By Chelsea Albers, JMI Intern and Florida State University Junior in International Affairs & Languages
We all are familiar with the idea of learning lessons from our world’s most gruesome points in history. But did you know that includes environmental advice from ancient khans?In the year 1207, Genghis Khan began his mission to conquer the world. Although the Great Khan passed away in 1227, he had founded an empire that proceeded to conquer 22% of the world’s total land area including Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Asia. Along their path, the Mongols ruthlessly slaughtered approximately 40 million people, in some cases completely eliminating entire communities and cities.Why kill so many people when the Mongols could have gained more economically by forcing them into subservience? The answer lies in a difference of culture–the Mongols were a nomadic people who hated sedentary life and civilization because cities stood in the way of their pastoral lifestyle. Therefore, by eliminating sedentary populations, the Mongols had more land to roam as they wished.As the Mongols destroyed most sedentary populations in their path (primarily in current day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan), the previously cultivated fields reverted to forests. According to Julie Pongratz of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, this reforestation effect absorbed 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere (plus 40 million less humans to breath, burp and fart) resulting in a global cooling effect.Based on this and other historic depopulation events’ impact on climate, Pongratz believes we can apply what we have learned from history and transform land-use policy to recreate the Mongol’s unintended environmental effect. The next big question is how to apply this lesson—we certainly don’t want several hundred-million people to “disappear” in order to set our planet on the path to recovery!