Machu Picchu photo: Matt Riggot via flick.
Just yesterday Mike pointed out that the good forestry practices of the Maya allowed them to flourish for some time, until they abandoned their green stewardship and their civilization collapsed. Now my colleagues over at Discovery News are highlighting another intersection of environment and a New World empire. Apparently, the rise of the Inca was aided by rising temperatures:A 400-year long warm spell, which began about 1100 AD allowed the Inca empire to flourish in South America. At its height it stretched from Colombia to central Chile.
Inca Irrigated Fields With Glacial Waters, Planted Trees Preventing Erosion
The warmer temperatures allowed the Inca to irrigate agricultural terraces fed by canals bringing glacial melt-water to the fields. Additionally, the Inca planted trees on the hillsides to prevent erosion and increase soil fertility.
This all led to a surplus of food (maize and potatoes primarily), which in turn enabled the Inca to expand their empire, building an extensive road network and the grand structures by which they are remembered today.
Read more about this: Incan Empire Aided by Global Warming
Future Warming Will Make Andes Less Hospitable, Not More
Now I wouldn't go so far as the title of the original piece suggests and leap to say that present day global warming will benefit many people at all -- or at least more people will be negatively impacted than benefit.
Also, the warming which allowed the Inca to thrive was of a different scale entirely than that which is predicted and occurring today. It followed an extended period of drought -- which likely brought down the previous Wari empire -- and ultimately made the region more habitable.
Today climate change is melting glaciers that allowed the Incan canal system to work, threatening current water supplies throughout the Andes. Throughout most of the world climate change will move the climate towards being less hospitable not more.
Global Climate Change
World Bank and Andean Countries Will Spend $32 Million to Study Glacial Retreat and Create Adaptation Plan
Native Cultures Endangered by Climate Change
Peru to Plant 40 Million Trees in Reforestation Campaign
Iconic Bolivian Glacier Disappears: Melting Increased Three-Fold in Past 10 Years