Conversations with Geoffrey
Doug: Woohoo! Mission accomplished, again! How many countries can win the same war twice? Of course Iraq is still a ghastly bloody failed state, and we simply relabeled the remaining troops in Iraq as “non-combat” troops, as if that means anything when people are shooting at you. Jesus wept.
Geoffrey: Or they’ll just find their way to another war. MACHINE…MUST…FEED.
Doug: When I was a kid, peace was a good thing. Now we have perpetual war, this is progress?
Geoffrey: I have no readily available facts to base this on, but my theory is that as populations increase, and available resources decrease, war increases exponentially. Could it be that nature, through war, is finding a way to control the population?
Well. That last was a thought provoking comment. Too interesting to pass up, and any response to it would be too long for a Facebook comment. So I am going to post my thoughts here in no particular order.
The last first: Could it be that nature, through war, is finding a way to control the population? There’s a number of reasons to suspect this isn’t the case. The basic one being, it’s historically been a trivial cause of death. In the 20th century, replete with two world wars and some of history’s greatest atrocities, only a few percent of deaths were war related. While locally wars may kill a huge percentage of certain populations (one of many good reasons to avoid them,) in the greater scheme of things most people die of old age, heart attacks, illness, etc. In fact the later seems to be nature’s favourite method of dealing with some troublesome organism that is breeding like mad and spreading out of control. Plague.
Still, Geoffrey’s first point still stands independent of that. … as populations increase, and available resources decrease, war increases exponentially. Well, wars have certainly been fought over access to resources. Heck, it might be safe to say that a majority of wars have been fought over access to resources. Any number of colonial wars, both against natives to steal their resources, or among the colonial powers as they fought over colonies. And even when wars weren’t initiated over resources, access to resources (or denial of same) became important strategies in virtually all large scale wars.
On the other hand, throughout most of human history, population increase has been relatively modest even in the best of times. Combine that with paucity of good data about same and, well, endless warfare, I think it would be hard to make a case that population increase led to war. Maybe some local squabbles, but I can’t think of any ancient war off hand that was triggered by population increase and strained resource access. I’m not ruling it out, but I think it would be hard to parse any real solid evidence pro or con, simply because human population increase was so modest … and war so common.
That was then. In the past few hundred years, human populations have been growing nicely. And it would be hard to deny that expanding populations drove some wars, especially wars against various of the world’s aboriginal people. And there’s no doubt that many other wars of the past few centuries have been about access to resources. However, were nations or people trying to access resources because of population pressure? Well, no. I can’t think of any modern large scale war (war between nation states) that was caused by population pressure.
So have I demolished Geoffrey’s theory? Well, no. The world’s population continues to grow at a dizzying pace, and good case can be made that along side Peak Oil, we will also be soon seeing Peak Water, Peak Wheat, Peak Rice, etc. And when one has steadily increasing demand against a backdrop of fixed or even dropping production, things can go from seeming OK to really bad in a very short time. Which is one of the reasons why population growth is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today. If something seriously disrupted global food supplies, and there’s all sorts of reasons why this is inevitable, people are still going to need food. So it’s not hard to imagine a future world where Geoffrey’s Theory proves frighteningly prescient. Maybe a very near future world.
Have a great weekend everyone. Keep stocking those larders!
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s central to illustrating the post, it’s arguably an important historical image, and its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: AP Photo. It’s the last American “combat brigade” pulling out of Iraq. And no worries, there will be a future follow-up post on overpopulation, lily ponds, and war.)