How did farmers adapt to climate change in the past?
Matthew Kahn, Guest blogger /
October 4, 2011
How did farmers adapt to climate change in the past? Here is the abstract from a new research proposal produced by a “Dream Team” including my UCLA colleagues; Willeke Wendrich (Near Eastern Languages Cultures), Glen MacDonald, (Environment/Geography, UCLA) , Edward Rhodes , (Earth Space Sciences, UCLA)
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Mathew is an economics professor at UCLA and has written three books: Green Cities (Brookings Institution Press); Heroes and Cowards (Princeton University Press, jointly with Dora L. Costa); and in fall 2010, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter World (Basic Books).
“This project studies how agriculture, which is the basis of the ancient Egyptian culture under the Pharaohs, was first introduced in Egypt. Our theory is that a period of climate change with winter rain enabled the earliest farmers in Egypt to adopt the knowledge to grow domesticated wheat and barley in the same way as this had been done for centuries in other regions around the Mediterranean. After the climate became more arid, agriculture depended on using the Nile flood. This research will combine textual and iconographic references to Egyptian agricultural symbolism; fossil pollen analysis to reconstruct the vegetation and period of agricultural use during the early agricultural stage; and stable isotope analysis to determine water sources and season of rainfall.”
Do you see the synergy between human capital and shocks to the environment? The environment changes and self interested individuals (the farmers) must change their game in order to survive. That’s the right incentives. Did they succeed? Who succeeded? What constraints limited their ability to adapt? I predict that the researchers will find that richer people and more nimble people were better able to adapt to the new environmental challenges.
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