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I am not attracted to these issues, but they are important to consider when the subject of human beings and their long-term behavior and survival is considered.

Human population history

World Population history estimates from 70,000 years ago until 2025.

Log chart of historical war deaths

A history of major war deaths shown on a logarithmic chart.

World famine 1860 to 2016 from ourworldindata.org

The greatest modern famine was occurring in China in 1959-61, under Mao’s rule, right when I was transitioning from being a US Air Force pilot into being a grad student and prospective Unitarian minister in Berkeley, California. Both of those careers fizzled out while a deadly event of nearly the magnitude of the recent World Wars and of the 1918-19 flu epidemic was occurring. I knew of this event but it was a tiny portion of the public consciousness at that time and all but unknown now. So much of that loss of life from famine was because of economic/political/war events. Thus, the 24 million of the 3rd chart is part of the 40 million of the second chart, – #3.

The premise of yesterday’s post postulated by C G Darwin was that in normal times, that is approximately ninety percent of the time, there is a semi-starving subsistence group of humanity. That condition of constant famine always lurking he maintained hasn’t been the case since the beginning of the industrial revolution, because people discovered how to convert the energy of coal and gas buried for millions of years into food energy for humans.

The two top logarithmic charts, which go back to 3000 BCE and 400 BCE, show that growth spurt which is starting to accelerate about 1600 CE and reaching its current growth rate about 1750. The third chart only goes back to 1860, which is well after the industrial revolution was underway and it doesn’t show the thousands of years when daily near-famine was nearly ubiquitous. The difference between the many millennia of natural near-famine and the modern hundreds of years of a condition of rare famine is illustrated in the slope of the curves. When food is plentiful, as it is now, then the population grows rapidly and the line is steep, but when food is in a natural balance with a population the line would be horizontal. The fact that the human population was doubling every thousand years meant that humans were slowly developing new ways to create more food for themselves. They were discovering ways to put formerly inedible things theretofore unused as foods onto the dinner table by new methods of preparation. Such things as various ways of cooking otherwise indigestible foods, and of course the development of agriculture and livestock domestication and improvements. But all of that took lots of human effort to till the soil, etc., until the discovery of coal and oil and the development of tools to use these newly available forms of energy. 

We are living in a Golden Age of superabundance based on one-time use of limited fossil fuels. Enjoy!