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Population Cycles - General

Human history is the story of a series of population booms and busts. The names and locations change but the basic pattern varies little.

  1. A small group of humans encounters a substantial resource base and builds a thriving civilization.
  2. This civilization develops impressive art, social, commercial and military capabilities.
  3. Either the population grows too large for the resource base (soil in most civilizations up to 1900) or the resource base is degraded by human overuse or natural disaster.
  4. The civilization starts to show the strain of decline with elites clinging to their privileges and drawing even further away from the main body of society.
  5. Complexity and entrenched interest groups make change difficult or impossible.
  6. Disparity and shortage lead to civil conflict further impairing the ability of the society to deal with its fundamental resource crisis.
  7. The resource crisis forces large numbers of the population to either migrate or starve. Typically, birth rates plummet while mortality, through reduced life expectancy, war and disease, increases. The population declines at some rate ranging from gradual to precipitous.

In most of the ancient world, population cycles were quite slow to develop as population growth rates were usually much lower than they have been in the 20th century. Over the past 250 years however, with the development of modern medicine, dramatic improvements in public sanitation and oil-fueled food production, population growth rates have skyrocketed.

In the past, the population cycle was regional and largely confined to environmentally linked regions. Today, humanity and its cheap energy based boom have ensured that the entire planet is involved in the current population cycle.

Population Cycles - Advanced

In simple and isolated hunter gatherer and early agricultural societies, the population cycle was fairly distinct. Human populations invariably grow in favourable conditions and invariably decline as environmental conditions deteriorate. Often the environmental and resource deterioration is due to human activity – over fishing/hunting, degrading the topsoil, cutting too much of the forest and destroying the water cycle etc.

But also, climate changes from very favourable to much less favourable and then all of the other systems come under heavy stress. Crops don’t grow as well on the good land and not at all on the marginal land that was developed in the extremely good weather. Water sources change or dry up under different rainfall patterns and earlier frosts upset the planting and harvesting regimen for critical crops.

As conditions change to much less favourable, human populations stop growing and decline at a rate determined by the severity of the climate and resource changes. The decision making of the societies involved in these dynamics tends to be quite good. Asset management is competent and responsible and the group tends to be quite resilient, closely following the potential of their land and resource bases. Their leadership is directly involved as a member of the group and they have an intimate knowledge of the resources and dynamics upon which the fortunes of the group depend. All members of the group have the same interest.

But when human societies become stratified and subject to external pressures through trade and interaction with other societies, the issues become far less clear. The interests of all members of the society are not the same. Dependency on external resources
can be developed and the welfare of the decision makers can diverge from that of the majority of the society.

Note the Ethiopian famine during which the Ethiopian government traded wheat to the Soviet government for arms while a significant number of their people were starving.

In a trading environment, resource assets tend to be sold off or exploited at a much faster rate than would be the case then if the society owning them were husbanding them responsibly for their own exclusive use and that of future generations.

In the modern world, international trade and the development of external energy and fertilizer inputs have completely distorted local societies and markets. Decision making is no longer based on local factors and decision makers have radically different interests than the population in general. In effect, decision making is now being done by a world-wide market and the population involved is no longer that of the local region but of the entire world.

At least this is the case as we have experienced the upswing of real output and general surplus. When real output declines and surpluses become more regionalized, world trade will decline dramatically as local authorities,under intense pressure from their constituents, re-take control over food distribution.

There are some weak, localized population cycles still functioning on the planet but the dominant feature of current population dynamics is that the entire world is now part of one large upswing in a global population cycle where disparate resources can be input into any regional market and local climate fluctuations become far less important.

It is important to realize that the tremendous growth in population globally over the past 250 years does not represent a different trajectory from previous regional growth spurts, but is merely of a vastly larger scale.

 

Population Cycles - Reference

Subject MatterSource

The Link Between Population growth and Government Unpopularity
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Progressives for Immigration Reform

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Wikipedia

Societal collapse usually refers to the disappearance of human societies along with their life support systems.Societal collapse usually refers to the disappearance of human societies along with their life support systems.Societal collapse usually refers to the disappearance of human societies along with their life support systems.Societal collapse usually refers to the disappearance of human societies along with their life support systems.
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Armageddon on Line

The Enterprise-D is shown to be stuck in a time loop,
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Wikipedia

Population Growth over Human History
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Global Change

The fragility of the ecosystem in the southern Levant is well-documented over the past 15 millennia, and the area around 'Ain Ghazal never recovered from an environmental calamity that began around 9,000 years ago while the settlement was enjoying its greatest florescence.
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U of Texas

The downward spiral of hasty population growth
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Jane O'Sullivan

List of famines and disasters through history
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Wikipedia
Impact Index

Population Cycles

Soil Exhaustion Impact

50%
Contribution to population declines and collapses through history
  • Soil Exhaustion 50%
  • Climatic variances 50%

In agricultural societies the reasons for population expansion and collapse are pretty simple.  The population expands to use up the full potential of short term agricultural capacity which reduces the fertility of the soil.  Agricultural output falls and so does the health of individuals and societies which increase mortality rates from war and disease.  Agricultural expansion usually takes place during periods of favourable climate and decline inevitably occurs when climatic conditions deteriorate.

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