To what extend do you agree with the statement ‘Population growth has brought social and environmental problems, and human societies through time have been forced to adapt, to find new ways of doing things, or perish’ (Scarre, 2009, p.40?
The World has witnessed a dramatic growth in human population since the last ice age. The warmer climate has reduced the number of hostile habitats and allowed for vast numbers of both wild animals and plants to flourish. However, at some point both the availability of resources and the steady growth of population have become unsustainable (Scarre, 2009. p187). This essay will look at what happens when production is unable to meet the needs of a growing population and when population growth begins to outstrip the available resources. It will investigate the critical consequences for the environment and on complex societies as a whole. I will illustrate and explain how population growth has contributed to a series of social, health and environmental problems which in some extreme examples has led to the total collapse of human societies. I will also identify those societies that were forced to find ways to adapt themselves to these problems and that consequently flourished. My analysis will be supported with examples from both the Old World and the New World.
One common strand found in several ancient societies that experienced a progressive decline or a total wipe out due to population numbers spiralling out of control is that of ecological sustainability. The demise of the Classic Maya, the Polynesia of Easter Island or the Harappans of the Indus Valley to name a few, offer one of the best examples of how population growth can contribute to the collapse of the environment and eventually to an entire civilization. The demise of the ancient Maya society offers one of the best examples of how population growth has contributed to the collapse of an entire civilization. First and foremost, the Maya World is found in the Yucatan peninsula, a hot and humid area that offers a series of challenges to would be farmers. There is a total absence of large rivers or stream and it has a predominantly dry climate. The Yucatan peninsula consists mostly of karst shaped landscape. Consequently, most of the rain fall is lost, leaving little or no surface water. Despite the building of artificial reservoirs like those found in the site of Tikal (Webster and Evans pp 626-627), the inhabitants of the Maya lowlands were critically exposed to any major climate adversities such as a prolonged drought. Maya staple diet consisted mainly of corn and a few other small domestic animals such as turkeys and ducks, with an absence of larger animals such as those found in the Old World, horses, oxen or camel or even those found in the Inca empire such as llamas or alpacas, which, not only could be of assistance for food production and transportation but they could also be consumed during times of bad crop seasons. Furthermore, due to the region’s humid climate, the Mayans were unable to store corn for more than a few months as this would either rot or become infested with parasites. This would prevent them from eating any surpluses accumulated in previous years during periods of severe drought (Diamond, 2003). As more people begun to concentrate in the Copán valley more land had to be cleared to build houses and plant crops in order to feed and house the growing number of people. This brings a series of irreversible environmental issues such as deforestation, soil erosion and man-made drought. Archaeological evidence in the Copán valley region has shown traits of sediment belonging to that of the hill slopes as a result of clearing the forest to build new settlements and to be used as burning fuel (Diamond, 2003). So here we find perhaps the most damaging consequence for humans of environmental degradation in the long run: Soil erosion. If the soil of arable land becomes either too...
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