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PLoS One. 2014 Aug 20;9(8):e105291. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105291. eCollection 2014.

Modeling the pre-industrial roots of modern super-exponential population growth.

Author information

1
Division of History & Social Sciences, Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford, Georgia, United States of America; Department of Anthropology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.

Abstract

To Malthus, rapid human population growth-so evident in 18th Century Europe-was obviously unsustainable. In his Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus cogently argued that environmental and socioeconomic constraints on population rise were inevitable. Yet, he penned his essay on the eve of the global census size reaching one billion, as nearly two centuries of super-exponential increase were taking off. Introducing a novel extension of J. E. Cohen's hallmark coupled difference equation model of human population dynamics and carrying capacity, this article examines just how elastic population growth limits may be in response to demographic change. The revised model involves a simple formalization of how consumption costs influence carrying capacity elasticity over time. Recognizing that complex social resource-extraction networks support ongoing consumption-based investment in family formation and intergenerational resource transfers, it is important to consider how consumption has impacted the human environment and demography--especially as global population has become very large. Sensitivity analysis of the consumption-cost model's fit to historical population estimates, modern census data, and 21st Century demographic projections supports a critical conclusion. The recent population explosion was systemically determined by long-term, distinctly pre-industrial cultural evolution. It is suggested that modern globalizing transitions in technology, susceptibility to infectious disease, information flows and accumulation, and economic complexity were endogenous products of much earlier biocultural evolution of family formation's embeddedness in larger, hierarchically self-organizing cultural systems, which could potentially support high population elasticity of carrying capacity. Modern super-exponential population growth cannot be considered separately from long-term change in the multi-scalar political economy that connects family formation and intergenerational resource transfers to wider institutions and social networks.

PMID:
25141019
PMCID:
PMC4139354
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0105291
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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