skip to main content

Title: The Synchronization of Energy Consumption by Human Societies throughout the Holocene.
We conduct a global comparison of the consumption of energy by human populations throughout the Holocene and statistically quantify coincident changes in the consumption of energy over space and time—an ecological phenomenon known as synchrony. When populations synchronize, adverse changes in ecosystems and social systems may cascade from society to society. Thus, to develop policies that favor the sustained use of resources, we must understand the processes that cause the synchrony of human populations. To date, it is not clear whether human societies display long-term synchrony or, if they do, the poten- tial causes. Our analysis begins to fill this knowledge gap by quantifying the long-term synchrony of human societies, and we hypothesize that the synchrony of human populations results from (i) the creation of social ties that couple populations over smaller scales and (ii) much larger scale, globally convergent tra- jectories of cultural evolution toward more energy-consuming political economies with higher carrying capacities. Our results suggest that the process of globalization is a natural consequence of evolutionary trajectories that increase the carrying capacities of human societies.
Authors:
Award ID(s):
1822033
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10100555
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume:
115
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
9962-9967
ISSN:
0027-8424
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Over the last decade, archaeologists have turned to large radiocarbon ( 14 C) data sets to infer prehistoric population size and change. An outstanding question concerns just how direct of an estimate 14 C dates are for human populations. In this paper we propose that 14 C dates are a better estimate of energy consumption, rather than an unmediated, proportional estimate of population size. We use a parametric model to describe the relationship between population size, economic complexity and energy consumption in human societies, and then parametrize the model using data from modern contexts. Our results suggest that energymore »consumption scales sub-linearly with population size, which means that the analysis of a large 14 C time-series has the potential to misestimate rates of population change and absolute population size. Energy consumption is also an exponential function of economic complexity. Thus, the 14 C record could change semi-independent of population as complexity grows or declines. Scaling models are an important tool for stimulating future research to tease apart the different effects of population and social complexity on energy consumption, and explain variation in the forms of 14 C date time-series in different regions.« less
  2. Questions regarding population stability among animals and plants are fundamental to population ecology, yet this has not been a topic studied by archeologists focusing on prehistoric human populations. This is an important knowledge gap. The fluctuation of human populations over decades to centuries – population instability – may constrain the expansion of human economies. A first step toward describing basic patterns of population stability would be to identify sizes of fluctuations through time, since smaller fluctuations are more stable than larger fluctuations. We conduct a biogeographic analysis of the long-term stability of human societies in North America using a continentalmore »scale radiocarbon dataset. Our analysis compares the stability of summed calibrated radiocarbon date probability distributions (SPDs) with subsistence strategies and modeled climate stability between 6000 and 300 BP. This coarse-grained analysis reveals general trends regarding the stability of human systems in North America that future studies may build upon. Our results demonstrate that agricultural sequences have more stable SPDs than hunter-gatherer sequences in general, but agricultural sequences also experience rare, extreme increases and decreases in SPDs not seen among hunter-gatherers. We propose that the adoption of agriculture has the unintended consequence of increasing population density and stability over most time scales, but also increases the vulnerability of populations to large, rare changes. Conversely, hunter-gatherer systems remain flexible and less vulnerable to large population changes. Climate stability may have an indirect effect on long-term population stability, and climate shocks may be buffered by other aspects of subsistence strategies prior to affecting human demography.« less
  3. Abstract Background Social isolation is a key risk factor for the onset and progression of age-related disease and mortality in humans. Nevertheless, older people commonly have narrowing social networks, with influences from both cultural factors and the constraints of senescence. We evaluate evolutionarily grounded models by studying social aging in wild chimpanzees, a system where such influences are more easily separated than in humans, and where individuals are long-lived and decline physically with age. Methodology We applied social network analysis to examine age-related changes in social integration in a 7+ year mixed-longitudinal dataset on 38 wild adult chimpanzees (22 females,more »16 males). Metrics of social integration included social attractivity and overt effort (directed degree and strength), social roles (betweenness and local transitivity) and embeddedness (eigenvector centrality) in grooming networks. Results Both sexes reduced the strength of direct ties with age (males in-strength, females out-strength). However, males increased embeddedness with age, alongside cliquishness. These changes were independent of age-related changes in social and reproductive status. Both sexes maintained highly repeatable inter-individual differences in integration, particularly in mixed-sex networks. Conclusions and implications As in humans, chimpanzees appear to experience senescence-related declines in social engagement. However, male social embeddedness and overall sex differences were patterned more similarly to humans in non-industrialized versus industrialized societies. Such comparisons suggest common evolutionary roots to ape social aging and that social isolation in older humans may hinge on novel cultural factors of many industrialized societies. Lastly, individual and sex differences are potentially important mediators of successful social aging in chimpanzees, as in humans. Lay summary: Few biological models explain why humans so commonly have narrowing social networks with age, despite the risk factor of social isolation that small networks pose. We use wild chimpanzees as a comparative system to evaluate models grounded in an evolutionary perspective, using social network analysis to examine changes in integration with age. Like humans in industrialized populations, chimpanzees had lower direct engagement with social partners as they aged. However, sex differences in integration and older males’ central positions within the community network were more like patterns of sociality in several non-industrialized human populations. Our results suggest common evolutionary roots to human and chimpanzee social aging, and that the risk of social isolation with age in industrialized populations stems from novel cultural factors.« less
  4. The importance of fish consumption as the primary pathway of human exposure to mercury and the establishment of fish consumption advisories to protect human health have led to large fish tissue monitoring programs worldwide. Data on fish tissue mercury concentrations collected by state, tribal, and provincial governments via contaminant monitoring programs have been compiled into large data bases by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Monitoring Program Office (GLNPO), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Fish Contaminants Monitoring and Surveillance Program (FMSP), and many others. These data have been used by a wide range of governmental and academicmore »investigators worldwide to examine long-term and recent trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations. The largest component of the trend literature is for North American freshwater species important in recreational fisheries. This review of temporal trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations focused on published results from freshwater fisheries of North America as well as marine fisheries worldwide. Trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations in North American lakes with marked overall decreases were reported over the period 1972–2016. These trends are consistent with reported mercury emission declines as well as trends in wet deposition across the U.S. and Canada. More recently, a leveling-off in the rate of decreases or increases in fish tissue mercury concentrations has been reported. Increased emissions of mercury from global sources beginning between 1990 and 1995, despite a decrease in North American emissions, have been advanced as an explanation for the observed changes in fish tissue trends. In addition to increased atmospheric deposition, the other factors identified to explain the observed mercury increases in the affected fish species include a systematic shift in the food-web structure with the introduction of non-native species, creating a new or expanding role for sediments as a net source for mercury. The influences of climate change have also been identified as contributing factors, including considerations such as increases in temperature (resulting in metabolic changes and higher uptake rates of methylmercury), increased rainfall intensity and runoff (hydrologic export of organic matter carrying HgII from watersheds to surface water), and water level fluctuations that alter either the methylation of mercury or the mobilization of monomethylmercury. The primary source of mercury exposure in the human diet in North America is from the commercial fish and seafood market which is dominated (>90%) by marine species. However, very little information is available on mercury trends in marine fisheries. Most of the data used in the published marine trend studies are assembled from earlier reports. The data collection efforts are generally intermittent, and the spatial and fish-size distribution of the target species vary widely. As a result, convincing evidence for the existence of fish tissue mercury trends in marine fish is generally lacking. However, there is some evidence from sampling of large, longlived commercially-important fish showing both lower mercury concentrations in the North Atlantic in response to reduced anthropogenic mercury emission rates in North America and increases in fish tissue mercury concentrations over time in the North Pacific in response to increased mercury loading.« less
  5. Non-technical summary We summarize some of the past year's most important findings within climate change-related research. New research has improved our understanding of Earth's sensitivity to carbon dioxide, finds that permafrost thaw could release more carbon emissions than expected and that the uptake of carbon in tropical ecosystems is weakening. Adverse impacts on human society include increasing water shortages and impacts on mental health. Options for solutions emerge from rethinking economic models, rights-based litigation, strengthened governance systems and a new social contract. The disruption caused by COVID-19 could be seized as an opportunity for positive change, directing economic stimulus towardsmore »sustainable investments. Technical summary A synthesis is made of ten fields within climate science where there have been significant advances since mid-2019, through an expert elicitation process with broad disciplinary scope. Findings include: (1) a better understanding of equilibrium climate sensitivity; (2) abrupt thaw as an accelerator of carbon release from permafrost; (3) changes to global and regional land carbon sinks; (4) impacts of climate change on water crises, including equity perspectives; (5) adverse effects on mental health from climate change; (6) immediate effects on climate of the COVID-19 pandemic and requirements for recovery packages to deliver on the Paris Agreement; (7) suggested long-term changes to governance and a social contract to address climate change, learning from the current pandemic, (8) updated positive cost–benefit ratio and new perspectives on the potential for green growth in the short- and long-term perspective; (9) urban electrification as a strategy to move towards low-carbon energy systems and (10) rights-based litigation as an increasingly important method to address climate change, with recent clarifications on the legal standing and representation of future generations. Social media summary Stronger permafrost thaw, COVID-19 effects and growing mental health impacts among highlights of latest climate science.« less