Genghis Khan: The first eco-warrior?

Genghis Khan: The first eco-warrior?

Previously on ecoLogicc, we have discussed the idea of a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene. It refers to the idea that humans have made such significant impacts on our Earth system that we have moved out of the Holocene into a new period dominated by human or anthropogenic influences. As a term gaining traction in the scientific community, it has certainly not yet been universally accepted. However, it raises vital discussions in regards to the wider impact of humans, particularly in the context of climate change.

If you’re like me and enjoy historical TV shows then you’d love Marco Polo. A Netflix show which tells the story of the famous Italian explorer as a young man, who is offered as a servant to Kublai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson. Despite the ongoing battles throughout the movie, it depicts the humility of the Mongol empire and shows the aggregation of Chinese and Mongol cultures. However, it largely overlooks how brutally widespread the Mongol empire was and has led some to suggest the Mongol empire championed by the great Genghis Khan as the first involuntary eco-warrior.

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Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire

A report from Carnegie Science shows how the devastation caused by the Mongol empire from 1200-1380 led to a huge reduction in carbon emissions. This was due to the disproportionate killing of men who would typically work on farms and cut down forests to provide arable land. Without these farming practices, forests were free to reclaim lost land that was otherwise utilised by farmers. According to this research, the reforestation took up 700 million tonnes of CO2 and lead to a cooling of the planet. To put this into perspective the researchers state it is “equivalent to the world’s total annual demand for gasoline today”.

Interestingly, the researchers put these longer-term events as having far more substantial impacts on the global carbon budget than say disease or the fall of empires. They mention the Black Death in Europe and the fall of the Ming Dynasty not lasting long enough for forests to regrow. Consequently, Genghis Khan’s legacy of deadly rule over Eurasia labels him as an unlikely climate change steward, assisting the drawdown of greenhouse gases into terrestrial vegetation across Eurasia.

It conjures up some interesting historical moot points. Just how far back do we have to go in our History to see such substantial anthropogenic impacts on our Earth? In light of this, where exactly would the Anthropocene therefore start? These are all things being debated in the scientific community and the Anthropocene initiative has been set up at UCL in order to address and tackle some of these ideas.

It is a common misconception that our climate has been changing exclusively from fossil fuel use and within the industrial time frame. Thanks to the work of, inter alia, historians, archaeologists, geographers, geologists we know this is not the case and perhaps identifies a whole host of events that have severely altered climate in the past. Remember the term Anthropocene because it will be used a lot more.

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