestation has been widely discussed, including in Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse, Cook's findings add greater weight to the theory.
Scientists confirm ancient Egyptian knowledge: Nile crocodile is two species
(09/20/2011) DNA has shown that the Nile crocodile is in fact two very different species: a bigger, more aggressive crocodile and a smaller, tamer species that today survives only in West Africa. While the taxonomy of the Nile crocodile has been controversial for over a century, the new study points out that the ancient Egyptians recognized the differences in the species and avoided the big crocodile for its rituals.
Climate change may fuel increase in warfare, finds study
(08/24/2011) Civil war is twice as likely in tropical countries during particularly hot and dry years, according to a new study in Nature. The researchers found that El Niño conditions, which generally cuts rainfall and raises temperatures in the tropics, may have played a factor in one-fifth of the world's total conflicts during the past 50 years. El Niño conditions occur every 3-7 years. While the study did not examine global climate change in conjunction with conflict, the study links a warmer world to a more conflict-prone one, as least in the tropics.
Into Colombia's Sierra Nevada
(03/11/2011) The highest coastal mountain on the planet rises 18,942 feet (5,775-meters) above the Caribbean Sea; it’s snow-capped peaks piercing through the clouds some 24 miles from an idyllic tropical beach. But to the casual visitor, the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in Colombia does not seem so grandiose. It slopes up and down until it disappears into the clouds, jealously concealing its tropical glacier. Somewhere up there, shrouded in mystery, like an ancient treasure, hides the most impressive summit in the Caribbean. People living along this part of the coastline say the snows of the Sierra are visible from some beaches, but to me they remain elusive even after many trips to the region. To catch a glimpse of the snows from the Caribbean would be a welcoming gift, but I have really come here to experience the Sierra, whatever it would reveal.
Selling the Forests that Saved Britain
(02/15/2011) I confess that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to auction off all 650,000 acres of England’s national forests to the highest bidder came as a bit of a shock to me – especially as the contained such world-famous national treasures as Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Dean and the New Forest. Although warned by my Irish mother that Tories can never be trusted, Mr. Cameron’s passionate pledge to deliver the “greenest government ever” seemed sincere, especially given his ambitious plans to cut Britain’s pollution. Anyway, even if he turned out to be as slippery as his predecessors, his deep green Liberal Democratic coalition partners would, I thought, keep the planet high on his priority list.
How Genghis Khan cooled the planet
(01/20/2011) In 1206 AD Genghis Khan began the Mongol invasion: a horse-crazed bow-wielding military force that swept through much of modern-day Asia into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But aside from creating the world's largest empire, the Mongol invasion had another global impact that has remained hidden in history according to new research by Julia Pongratz of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. Genghis Khan and his empire, which lasted nearly two centuries, actually cooled the Earth.
History repeats itself: the path to extinction is still paved with greed and waste
(04/05/2010) As a child I read about the near-extinction of the American bison. Once the dominant species on America's Great Plains, I remember books illustrating how train-travelers would set their guns on open windows and shoot down bison by the hundreds as the locomotive sped through what was left of the wild west. The American bison plunged from an estimated 30 million to a few hundred at the opening of the 20th century. When I read about the bison's demise I remember thinking, with the characteristic superiority of a child, how such a thing could never happen today, that society has, in a word, 'progressed'. Grown-up now, the world has made me wiser: last month the international organization CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) struck down a ban on the Critically Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna. The story of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is a long and mostly irrational one—that is if one looks at the Atlantic bluefin from a scientific, ecologic, moral, or common-sense perspective.
Well-known climate change denialist labels activists in Copenhagen 'Hitler Youth'
(12/15/2009) Prominent climate change denialist and past advisor to Margaret Thatcher, Viscount Christopher Monckton, has persisted in labeling protestors in Copenhagen 'Hitler Youth' despite little historical connection.
Destructive farming practices of early civilization may have altered climate long before industrial era
(08/31/2009) William Ruddiman has become well known for his theory that human-induced climate change started long before the Industrial Age. In 2003 he first brought forth the theory that the Neolithic Revolution-when some humans turned from hunter-gathering to large-scale farming-caused a shift in the global climate 7,000 years ago.
Da Vinci’s lion comes back to life
(08/17/2009) In 1515 Leonardo Da Vinci, artist and engineer, invented a mechanical lion that was given as a gift to Francois I, then King of France. The original was lost, but a new model has been crafted in Amboise, France by Renato Boaretto.