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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hunter Gatherers, Agriculture, And Global Warming

Hunter Gatherers
Hunter Gatherers image found at Progress Daily
Progress Daily has a snippet of an article that dismisses the hunter gatherer life, feting agriculture as the saviour of mankind. It states "facts" about the HG lifestyle that contradict anything I've ever learned about it. But since it is a courtesy to them after I borrowed their image for this post (I love the shopping carts), and also it's rather good sportsmanship to offer an opposing view, I provide this link so you can "go read the whole thing."


I've long felt that agriculture is the "original sin" of mankind, in that this is the first (and truly necessary) step for human populations to grow out of local resources. In the early days, this "merely" caused all sorts of wars and mayhem, and here we are at our twilight, contemplating the fact that there ain't nowhere else to go anymore. We're pretty much churning on all cylinders now, global resource-wise, with a population bursting at the outer edges of sustainability. (OK, that last bit was a bit of snark - we crossed that line at least 60-70 years ago, if not sooner).

But let's just leave my moralizin' aside for the moment. Let's give equal sustainability and quality-of-life points to both agricultural- and HG-based societies. Hell, I'll even let you dreamers out there claim superior points for your beloved Agriculture. I want to look around for a moment and assess what's going on.

Global Warming (which Tom Friedman characterized as being more correctly called "Global Weirding" in a rare moment of insight), is starting to show some serious messing with the seasons. We can expect this to get even "weirder" as the consequences of our carbon crimes continue to lurch things around.

At what point does agriculture become economically infeasible when the ancient reliability of the growing season disappears? Even the periodic fluctuations in our traditionally "normal" growing seasons have given farmers the vapors - spawning things like virgin sacrifice and the Farmer's Almanac - can you imagine the task farming will become when planting a crop is essentially a toss of the dice? Or to look at it another way, won't randomly successful "harvests" look exactly like gathering?


Perhaps this is the perfectly appropriate dessert for misusing the Earth's resources. We don't even have to bother to learn about intelligent and sustainable resource practices.

Mother simply decrees, "Go back to hunting and gathering, assholes."


  1. Your Favorite BartenderMarch 31, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    Personally I attribute man's dedication to farming to man's dedication for order (all those neat little rows, perfectly spaced). We're just inventive enough to be dangerous (we create nuclear power...before we figure out how to dispose of the waste/we create farming...before we figure out how it screws up the environment/we create marriage...before we figure out how to keep it in our pants) and just dangerous enough to do screw up far more than "our corner" of the world...I need a steak.

    Keep writing's fun!

  2. "...I need a steak."


    Thanks again for leaving thoughtful comments. I see that you've been thinking on these things.

    As for attributing this to a penchant for order, I tend to ascribe a more "innocent" motive - that elusive search for ultimate security (that first ancient season of grain stored for the winter must have been quite the rush). But I agree that fascination with order would certainly exacerbate the situation.

    (And thanks for the encouragement. It makes a difference).


  3. One form of food production that could survive a changeable climate is nomadic pastorialism. Which still has several military advantages over pure hunting and gathering.

  4. An excellent observation, Stephen - and an obvious oversight in my ruminations. (And hey, we're all about the military advantages! /s)

    It is interesting that, over at the Wiki, an ancient climate crisis is credited for the germination of pastoralism:

    While my thought experiment remains intact (with me crudely lumping herders in with hunter gatherers), I will certainly take pains in the future to pull them in to my analysis more explicitly in the future. (Warning/Hint: I am no fan of the domestication of animals. But then you knew that.)

    Thanks for stopping by, sir!

  5. TCU here didn't hunter gathers work much less hours than farmers? Were they not healthier American Indians were taller than the English Colonists.
    Granted higher population densities feeding off smaller amounts of land are possible with farm societies.
    But more population creates well society and societies like little kids want things like chemicals chemicals pollution the stuff we think might be killing bees.
    No bees no or very little food and no or very little people.

  6. Tribal societies are a bit over-romanticized, but in general what you say is true, TCU.


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