I’ve found a fascinating new book along the lines of Guns, Germs, and Steel. This one called 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann.
For some insight into what it’s all about, here are some excerpts from the author.
Via the Bloomberg Presents Podcast
The Eastern and Western Hemispheres had been separated for 10s of millions of years, Pangaea. Columbus brought them together again causing an ecological convulsion, effectively creating Pangaea again.
On these European ships were passengers, beyond people, like plants, animals and micro-organisms. The most well-known were the diseases that wiped out some 90% of the population. Going the other way, you get foods, particularly the potato in Ireland.
Also, there is sweet potato and corn, particularly in China, where it has an equally large impact.
Columbus created China’s Population Boom
China, if you look at it on a map, one of the striking things is that it doesn’t have any big lakes or big bodies of water only these two major rivers, the Yellow and Yangtze. Other than that most of China is dry hills. So China has 20% of the world’s people and about 7% of the worlds fresh water.
Beyond that it gets even more out of whack because the main crop of China is rice which has to be grown in big fresh-water swimming pools. This creates a real tension and has been a major problem for every Chinese ruler to the present day.
In about 1600, corn and sweet potato come into China and they resulted in a huge harvest. It was very, very productive and able to grown in dry land. Those dry hills turned into productive land and the Chinese fanned out into Western China to start planting corn and sweet potato.
The result was big boom in food supply, one historian put it at a 50% increase. As a result the population boomed and led to the crowded China that we know today.
The Little Ice Age – Global Cooling
When the native people died in massive numbers due to European diseases, they stopped impacting their environment. Doing things like burning fields, planting crops. All these open areas across both continents began filling in with trees. The result was that it drew carbon dioxide out of the air. An increasing number of studies show the carbon dioxide levels dropping with the arrival of Columbus.
This caused the Earth to get colder and caused what histories call the Little Ice Age.