Okay, that’s exaggerated a tad. Technically, it’s only been 171 years – but the causes of climate change were studied and noted earlier than that. Since the conclusions were not published until 1844, we’ll have to go with the official date of the predictions. It’s most unfortunate that no one was paying much attention. They were far more concerned about discovering the heavens, staking a productive claim in the Gold Rush, or conquering Nature to harvest an ever increasing profit from seeds, lumber, and a host of miscellaneous natural resources.
The world also forgot about the incredible work of Alexander von Humboldt as a whole, though he was once as globally renown and revered as any great figures in his era. Some allude that books published by naturalist, von Humboldt, inspired Charles Darwin to visit South America. But that’s sidetracking really, because Alexander was already adventuring into the wilds of South America, Asia, and even Siberia before Darwin had decided exactly what he wanted to do with his life. And through observations and atmospheric measurements, he discovered that deforestation in the pursuit of European-colonist-style agriculture, rerouting water, and the magnification of human population in metropolitan areas had a profound and detrimental impact on local climate.
While von Humboldt published so many books on Nature and Science during his lifetime that even he lost count, these predictions appeared in his final collection known as Kosmos, and stated:
“Through the destructions of forests, through the distribution of water, and through the production of great masses of steam and gas at the industrial centres.”
His initial studies about the effects of massive cropping and restructuring natural resources to suit man’s desired outcome took place in Venezuela between 1799 and 1804, making his emerging discovery over 200 years ago. He had no inkling of what would come to pass in the future, of the total havoc that the pursuit of riches would amount to before his death in 1859, let alone in the more than 150 years after it.
Deforestation in the pursuit of cropping is not a modern practice – it’s been going on for at least over 200 years in large tracts, thought it’s excesses and global reach are found in the past century or so. Considering the vast amount of raw land that the Europeans from various small countries found upon inspecting the expanses of the ‘uncivilized’ Americas so long ago that had no one occupying it but ‘heathen savages’… it’s easy to see how an imbalance was the farthest thing from their minds. Just like the gold miners focused on striking it rich in California – they took advantage of the ‘unclaimed’ bounty in front of them AFTER deforesting the land around the snow load runoff, and damming it up so there was plenty of water for summer mining activities.
But von Humboldt wasn’t the first highly acclaimed soul from the past wasn’t the first whose observations have gone largely unheeded for hundreds of years. Some 500 hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci pondered, “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies, than about the soil underfoot.” Even though it’s the source of life on planet Earth, the soil beneath everyone’s feet is still the least understood part of our world. Yet, it is the most important part of it. And here we are centuries into the future still more obsessed with the wonders of outer space than the intricate life force we stand upon, and should be surrounded by…
But man has intervened, altered things to suit a financial goal. The larger the hunger for riches, the more that sought a fortune, the deeper and more widespread the scarring and disruption. At the time that Humboldt was conducting his geographical studies and collection of specimens, measurements, and data – climate change was an isolated phenomenon. The population was not large enough yet to create havoc everywhere. Oil hadn’t been discovered. It would be decades before The Gold Rush took place, but the practice of obliterating everything that stood in the way of mega-farming was already in use before 1805:
“Because he makes connections, he was able to see things other people didn’t see, like human-induced climate change. He saw what happened in European colonies where cash crops and monoculture destroyed the forests, creating soil erosion. He was the first to explain the importance of the forest to the ecosystem.” Andrea Wulf, National Geographic
Therein lies the key to why the greatest natural scientist in the world was driven into obscurity. His contemporaries didn’t want to look at the whole of Nature as a totally connected whole entity. Everyone else was dissecting it into little pieces and studying minuscule portions of each through tunnel vision. The compartments just kept getting smaller and smaller as time marched on, and turned into a bunch of segregated sciences, all with their own narrow-minded perceptions. Soon the only connections that were sought were the ones desired by the guys with the funding – the alternative meant finding another way of earning an income.
Indiana Jones has nothing on the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt who drug thousands of samples, a pile of the latest state of the art equipment, journals, and sketchbooks all over the wilds of South America on foot. He toured North America and loved it, but had issues with a country where freedom and liberty had racial restrictions. He was abhorred by the way the ‘heathen savage’ indigent peoples were treated, and disagreed with their colonial forms of government. So while he was world renown during his lifetime and his books were wildly popular, it didn’t take long to bury his non-status-quo views on the heavens and Earth being a unified and interconnecting single force.
He was the forefather of our understanding of Nature, and if he had remained at the forefront of natural sciences the state of this planet’s environment might not be entering into chaos. But greed got in the way here too. Everything under heaven has a purpose where it naturally was when man arrived on any given location, and no, there isn’t a time and a place for everything. Some things just weren’t meant to be.
Definitely a man who lived ahead of his time, and one the world needs to unforget.
- Cosmos, Vol. 1
- The Concept of Nature
- National Geographic
- Emporia: Baron Friedrich
- Putting Science in Its Place
- Book: The Invention of Nature US – UK