By Michael Kile
God or Satan used to be the default cause for all that is bad or inexplicable. Today we blame “climate change”. Thousands of earnest researchers now gain their daily carbon (dioxide) credits by scaring the pants or pantaloons off the rest of us. Generously funded by governments, they compete for the title of Climate Savior of the Year. The result: a proliferation of nasty scenarios masquerading as predictions.
Many claim they can reinterpret the past with astonishing precision too. According to a new case study, European colonization of Middle and South America intensified Europe’s Little Ice Age.
Who would have thought the ghost of Montezuma could reach across the years and take revenge for the Great Dying inflicted on his people? In our post-truth age, dear reader, facts are the servants of fiction.
Folk frolicking on a frozen Thames in 1537, 1565, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635, 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, etc., would have been knocked off their skates had they known this tale of atmospheric retribution.
Montezuma, n., 1. Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), capital of the Aztec civilization; reigned 1502 to 1520. 2. Montezuma’s revenge: informal; diarrhea (spelled in America as diarrhea) contracted by tourists and academicians who indulge in too much speculation, especially about foreign countries. 3. An early computer game; the player controlling a character called Panama Joe (aka Pedro). Objective: to score points by stealing jewels, killing enemies (Aztecs) and getting out of a pyramid alive.
But to begin at the beginning. A decade ago, I co-authored a paper on ancient Mesoamerica, “Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice”. A summary of it appeared in the June 2009 edition of the Australian Quadrant magazine as The Aztec Solution.
Inspired by physicist Alan Sokal’s spoof 1996 article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, our paper identified a new relationship with important implications for global warming mitigation. Data from an analysis of the Codex Cihuacoatl revealed a strong causal link between climate change and the Aztec rituals of “nourishing the gods” with blood sacrifice.
It was a controversial finding. Nevertheless, taking the bull by the tail, we concluded that humane human sacrifice (HHS) would slow environmental degradation, reduce dangerous climate change and improve crop yields. We argued HHS would allow more control of surface temperature and rainfall; and create anthropogenic biochar for soil enhancement and long-term carbon enrichment, especially in tropical environments with low-carbon sequestration capacity and depleted ferrasol and acrisol zones. Crucially, population growth rates would be retarded, just as Gaia’s carrying capacity comes under more pressure this century.
Aztec culture has attracted scrutiny from many scholars since Spaniard Hernan Cortés and his conquistadores entered King Montezuma’s palace in the lagoon city of Tenochtitlan on 8 November 1519, triggering destruction of an entire civilization in only two years.
What were the climate implications of Aztec rituals? Did they influence local and regional temperatures? Did they affect crop yields in a way hitherto unknown to science? And what of the 1952 discovery of mammoth skeletons in the Valley of Mexico? What happened to the climate after the Spanish conquest?
Research was sparse for three reasons. Firstly, cultural sensitivities and entrenched superstition discouraged study of the rationale for Aztec human sacrifice. Secondly, there was a lack of evidence. While pictorial codices on Aztec social and religious life have been known for some time, it took the sensational discovery of new material from the Codex Cihuacoatl (circa 1520) to revive interest.
Thirdly, the United Nations World Climate Research Program – in particular its Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) model – had only just developed the capacity to, allegedly, “simulate and project climate with unprecedented accuracy”.
There was also no money to waste on projects at the sillier end of the spectrum, at least not until the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) decreed ex cathedra humankind had a significant influence on global climate. Computer “experiments” may be comparable to playing roulette on a rigged table, but that no longer worried the orthodoxy.
Monetizing the climate was just too important an objective to be abandoned due to a lack of empirical validation. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) soon emerged as the dominant forcing agent for global warming (IPCC, 2007, p. 136), with the main contributor of human CO2 emissions being fossil fuel combustion (IPCC, 2007, p. 512).
Anyway, having acquired a lucrative grant we reviewed the new Codex evidence with particular reference to Aztec cosmology, the sacred tonalamatl (divinatory) calendar and sacrificial rituals. Several important implications for global warming mitigation emerged, which are discussed in our paper.
We recognized, of course, that some opposition to human sacrifice as a mitigation strategy was possible. For the truth is that when push comes to shove off, few have the stomach for a rite more gruesome than harikari, even in the interest of future generations. Nevertheless, we felt society was on the cusp of a paradigm shift. Excessive individualism was in decline. Eco-left lunacy was becoming mere flatulence in a mighty wind of change.
There was growing recognition too that humankind’s fate is determined by momentous events related to the Sun (Sol)—333,000 times more massive than Earth and just eight light-minutes away. The Age of Sol seem to be dawning.
The eco-spirituality that led to the first Earth Day celebration in Stockholm on April 22, 1970, also has deepened over the past five decades too. Voluntary sacrifice is no longer seen as the macabre ritual of a barbaric culture. It is more dignified than it was 500 years ago too, due to advances in psychotherapy, gullibility and therapeutic medicine. There is a place for it in Sol’s pantheon. Indeed, it is written somewhere that:
greater love hath no person than this: that he or she lay down his or her life for his or her eco-buddies and future generations. He and she shall gain everlasting life, with a secure and reliable supply of renewable energy at no extra cost. (New Eco-Bible)
With regard to Australia, we urged the government to give generous grants to HHS dependents, issue free (securitized) sacrificial credits to working families, create a new Order of the Bleeding Heart, and rebadge carbon emissions trading as the Human Pollution Reduction Scheme. For such initiatives would send a strong message to everyone—especially to all Cihuacoatl sceptics, Huitzilopochtli deniers and RE poopers—that this country is serious about climate change.
Imagine our delight when new research by Mark Maslin, a Professor of Geography and Climatology from University College London, and his three-person team appeared online this month in volume 207 of Quaternary Science Reviews (QSR). Its title: “Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492.”
If, dear reader, you can suspend disbelief and accept that one can peer into the past, detect miniscule variations in air temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide – currently 414ppm – and derive dodgy causal conclusions, you will salivate over this – not a spoof – study.
Human impacts prior to the Industrial Revolution are not well constrained. We investigate whether the decline in global atmospheric CO2 concentration by 7–10 ppm in the late 1500s and early 1600s which globally lowered surface air temperatures by 0.15∘C, were generated by natural forcing or were a result of the large-scale depopulation of the Americas after European arrival, subsequent land use change and secondary succession….. We show that the global carbon budget of the 1500s cannot be balanced until large-scale vegetation regeneration in the Americas is included. The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas resulted in a human-driven global impact on the Earth System in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Maslin is an expert in past global and regional climatic change. He has published over 165 papers. A man with a mission, he was science advisor to the Global Cool Foundation, at least until its charity status was removed for some reason on 14 June last year. GCF’s cool objectives were: (i) to conserve the natural environment by promoting greenhouse gas reduction; (ii) to promote and carry out for the public benefit research into the effects of climate change, and to publish and widely disseminate the useful results of such research.
Launched in 2006 by Orlando Bloom of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, GCF’s mission was “to raise awareness of climate change”. Tony Blair endorsed it at the 10 Downing Street launch party. The group worked with other cool celebrities – including UN climate ambassador, Leonardo DiCaprio – to promote radical “green behaviors such as using public transport and taking flight-free holidays”, the latter presumably including leaving one’s private jet on the tarmac at least one day a week.
We looked in vain for a reference to our earlier work in the QSR paper. Did Maslin et al. reverse-engineer our Aztec Solution to come up with a regional phenomenon of greater scale and impact, with their Great Dying replacing ritual indigenous sacrifice? If so, it was a very clever move, one that deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it by the Academy.
“You have this horrendous genocide in the Americas, which allows a huge amount of regrowth. There is a clear causal link between the loss of people, agriculture growing back and the hard winters in Europe”, Maslin told Tom Whipple, science editor at The Times, on 1st February.
“It was shocking. There had been sixty million people living there, just less than Europe on eighty million. But they were probably using twice as much land to live on.”
The Maslin et al. argument: with most of the population wiped out by conquest and colonization, there was rapid reforestation. It sucked carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and caused cooling.
The problem with this hypothesis is that the Mini Ice Age was already well underway in Europe. It caused, for example, the Vikings to leave Greenland because it was no longer green. By the early 15th century their colonies were gone, driven out by crop failure and increasingly harsh winters. From 1410 to the 1720s it was largely cut off by ice. The Mini Ice Age continued until 1850 AD.
But one must not allow inconvenient facts to ruin a good storyline. After all, such tricks of the trade abound in post-normal climate science.
Other researchers suggest “natural processes” best explain the European cooling, especially decreasing solar activity, and perhaps increasing volcanic eruptions.
Maslin’s response: “You can include the natural processes [in the models], but you never get the right amount of cooling. It’s never cold enough. Assume a mass-sequestering of carbon [dioxide] and suddenly the maths works.”
Assume the models do not describe reality with the accuracy required to be meaningful, then presumably the maths do not work so well, and so on and so forth.
As the famous detective, Shylock Combs, might conclude: “Montezuma’s revenge? It’s alimentary, my dear Watson. The planet certainly would be a cooler place without us.”
25 February 2019