Can climate change be good for you? That’s the tricky question poised by a group of scientists who are studying the effects that periods of volatile climate change may have had on the human brain.
As tempting as it is to regard climate chance or global warming as a modern day phenomena, a growing number of scientists believe that it not only did mankind’s most ancient ancestors battle perpetually with climate change, it actually made them a lot brainier as a result.
How can shifts in the Earth’s climate and enough droughts, freezing and flooding to make Noah call it a day and throw in the towel make the human race more intelligent?
According to The Daily Mail, an expert from the Smithsonian Institution claims the change in environment 3 million years ago led to humans walking upright instead of climbing.
So get up off your knees climate change deniers and embrace what has historically benefitted homo-sapiens to an almost implausible degree.
Hold your horses one second though. At the present time “implausible” would seem to be the key word. Although research suggests that shifts in the Earth’s climate are responsible for some of our most distinctive characteristics and large evolutionary leaps, Columbia University’s Peter deMenocal admitted to Smithsonian that the scientific theory is currently based on coincidence.
However, experts are examining teeth and seafloor sediments to give more credence to the idea that climate change gave us bigger brains. Once analyzed, such data might reveal how a series of climate changes which alternated between wet and dry, forced our hand when it came to using our wits to survive and adapt. In other words, it’s evolution in motion.
Rick Potts, of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, adheres to the idea and believes that at least two major evolutionary leaps can be linked to climate change.
When did they happen? Only about 3 million years ago. What were they? Well the first was the extinction of Australopithecus afarensis, known as Lucy, and the arrival of Homo with fossils revealing the evolution of a larger brain and the very first tools.
And the second. Well for those a little longer in the tooth that one seems just like yesterday. It happened between 2 and 1.5 million years ago, when Homo erectus began to use sophisticated bladed axes, leading to early humans leaving Africa.
Dr. Mark Maslin of University College London (UCL) said further evidence that climate change had a direct impact upon our evolution can be found in the Great Rift Valley, which runs through Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.
A detailed study of the rock record, revealed that lake basins were extremely sensitive to changes in climate approximately 2.7 million and 1.5 million years ago.
“We found that these particular periods, or “pulses” when the lakes come and go correlate directly with major changes in human evolution. The two records are absolutely compatible.”
Along with the idea that humans brains developed in order to find new ways to feed themselves in times of drought, scientists are also studying our ancestors’ fossilized teeth to see how our diet adapted to cope with climate change.
Dr Maslin also believes that climate change was a deciding factor in regard to natural selection.
“In wet periods when lots of resources were available, females may have been more careful to select the most successful men as partners, leading to smarter and stronger children.”