Friday, February 3, 2012

Learn from climate history: epidemiologist

MARK COLVIN: The decline of the Mayan empire; the Black Death and the Great Famine in medieval Europe and the collapse of the Ming Dynasty; what's the link?

The ANU's Professor Tony McMichael says it's climate change. He argues that whether the temperature goes up or down, or it rains less or more, civilisation is threatened thanks to reduced food production, more disease, wars and displacement.

The professor of population health at the ANU's Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health has looked at the climate record going back 7,000 years.

In an article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he argues that we must learn from history.

Professor McMichael spoke to David Mark.

DAVID MARK: Professor McMichael you've looked back at the climate record over the past 7,000 years or so. I want to find out what you found but firstly, how did you examine that record?

ANTHONY MCMICHAEL: Well it's a matter of putting together quite often disparate information on what the climate trends were. Let's say in the latter stages of the Mayan civilisation in the 8th and 9th century AD and gleaning from that literature the fact that recently it's been confirmed that there was a series of three very great droughts over the course of about 150 years.

And then putting that alongside the historical evidence, the skeletal bone evidence, the archaeological evidence relating to conditions of human life, the presence of diseases as evidenced in written documents and the bony record. Read More