We are still screwed: the coming climate disaster


We’re not spouting liberal talking points here. Seriously, this is like climate change where a large percentage of folks who study this stuff for a living agree. This isn’t controversial. People in pre-neolithic h-g cultures generally lived longer, were taller, had better teeth, less disease than their farming descendants. All of this stuff is discernible from remains.

Humans (including non-sapiens) have been producing art for many tens of thousands of years, long before there was any agriculture.

Neanderthals practiced ritual burial. Do you really think singing and storytelling (i.e. music and poetry) wasn’t a thing before agriculture? Agriculture did provide for organized religion with a priest-caste, hierarchical governmental structures like monarchy, and a stratified society with task specialization. They allowed for the creation of cities. (Urbanites have, for most of human history, been markedly less healthy than their country cousins. Here’s an article about this dynamic pre-Columbian Americas.) There are advantages to agriculture, and you’re right, we’d probably have never developed the technological society we have now without it. Moderns are certainly healthier and live longer than pre-neolithic h-g’s. But the shift from a migrant h-g lifestyle to farming saw an immediate decline in standard of living for most people.


I don’t think you know what objectively false means, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to elaborate.


It means that it is not a matter of opinion. Primitive man did not go from Hunting and gathering to serfdom, as you suggested.

Seriously, if you guys want to go live as cavemen, that’s totally a thing that you can do, right now. There are tons of places on Earth where you can go live in the wilderness like an animal, if that’s really how you want to roll.

They didn’t even have written language.

Sorry man, but everyone agrees that the Neolithic revolution was a massive step in the advancement of human culture because it meant humans were able to create some stability in their lives. Agriculture is easier than spending all of your waking hours hunting and gathering.

Again, what are you basing this on? Living as a Hunter gatherer was terrible. What makes you think it wasn’t? Why would primitive man have voluntarily chosen to live a crappier life ?

I’m not seeing any actual meaningful argument being made, at all, that defends this statement you keep making. You are linking to sources, but they aren’t actually supporting your argument.

Saying that people who lived in ancient cities were sometimes less well off than those who lived outside of them doesn’t support your argument at all. Those people living outside of cities were still practicing agriculture.

You seem to be trying to suggest that the Neolithic revolution was a transition from Hunter gatherers to Urban life. It was not.

The only thing I can inside would possibly be perceived as negative is that humans probably ended up consuming a narrower variety of foods, but this was offset by the fact that they could much more consistently get necessary caloric intakes. A variety of food isn’t that important when you are always in the verge of starvation.


This is a strawman. I didn’t suggest this. In fact, I believe I said several times that we moderns are better off than any ancient humans. I also said that the agricultural revolution was almost certainly a necessary precursor for the development of our modern technological society. I outlined several advantages of agriculture over hunting and gathering. I’m not sure why you’re being so defensive.

From one of my linked sources:

  • The researchers dug through data from more than 20 studies that collected clues to stature and overall health—everything from dental cavities to bone strength—from ancient skeletons. These studies focused on a wide range of cultures in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas as they transitioned from foragers to farmers.
  • The team saw that across the board, people’s height decreased and health worsened as they traded hunting and gathering for the garden and the herd.
  • What accounts for the decline? While we tend to think that growing our food rather than foraging for it must be a good thing, “humans paid a heavy biological cost for agriculture,” anthropologist George Armelagos, one of the researchers, said in a prepared statement.
  • A diet based on a limited number of crops meant that people weren’t getting as wide a variety of nutrients as when they relied on a range of food sources, leaving them malnourished—and thus, both shorter and more susceptible to disease.
  • Living in agriculture-based communities likely made infectious diseases more of a problem, as well, the scientists say. Higher population density, disease-carrying domesticated animals, and less-than-ideal sanitation systems all would have helped diseases spread.
  • This effect was seen over thousands of years, starting at the dawn of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.In more recent times, however, height and health have been increasing, especially in 75 years or so since mechanized agriculture began to spread.

I’m not sure how much more cut-and-dry you can get.

Why would modern humans choose to live far from our workplaces so that we have to spend a significant portion of our day driving vehicles that are gradually changing our climate in ways that will have deleterious effects on our direct descendants? Why did the Easter Islanders chop down their last trees? Why did pre-Columbian Canadian natives decimate bison herds by driving them over cliffs? I explained above how agriculture was a ratchet. Each individual irreversible step along the way made sense. For a great explanation read Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. Seriously, you should read it; it’s a fantastic book, with implications far beyond ancient members of our species.


For some reason the links there just keep directing to some rebel mouse WordPress thing. But I’m guessing this is taking about the paper published by Mummert?

Honestly, I’m not sure how valid that article is, I don’t think anyone else has confirmed any of her findings. It was just a paper she did while she was a grad student.

There were criticisms made of her stuff, pointing out that she made certain assumptions that weren’t actually true, ignoring things like population replacement, and misattributing the cause of things like perceived reductions in health.

Transitioning to a agricultural society was a massive shift in human lifestyle, and so it would be expected to cause issues, as humans had not evolved into it. This doesn’t quite mean the same things that Mummert suggests. Also, a big part of what you see during the Neolithic revolution was that agricultural societies were successful, and spread. You had populations of Hunter gatherers not necessarily transitioning to agriculture, but rather just being replaced by other populations. Mummert didn’t really consider this, I don’t believe.

Regardless, it’s somewhat moot, as the idea of “was this thing that happened tens of thousands of years ago good” is kind of pointless. I just balk at the idea that primitive Hunter gatherers were somehow “happier”. It seems meaningless, as they lived ridiculously harsh, short lives.


Compared to ours, sure. Compared to a Sumerian slave in 5000 B.C., maybe not so much.

I wouldn’t give up modernity for anything (the flush toilet alone is a fucking miracle, though it was really urban concentration and sedentary lifestyles that made it a necessity). But that doesn’t mean I have to deny it may have really sucked for a lot of people on the long road to modernity.

Is it pointless to debate whether the transition to agriculture was unpleasant? I guess. It’s also pointless to debate whether Julius Caesar butchered the Gauls or just ‘conquered’ them, or a billion other questions. Still makes for an interesting discussion.


That is not what I suggested. It’s like me saying not every primitive man became Voltaire after the invention of agriculture, as you suggested.


It’s counter-intuitive that initial stages of agricultural development led to a backwards for individual well being but it did often make quality of life worse for the typical individual.

FWIW Wikipedia on the Neolithic Revolution:

Despite the significant technological advance, the Neolithic revolution did not lead immediately to a rapid growth of population. Its benefits appear to have been offset by various adverse effects, mostly diseases and warfare.[57]

The introduction of agriculture has not necessarily led to unequivocal progress. The nutritional standards of the growing Neolithic populations were inferior to that of hunter-gatherers. Several ethnological and archaeological studies conclude that the transition to cereal-based diets caused a reduction in life expectancy and stature, an increase in infant mortality and infectious diseases, the development of chronic, inflammatory or degenerative diseases (such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases) and multiple nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin deficiencies, iron deficiency anemia and mineral disorders affecting bones (such as osteoporosis and rickets) and teeth.[58][59][60] Average height went down from 5’10" (178 cm) for men and 5’6" (168 cm) for women to 5’5" (165 cm) and 5’1" (155 cm), respectively, and it took until the twentieth century for average human height to come back to the pre-Neolithic Revolution levels.[61]

So, “urbanization” (in quotes because early cities would have a few thousand people although by early-to-mid bronze age up to 80,000 in larger Sumerian cities) and agriculture made food supplies more reliable but not necessarily more nutritious.

From same article regarding disease:

Throughout the development of sedentary societies, disease spread more rapidly than it had during the time in which hunter-gatherer societies existed. Inadequate sanitary practices and the domestication of animals may explain the rise in deaths and sickness following the Neolithic Revolution, as diseases jumped from the animal to the human population. Some examples of infectious diseases spread from animals to humans are influenza, smallpox, and measles.[65] In concordance with a process of natural selection, the humans who first domesticated the big mammals quickly built up immunities to the diseases as within each generation the individuals with better immunities had better chances of survival. In their approximately 10,000 years of shared proximity with animals, such as cows, Eurasians and Africans became more resistant to those diseases compared with the indigenous populations encountered outside Eurasia and Africa.[66] For instance, the population of most Caribbean and several Pacific Islands have been completely wiped out by diseases. 90% or more of many populations of the Americas were wiped out by European and African diseases before recorded contact with European explorers or colonists. Some cultures like the Inca Empire did have a large domestic mammal, the llama, but llama milk was not drunk, nor did llamas live in a closed space with humans, so the risk of contagion was limited. According to bioarchaeological research, the effects of agriculture on physical and dental health in Southeast Asian rice farming societies from 4000 to 1500 B.P. was not detrimental to the same extent as in other world regions.[67]

In addition to disease, mummies from Egypt show that bronze age people were filled with parasites. Heck, one of the Biblical passages about the Hebrews leaving Egypt has God promising them that I will put on you none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known.

A thought experiment can help explain this: hunter-gatherers tended to be smaller groups of people with less contact with others. Disease has less opportunity to spread.

Now, picture a late stone age or early bronze age city. People are crowded together, more than they ever have before. If one gets a communicable disease soon everyone will have it. It’s an ancient petri dish where diseases can more easily mutate into other forms: in addition to dealing with all the same diseases as their nomadic ancestors from a half dozen generations before they soon will have brand new illnesses against which there is no immunity.

Apologies for going the lazy Wikipedia route but this ain’t no college essay.


It’s harder to describe. Who is better off is the question, basically. Any random individual in an agricultural society was probably worse off than any random individual in a hunter-gatherer society. But the hunter-gatherers’ society was less stable, had much lower populations, and more dependent on competitive warfare. During the ‘invasion’ period of the European Migration period, battles with tribes were functionally every male member of that tribe. That rough and ready healthiness came with a large dose of constant warfare.

In other words, pyramid builders.

IE, we don’t know the names of the people who built the pyramid, but we see their accomplishment. By sacrificing personal success for the success of the society, agricultural societies with larger populations were able to leverage economies of scale to do things pastoral societies could not. Much or most of the success of agricultural societies is built upon the faceless mass of toiling agriculturalists.

To be honest there are few hunter gatherer societies that were not in contact with settled agricultural societies, and much of the advancement in hunter-gatherers came from the agricultural ones. The only one i know off the top of my head are the in the Pacific Northwest, maybe the Chinook peoples? (i can’t remember the exact name of the tribe i had in mind at the moment), with so many salmon calories at hand they developed settlements and sophisticated social attributes.

It’s hard to read the Secret History of the Mongols and think that society is especially wealthy. Pasturage was jealously guarded, and many of the migrations of Turkic peoples through history were one tribe being driven out by another. Being exiled to the endless woods of Siberia was functionally a death sentence.

Ibn Khaldun’s 14th Century, Muqaddimah, which was written during the time of Tamerlane and the decline of Andalusia, seemed to come to the conclusion that there was a regular, rhythmic pattern of invasion from hunter-gatherers into the settled agricultural worlds, wherein after a few generations they’d become “soft” and another, rapacious tribe would move in. That certainly seems to match at least the pre-Classical Middle East (even though he never mentioned it, nor probably knew about it), as the Chaldeans, the Kassites, the Hittites, the Arameans, the Medeans, Akkadians, and even the precursors of the Jewish people, all seemed to be invasions of tribal people into the agricultural areas.

Anyway the point is it’s probably hard to suss out the Old World’s hunter gatherer / pastoralists vs the agricultural communities as discrete, self contained developments rather than a loosely connected system affecting and being affected by each other after a certain point. However a modern take on why Arabian tribes were able to overwhelm the Middle East at the advent of Islam - Semitic tribes had been invading settled areas for thousands of years at that point - were, among many reasons, their relative security from plague which ravaged the area around the 550s AD.


Do those studies take into account possible increased infant survival as an explanation of the unhealthy archaeological record in early agricultural societies?

I can see an scenario where availability of food and lack of need to migrate leads to weaker “stock” surviving early years and thus filling the archaeological record with apparently unhealthier individuals that would just not have survived in a hunter gatherer society, where there’s a lot of early selection. Just speculation since I know nothing of the topic really, but I’d love to know if this possibility is taken into account and rejected in those articles or if they are just looking at the record without contrasting it with population growth.


The thing is, there are hunter-gatherer societies extant now, among humans and the other greater primates, and they do not spend all of their available time scavenging for food. Watch any band of chimpanzees or gorillas, and you see a good deal of laying around, grooming, playing. Agriculture didn’t bring leisure time to the masses; what it did was allow for much greater concentrations of people, which was translated into social and political power. But any idea that everyone reaped the benefits of that political and social power is, well, nuts. In very large communities, a good many people toiled in the fields, while a relatively small number of people exercised their political and social power.


With the initial Neolithic revolution, humans did not instantaneously move into large cities. Hell, some people never actually transitioned into large Urban regions at all, like various tribes in North America which absolutely mastered agriculture.

The kind of stratification of class structure you are complaining isn’t something which would have happened for generations after initially embracing an agricultural basis for society.

After the initial movement to an agrarian society, those societies we’re initially successful even before forming large Urban centers. That’s why they became the dominant society structure. It made them more successful as a species.

Again, it’s silly anyway. It’s not like it’s a viable way of living. But hey, if you want to try it, you totally can.


Nor did they instantaneously experience food plentiness and the benefits of leisure time, or an explosion of art and culture.

Yes. But what is the point of saying the consequences, good and bad, of the development of agriculture took a long time to play out?

Who said they wanted to try it?


Maybe it wasn’t the agriculture which caused it? Maybe something like the development of human civilization isn’t so simply distilled.

Again, there are examples of civilizations which underwent the neolithic revolution, but which preserved an egalitarian society structure.

Ultimately though, i honestly don’t understand at this point what the purpose of the discussion is, or how it relates to environmentalism in the modern world.


Indeed. Maybe it didn’t cause the art and culture, either, since those are separated in time as well. Note that I don’t say that; what I say is that the same argument applies.


Here’s a nice article by the BBC in respect of reducing your carbon footprint:


I know this is the doom and gloom thread about the environment, but I feel it worth mentioning that progress IS going well in some areas, especially electric cars.
Basically 95% of electric cars have had mediocre sales until the last year, and things are now accelerating, driven massively by Teslas model 3. Here are some recent numbers:

Worldwide sales are doubling in a year. Tesla model 3 up > 1,000% in 9 months. Serious electric trucks coming in 2020.


From https://fivethirtyeight.com/live-blog/2018-election-results-coverage/

In Washington, Measure 1631, the Carbon Emissions Fee Measure, lost, with 56 percent voting no. The measure would have put a tax on carbon emissions, and it was the second time in two years that a ballot measure on a carbon tax was voted down in the state. Groups in favor of the measure were outspent by oil interests who poured more than $31 million into defeating it.

Carbon taxes are widely favored by economists, but this second failure to pass such a tax shows how difficult it can be to convince voters. This latest effort to install a carbon tax in Washington received 57 percent of the vote in King County, where Seattle is located, revealing an urban/rural divide. Supporters of the measure pledge to continue the fight. “This problem is not going away regardless of whether we come out on top or not,” Nick Abraham, communications liaison for Yes on 1631, told Crosscut Magazine.


“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you?”


We’re talking a very low base, though. UK figures for October came out the other day, touting a big increase in electric cars, up 90% year on year. That still only amounted to 600 more cars, out of a total market of 154k.


Sure, but a market where your sales double every year grows pretty darned rapidly. Until now electric cars in the Uk have been either shit range (LEAF) or very expensive (tesla). The Tesla model 3 is not available in the UK yet, and likely not until late 2019. When it does, I suspect it will change everything. Even the new Nissan leaf is a big improvement on the old one.