A new study on past rapid climate change may offer lessons on how to address future global warming. 

The study was led by UNC Greensboro biology professor Gwen Robbins Schug. The goal was to determine how today’s policymakers can best plan for an increasingly volatile climate.

Researchers took an anthropological approach, studying global populations dating back 5,000 years. Robbins Schug says one objective was to correct misconceptions that inform much of today’s thinking on human evolution, such as the belief that climate change inevitably leads to environmental migration, violence, and societal collapse.

The study did show that climate shifts most often led to disease and violence in urban societies that lacked the flexibility to respond to environmental challenges, while rural, smaller-scale communities proved to be more resilient.

Robbins Schug says the research helps to unpack the complexity of what she calls “the phenomenon of resilience.”

"It really requires a deep understanding of the historical, social, and cultural context, in order to make predictions about what effective strategies are going to be for dealing with our future," says Robbins Schug.

The study, released this week, utilized a team of 25 authors representing 21 universities.

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