We are still screwed: the coming climate disaster


My neighborhood isn’t going to be the group of humans left over after some great ecological catastrophe.

It’d be some group of survivors pot in place by the government.


Are you imagining a Horatio-like future of billions of Jared Kushner clones? That’s what your statement brought to my mind.


One bottleneck about 70 kya that whittled us down to a couple of thousand individuals. Another when we colonized the Americas. There’s evidence that the founder population of humans who crossed the Bering Strait 12-14 kya consisted of a few dozen individuals. And yes, genetic evidence, though there is also archaeological evidence, e.g. when looking at features in skull fossils over a wide geographic range.


I might venture to suppose that the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture significantly increased our species’s resilience. Maybe not though.


It increased our population density, but also led to shorter, more miserable lives. The population density is a big deal though–it enabled complex social structures like religions and hierarchical governments and it probably, through attrition, increased our overall resistance to diseases, which helped with conquest. In other words, it was a large net negative for most individuals, but helped us spread across the globe as a species.


Yeah, I’ve heard that people were happier and healthier as hunter gatherers, but as you say, agriculture is likely a net gain for the species.

There are many roads to species viability. The domestic cow is doing superbly well as a species, but I don’t envy its individuals…


That’s crap.

Happier? Maybe, but that’s impossible to measure. Healthier? No way in hell. Without agriculture you don’t get medicine and without medicine you die to random diseases and infections constantly.


Their conclusion is based on their discovery that members of a remote, primitive tribe living in the Bolivian Amazon–the Tsimane–have no peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and very little hypertension, despite having very high serum levels of CRP, the inflammatory marker that has been widely implicated as a cause of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular risk factors.

But they still die young. Their average life expectancy at birth is a mere 43 years.

Turns out malaria, infections and other random shit is more lethal than getting heart disease in your 60’s.
Which… is kind of obvious. Since you have to make it to your 60’s for any of that to matter.


Yes. And, of course, nothing that goes wrong at age 60 has any real meaning from an evolutionary perspective, since it has essentially no impact at all on gene propagation. We’re ‘engineered’ to survive to reproduce and rear young. After that, it doesn’t much matter, though we tend to get excited about it personally.


Well, I didn’t pull it out of my butt. Here’s Jared Diamond, admittedly a controversial character and admittedly a 30 year old article.

I confess that I am not up on the latest science here, but ‘crap’ seems a tad harsh.


How can one deduce the health of the prehistoric garbage makers, and thereby directly test the progressivist view? That question has become answerable only in recent years, in part through the newly emerging techniques of paleopathology, the study of signs of disease in the remains of ancient peoples.

In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material to study as a pathologist today. For example, archaeologists in the Chilean deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of death could be determined by autopsy (Discover, October). And feces of long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites.

Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they permit a surprising number of deductions. To begin with, a skeleton reveals its owner’s sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at any given age. Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel defects (signs of childhood malnutrition), and recognize scars left on bones by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases.

One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5’ 9’’ for men, 5’ 5’’ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5’ 3’’ for men, 5’ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. “Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was about twenty-six years,” says Armelagos, “but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive.”


I didn’t mean that hunter gatherers were healthier than modern humans. I was thinking more of the contrast between them and post-agricultural societies for thousands of years afterward. Nor am I asserting it, just saying the claim has been made.

Medicine has come a long, long, long way in just a couple of hundred years, which is a small fraction of the time since agriculture started.


I mean… here’s the obvious reason why it’s wrong:

Societies with agriculture won in every conceivable way. If it was unhealthy and terrible, they would’ve died out back when they made the transition. Instead they lived longer, built cities, developed technology and spread across the planet.

Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things because we can’t change to it unless we start hunting each other. Then we’ll all die of Kuru anyway.


As discussed above, we are comparing individual happiness/health versus robustness of the species, and there are thousands of post-agricultural years in which said happiness/health might have been affected. Also, longer life is not a necessary condition for building cities, population growth, etc. Nor is superior health. Just having more people and a stable societal base (however pleasant or unpleasant) could easily be enough.

You’re addressing a straw man above, but in any case, I don’t have a dog in this fight and don’t particularly wish to argue it further.


If it weren’t for agriculture, 99.995% of the human race would never have lived. That might not be “happier,” but it is something.


Just to be clear, Matt_W and I were not talking about whether in the grand scheme agriculture was a good or a bad thing. At least I wasn’t. The scope of the discussion was much more constrained than that.

I’m happy there was agriculture because otherwise I wouldn’t be here and there wouldn’t be computers. I can’t speak for a Sumerian slave or a French medieval peasant, though. They would probably rather have been alive than not, but maybe they would have envied a hunter gatherer if they could see how one lived. I have no idea.


Well I’ll agree with most of your rebuttals above, that my point was that the agricultural revolution probably made most people in the immediate aftermath more miserable than the hunter-gatherers that pre-dated them. They had to work harder, had more diseases, a shorter life expectancy, more tooth decay, shorter height, etc, etc. From the linked paper:

The rise in population density, the domestication of animals, and the increase in work effort in the course of the Neolithic Revolution increased the exposure and the vulnerability of humans to environmental hazards, such as infectious diseases, and led to the decline in life expectancy during that period.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. Those losses were eventually offset by adaptation to an agricultural lifestyle over the course of 8-10,000 years, which suggests that the adaptation is, at some level, genetic.

They didn’t live longer, at least not immediately. And my original post acknowledged that agriculture enabled conquest. Whether the culture that is best at conquest is a better culture is an open question. It’s more successful at displacing other cultures and covering the globe, yes, but is it better for its populace? Yuval Harari discusses, in his book Sapiens, why cultures didn’t revert to h-g lifestyles. It’s a ratchet. Agriculture does permit more population density. But once you have density, you can’t go back without starvation. And even if they did try to go back, it would have only taken a couple of generations–in the absence of writing–to lose the specialized knowledge (hunting and tracking techniques, edible plants, storage, migration, etc) that h-g’s rely on to be successful.


Plants do that for us.


“Survivalists” have been whispering for decades how top govt. people have predictions showing how much of the US will be underwater, and the top ranks and wealthy are buying land in certain places and building bunkers. There are also long lists of “consultants” to the rich who sell books and personal planning for where to expat from the US to avoid the most consequences, lawlessness, etc. Any truth you would like to believe will find a community of like-thinkers out there.


Before I read that paper, does it actually support this statement at all? Because nothing in the abstract suggests that it would. And the statement you are making seems absurdly subjective, and virtually impossible to prove given that prior to agriculture, humans didn’t really have real means of recording anything.

Agriculture is what gave humans the ability to actually develop real culture, art, etc… Because life as a hunter gatherer was essentially entirely based on moving around and trying to get food.


It gave some people that ability. The ones who were in charge, not the ones who were toiling in the fields. Agriculture based on manual labor is a pyramid structure, where a very large base of labor provides a kind of food and time luxury for a very small peak of beneficiaries. That’s why people who farm for subsistence even today live such dire lives, it can’t produce the results one needs at that scale; it needs large-scale farming with a large labor force. It is only quite recently, post-industrial revolution, that automation made large-scale farming possible without massive investments of human labor. In 1870, fully 50% of the people in the US were farming. Today that’s less than 2%. A billion people in the world farm today; I imagine most of them live hand to mouth and don’t experience much in the way of the benefits of leisure time.


That’s a nonsensical statement, and objectively false.

Early man, after the Neolithic revolution, still existed in small tribes where there was no dramatic difference in class. There were no Rich and poor when they first started doing agriculture or developing art.

Seriously, this entire discussion is absurd, and belongs in the “liberal stupidity” thread. The idea that we’d be better off as Hunter gatherers is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.