Friday, April 22, 2011

The Prometheus Plague

I'm not extremely familiar with the origin and spread of savannahs, except that they are vast expanses of grasslands and were once found in a contiguous belt from Africa to Southeast Asia. The theory goes that climatic cooling causes them. The great savannah most relevant to humans appeared 2.5 million years ago, as did, perhaps not coincidentally, Homo erectus, the hominid famous for lack of ancestor or antecedents, the unimaginative conservative who used the same Acheulean-style hand axe for two million years... and fire.

Is this story correct? Modern humans deforested Europe in 2000 years, and northern India in approximately the same time, mostly for firewood.

Once Europeans reached the "new world" they denuded the great forests of North American from the Atlantic to the Mississippi in about 500 years. (True! Every tree in Missouri was RE-forested, or descended from reforestation. To this day, many of them Baja Iowegians hate trees with a passion difficult to understand.)

The human species arrives in established, stable ecosystems like a plague, lacking any native check or balance on our population.

Nor was that plague in North America exclusively Eurocentric. Modern humans came here 20,000 years ago over the Bering Land Bridge, too. We all practice slash-and-burn, not always for agriculture, but also to make hunting easier and just to plain stay warm on a cold Dakota night.

My question is, are the Great Plains of North America (or the Pampas of South America) more than just sort of similar to the great Afro-Asian savannah of the Pleistocene? Are these grasslands the scar left in established ecologies by the arrival of a plague, a plague of humans? Look at the damage we can do in 2,000 years; then multiply that a thousand times over...

How do humans make a grassland? With, I submit, ordinary arson. Fire has been a bolt in the promethean quiver for two million years across at least four subspecies of the human plague (H. erectus, habilus, neanderthalensis and sapiens, and possibly other, older, species as well.)

I grew up in Kansas. It's like Original Sin. We moved to New York, where trees line rural roads up to the shoulders. Thought I'd gone to Heaven.

BTW, the White Rabbit is late for Easter. Just the kind of dumb movable feast joke Charles Lutwidge Dodgson would tell a kid.

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