Monday, December 08, 2008

The Green Sahara

For some reason this series of shots from the always excellent Boston Globe "Big Picture" series really caught my eye.

Around 9,000 years ago what we call the Sahara desert was actually a pretty wet place covered in grass and trees. The area produced more than enough food for the humans that lived there as well. A rather large excavation project has been exploring the area and has so far found two football-field sized burial sites with a few hundred remains buried there.

To think that this area that won't even support the growth of any plants today was, at one time, close to paradise for these people. We live in an ever changing world that might not even be recognizable in a few thousand years. One moment you're hunting a bountiful prey and a few thousand years later they're digging you out of mounds of sand. Changing weather patterns could easily turn our fertile fields into a true Great American Desert.

The evidence strongly suggests that the Earth has never seen changes in temperature occur this quickly and that human behavior is the main cause for this change. The amount of damage we've done to the planet in the span of a couple centuries at most will have effects that last well beyond that. We're powerless to stop changes that affected this region but we can slow what we're doing now.

I think it's kind of humbling to consider our place in this world. From where I sit today there were no "European" settlements to speak of anywhere close 250 years ago. There were no Europeans at all just over 500 years ago. Depending on who you believe there were no humans on this entire continent around 20,000 years ago. 600,000 years ago it was under ice. 40 million years ago and again about 300 million years ago it was under water. Something like 4 billion years and we were nothing but molten rock. Humans haven't even reached flash in the pan status as far as the Earth is concerned. It will go on long after we're gone but it would be nice to stick around for a little while, wouldn't it?

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