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Tomorrow’s world

Prehistoric treasure in our melting ice

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Melting glaciers and permafrost are revealing hidden treasures, says Franz Lidz in The New York Times. The most spectacular finds have been in Siberia, where in 2018 a 42,000-year-old foal from a long-extinct species of horse was discovered “with urine in its bladder and liquid blood in its veins”. An 18,000-year-old puppy, a possible evolutionary link between wolves and dogs, has also been found, along with the carcasses of woolly rhinos, mammoths and cave lions. In Alaska, the remains of a prehistoric village dug out from thawing permafrost may support a myth told by the Yup’ik people about a savage ancient war between two tribes. The remains of beheaded men, women and children were found, as were hundreds of arrowheads, “as if from a prehistoric drive-by shooting”.

Yet the pace of “glacial degeneration” is alarming. Teams in Norway were typically making 1,000-year-old finds a decade ago – now their discoveries are often six millennia old. Archaeologist Craig Lee of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research likens the rapid thawing to a “library on fire”. Soft organic materials such as leather or textiles will survive for a year at most after they surface, so it’s a race to reach extraordinary sites before such items rot in the ground, says Rick Knecht of the University of Aberdeen. This is “the heritage of humanity”, he says. “Hunting and foraging is how all humans lived for the vast majority of our existence on Earth.”

The climate wars are hotting up

Russian soldiers training in the Arctic. Alexei Yereshko/Tass/Getty Images

The “first climate wars” are about to break out, says Mike Pearl in the Daily Beast. A decade of droughts in sun-baked Somalia has driven thousands into the hands of al-Shabaab’s jihadist recruiters. “Jihadists benefit from climate-induced livelihood loss and food insecurity,” says analysis firm Global Risk Insights. As the climate worsens, “they can use offers of things like food and protection to recruit the vulnerable”.

It’s a similar story in south Asia. Shafqat Munir, head of the Bangladesh Center for Terrorism Research, links rising sea levels to the current outbreak of violence between Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh. Parts of the country are experiencing their worst floods in 60 years, and there are fears that Bangladesh could soon lose 14% of its landmass.

Further north, the opening up of previously frozen Arctic shipping routes has led Russia, China, the US and Britain to beef up their presence in the region – the Americans have sent an aircraft carrier to the Arctic Circle for the first time since the Cold War.

The Pentagon is clearly worried: it has published a Climate Adaptation Plan. John Kerry, Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, tweeted shortly after the 2020 election: “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is.” But the US military’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions amount to nearly 60 million metric tons – more than the total for Sweden. You can’t always fight fire with fire.