A (RE-)EMERGING VIEW ON PAST LAND CLEARANCE
The reason for this mismatch in views lies in the invalid assumption that clearance is linearly tied to population. Ester Boserup long ago summarized evidence that early farmers practicing shifting cultivation used much more land per-capita than those who have recently cultivated the same plots of land every year. Historical evidence from China and Europe shows decreases in per-capita land use by a factor of four during the last 2000 years, and the total decrease from the middle to late Holocene may have been a factor of ten or more. New model simulations by Jed Kaplan and colleagues allowing for changing per-capita clearance indicate that as much as ¾ of total forest clearance (and related emissions of forest carbon) occurred prior to industrial times. These simulations suggest that pre-industrial soil disturbance and hydrologic disruption could have been very large millennia ago in intensively farmed areas. The evidence for early forest clearance also strengthens the claim that early farming contributed to the anomalous CO2 increase during the last 7000 years.