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If population growth was caused by fossil fuel consumption, why are things as they are?  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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If population growth was caused by fossil fuel consumption, why are the fastest growing countries the least wealthy? And why didn't they grow pre fossil fuel? I know the default solution now offered is population control, but what changed? Not child mortality rate, that is still high in the their world, as is life expectancy. Not human nature, probably. How did the growth of fossil fuels boost population growth in places like Haiti? Or did it?
 
John Weiland
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I'm just going to hazard a guess.  Oil brought down the cost of food production.  When famine occurs or starvation threatens, food is delivered to those in need.  Possibly as a consequence of the current cost of oil, there is an overabundance of food in world, so through (re)distribution, hunger is reduced to what it might be.  But food abundance does not always result in out-of-balance population growth.  So for that to occur, I guess I align myself with those that feel that those belonging to cultures that are out-of-touch with nature will simply convert food back into more people.  Those that are more in touch with nature realize, on a cultural level, the consequences of doing so.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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John,

But why then, around 300 years ago, would have the majority of cultures got out of touch with nature?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is; what is different in the third world now, and the same areas 500 years ago, that has increased the rate of population growth?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:
But why then, around 300 years ago, would have the majority of cultures got out of touch with nature?


First, the Age of Discovery, which spread European attitudes and ways of living throughout the world, and then The Industrial Revolution, which brought changes in the way most people on the planet live, including tools, machines, water supplies, public health, increased trade of food around the world, etc.

http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1998/7/98.07.02.x.html
 
David Livingston
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If population growth was caused by fossil fuel consumption....a new idea to me not sure it pans out frankly .
Just because an increase in life expectancy happened at the same time as an increase in fuel consumption does not convince me that the former s caused by the latter  .
David
 
Tyler Ludens
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Increase in life expectancy was probably mostly caused by improvements in public health such as sewers, germ theory, public water supplies, vaccinations, etc.  Many childhood illnesses are uncommon now in large parts of the world, though in undeveloped and developing countries, insecurity about the survival of children may cause women to produce more children in the hopes that some will survive.  In places where there is good prenatal and postnatal care, as well as family planning, births tend to decrease.

http://www.populationconnection.org/article/top-five-inventions-that-changed-population-history/

http://www.populationconnection.org/resources/health-human-rights/
 
John Weiland
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First, as David L. indicated,  it's worth noting that the oft used graph below illustrates association, not necessarily causation.  So one would need to ask, in the absence of oil, would global population...and the food needed to fuel it....have skyrocketed like it did over roughly the past 100 years.

@ Gilbert F:  "....why then, around 300 years ago, would have the majority of cultures got out of touch with nature?"

I'm not sure why or where from you chose or settled on 300 years ago....that would be ~1700, which does hover around the birth of Western science and perhaps a ramping up of slavery and imperialism, but I would just be guessing....far outside of my understanding.  Personally, I don't feel it helpful necessarily to choose dates, but rather see the concept of "got out of touch with nature" with something that has happened in human populations on almost all continents at various times and to various degrees.  As Daniel Quinn has noted, concentration of population and estrangement from nature could be said to have occured a few times over in the Americas, but then those populations tended to crash and disappear, whereas the crash of various civiliations in other parts of the world was just followed by more civilization building.  But just to narrow the focus a bit on your other question below......

"....what is different in the third world now, and the same areas 500 years ago, that has increased the rate of population growth?"

Again, just my opinion and painting with a broad brush, but slavery from an outside, dominating force would be one possibility that got the ball rolling.  Starting from a biological viewpoint, there were many (pre-conquest) factors limiting population growth rate with one significant difference between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists being birth spacing.  And extended breast-feeding times have been shown to decrease ovulation, a practice historically more characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies.  So an interaction between culture and food acquisition may have been at work to limit population growth. Enter agriculturalist invaders (preceded in time, intent, and location by nomadic enslavers before them) that enslaved the various populations of the third world, did their best to destroy the myriad cultures that existed there and replace it with their own, finally withdrew either voluntarily or under one type of force or another, and left a relatively cultureless (or hybridized culture) population to make what they could out of the spoils, with an entire new set of political boundaries and frameworks in which to exist that were quite foreign to what had existed before.  Generations had passed; the old way of interacting with the world had been replaced by an extract and conquer mentality.  The contractual agreement between "giving cosmos" and humans had yielded to a hoarding directive:  My mouth, my stomach, and my genes are the only things that matter.

Just like "divide and conquer", pretty much works the world over....lather, rinse, repeat.  There's a lot left out here and it's more complicated than that obviously, but a good starting point IMHO. All of this leaves out the factors for why a group that lived in balance with their environment, once disrupted, have such a hard time re-establishing that better life, but that's the domain of trauma recovery in both the psychological and spiritual realm. Favorite reads on the topic are Shepard's "Nature and Madness", Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's "Mother Nature", and Quinn's works around "Ishmael" and "Story of B" just for a few.
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Tyler Ludens
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By Daniel Quinn, discussing the link between food and population:  http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.shtml
 
John Weiland
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Thanks for that link, Tyler, that sums it up pretty well.  There is one aspect of that writing in which I still feel Quinn could have qualified his statements a bit better.  He wrote "... the exact same thing is true of humans. Fence off the parking lot, toss in a man and a woman and a couple bags of groceries every day, and before long you'll have a family of four. "--followed by-- "According to our cultural mythology, forty people COULD make up their minds to remain forty. It could of course happen. It's imaginable. But on this big parking lot we call the earth it never HAS happened."

It just seems a bit too over-arching to lump *all* humans, with the different cultures and ways of interacting with nature, into his argument.  Moreover, those cultures that did or do tend to live a more stabilized existence with regard to their population quite likely did not do so because they had "made up their minds" to remain in that state of balance, but rather as part of a larger envisioned relationship with the planet and even the cosmos.  They, as the human component of the "great mystery", were but one player...one entity....in something much larger to which they both owed their livelihood and also in which they found abundant benevolence.  So while the meme that Quinn addresses is the one that has driven the population to its current levels, I don't feel it's the only one out there to characterize "humanity".
 
Glenn Herbert
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Hunter-gatherer and other traditional societies tend to be profoundly conservative, and variants that developed growth-oriented traditions would within a few generations have overshot their land's carrying capacity and burned out. The traditions that survive, in the absence of outside interference, would be those that foster stability.

While population growth may have started to increase before oil came into play, the artificial fertilizers and mechanized production it made possible allowed population to grow much faster than it otherwise could have.

Oil has in general allowed humanity to expend a vastly larger amount of energy per capita and in total than was ever possible before, so the constraints that limited population have been weakened. When the oil becomes uneconomical to produce (due to taking so much oil to produce it that there is not enough left to power the rest of civilization), then the world will return toward previous levels of energy per capita and there will not be surpluses to allow growth.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hunter-gatherer and other traditional societies tend to be profoundly conservative, and variants that developed growth-oriented traditions would within a few generations have overshot their land's carrying capacity and burned out. The traditions that survive, in the absence of outside interference, would be those that foster stability.

While population growth may have started to increase before oil came into play, the artificial fertilizers and mechanized production it made possible allowed population to grow much faster than it otherwise could have.

Oil has in general allowed humanity to expend a vastly larger amount of energy per capita and in total than was ever possible before, so the constraints that limited population have been weakened. When the oil becomes uneconomical to produce (due to taking so much oil to produce it that there is not enough left to power the rest of civilization), then the world will return toward previous levels of energy per capita and there will not be surpluses to allow growth.


Yes. . .  BUT, if that is so, why are areas that use the least oil/ energy growing fastest?
 
Devin Lavign
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Well first off, while oil is the most recent reason for population growth it is not the only cause.

#1 cause of population growth is agriculture. When people stopped hunter gather life and settled to do agriculture it started a boom and bust cycle. Where there were massive surpluses that caused populations to sky rocket, followed eventually by crop disasters (floods, pests, drought, etc) that would scale back the population booms as food ran out. Though this also cause agriculture expansion as people would spread out to find better farming land during these bust periods.

#2 cause of population growth is medicine and hygiene. As agrarian society advanced, eventually so did medicine and hygiene. These lowered child mortality, adolescent mortality, adult mortality, and senior mortality. The child mortality having the biggest impact, since rather than loosing 5 out of 11 kids, suddenly families were able to keep the majority of their children. Eventually causing the size of families to shrink as parents no longer needed to have so many kids as insurance that some would survive. But there was always a lag, families still having large amounts of children when they didn't need to. Causing a population spike.

#3 cause of population growth is less percent of populations killed in war. Along with child mortality, young adults killed in war was a huge part of population control for a long time. Wars had stretched multi generationally and actually had pauses as new generations had to grow old enough to fight. Large amounts of the population had to fight in wars. gun powder however altered the ability to fight war dramatically. Allowing for large amounts of people to be killed by a relatively small amount of people. This only increased as oil was added to mechanize military. The need for less people involved in a fight, means more people left at home to continue increasing the population.

So while yes, oil has a big role in the dramatic rise in population, it is not the only or primary reason for population rise.

As for why "3rd world" countries came later to the population boom, simply due to having been exposed or adopting later to the agrarian society, modern medicine/hygiene, industrialization, etc...
 
Devin Lavign
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:
Hunter-gatherer and other traditional societies tend to be profoundly conservative, and variants that developed growth-oriented traditions would within a few generations have overshot their land's carrying capacity and burned out. The traditions that survive, in the absence of outside interference, would be those that foster stability.

While population growth may have started to increase before oil came into play, the artificial fertilizers and mechanized production it made possible allowed population to grow much faster than it otherwise could have.

Oil has in general allowed humanity to expend a vastly larger amount of energy per capita and in total than was ever possible before, so the constraints that limited population have been weakened. When the oil becomes uneconomical to produce (due to taking so much oil to produce it that there is not enough left to power the rest of civilization), then the world will return toward previous levels of energy per capita and there will not be surpluses to allow growth.


Yes. . .  BUT, if that is so, why are areas that use the least oil/ energy growing fastest?


Industrialized nations eventually get to a point of population neutrality. Where families have less children, choose to have kids later to make way for careers and living life, even opting not to have kids because they see the overpopulation problem. Many of the industrialized nations are seriously worrying about shrinking populations now. As less people are having enough kids to replace the previous generation.

One of the biggest suggestions to combat overpopulation is education and higher standard of living. Again and again around the world , educated people who have their basic needs met have been shown to have less children.
 
Glenn Herbert
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When agricultural work is powered by muscles or immediate solar input, there is a limit to how much can be produced per worker, and much of the population will need to be directly involved in food production.

When industry tapping ancient stored sunlight (peat, coal, oil, gas) powers agricultural work, the amount of work done is no longer limited by muscle power, and people can turn their attention to other pursuits, expanding the economic sphere and making an ever-expanding environment for themselves. They can also transport food great distances easily so that food production and population do not need to be in proximity.

This decoupling combined with surplus production allow population to keep growing exponentially rather than going through repeated boom-and-bust cycles... until someday the easy to recover stored sunlight is gone and it becomes more and more expensive to recover more of it. Then surpluses dwindle and there is less ancient sunlight being added to the current social production. While permaculture may allow effective food production, it will be more human/muscle-intensive than industrial production, and more people will be involved in food production; thus fewer people will be involved in other kinds of production.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Agriculture seems to be a fundamental factor in populations that tend to grow, though there have been centuries-long periods where the population was stable after reaching the carrying capacity of the land (thinking of England in the middle ages). Even there, there were periods where population pressures or climate improvements (not sure which came first) caused people to open and cultivate marginal lands. After these lands wore out from use - there was a reason they were marginal - the population on them crashed.

Medicine and hygiene are obviously huge immediate factors in population levels, and can be introduced quickly while cultural practices related to childbirth change slowly. I think this is the biggest factor in the past century's boom, though without added food production beyond what could previously be gotten from a piece of land, it would have been counterbalanced by food shortages and the death rate would have rebalanced the population. I would call it a symbiotic relationship, with both of these factors essential.
 
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