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Cold-Climate Crises
Volume 16, Number 22: 29 May 2013

In their study of widespread crises in China, Lee and Zhang (2013) write that "the fall of the Ming dynasty in the first half of the 17th century and the Taiping Rebellion from 1851-1865 were two of the most chaotic periods in Chinese history," noting that "each was accompanied by large-scale population collapses." And utilizing "high-resolution empirical data, qualitative survey, statistical comparison and time-series analysis" to investigate how two factors (climate change and population growth) "worked synergistically to drive population cycles in 1600-1899," they determined that "recurrences of population crises were largely determined by the combination of population growth and climate change." More specifically, they indicate that "in China in the past millennium, the clustering of natural calamities and human catastrophes in times of cold climate was found not only in one or two cold phases, but in all of the cold phases (Lee and Zhang, 2010)."

And China is not different from the rest of the world in this regard. During what is known as the General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, for example, the two researchers note that "the crown of the Holy Roman Empire was unsettled by the Thirty Years' War," that "civil war devastated France," that "in London, Charles I was condemned to death by his own subjects," and that Spain's Philip IV "lost almost all his possessions in Asia." In addition, they mention the Puritan Revolution in England, the revolts of Scotland and Ireland, the insurrections in the Spanish monarchy - including Catalonia and Portugal in 1640 and Naples and Palermo in 1647 - the Fronde in France between 1648 and 1653, the bloodless revolt of 1650 that displaced the stadholderate in the Netherlands, the revolt of the Ukraine from 1648 to 1654, as well as "a string of peasant risings across the [European] continent (Parker and Smith, 1978)."

After reviewing and analyzing these situations and others, Lee and Zhang conclude that "both natural calamities and human catastrophes are clustered in periods of cold climate," primarily because cooling "generates a devastating impact on agricultural production everywhere," citing the work of Atwell (2001, 2002), while noting that "declines in temperatures often have had catastrophic consequences for the world's food supply."

The bottom line? Be glad that the earth is not cooling.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Atwell, W.S. 2001. Volcanism and short-term climatic change in East Asian and world history, c. 1200-1699. Journal of World History 12: 29-98.

Atwell, W.S. 2002. Time, money, and weather: Ming China and the 'great depression' of the mid-fifteenth century. Journal of Asian Studies 61: 83-113.

Lee, H.F. and Zhang, D.D. 2010. Changes in climate and secular population cycles in China, 1000 CE to 1911. Climate Research 42: 235-246.

Lee, H.F. and Zhang, D.D. 2013. A tale of two population crises in recent Chinese history. Climatic Change 116: 285-308.

Parker, G. and Smith, L.M. 1978. Introduction. In: Parker, G. and Smith, L.M. (Eds.). The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom, pp. 1-25.