The Agricultural Revolution took place a mere 12,000 years ago. Was it the biggest mistake we ever made?
In 10,000 BC there were only beween 5-8 Million human beings on the planet. They were all hunter-gatherers. They ranged over large areas and enjoyed a varied diet and complex lifestyle. They were nomadic and had few possessions.
The standard view of this life is that it was hard but, according to Harari, that misses the point. There were undoubtedly hardships, times of plenty and times of shortage, physical dangers and no room for frailties. There was much complexity, many skills and much knowledge required.
According to Harari hunting and gathering actually only took around 35 hours a day leaving plenty of time for other activities.
Ten thousand years later the numbers of hunter-gatherers had reduced to 1-2 Million but there were 250 million farmers. A great success!! Or was it?
Certainly our numbers greatly increased – farming could support a far greater number of people than hunter-gathering.
Now families had possessions, homes and protection against the elements and predators. But was that good?
- Our diets were greatly restricted to a few crops
- There was much work to be undertaken, preparing soil, planting, reaping, storing, irrigating. The working day greatly increased and was concerned with hard work
- There was much worry about the future – weather, flooding, drought
- There was a need to protect crops from animals – it had to be fenced and guarded
- There were now stores and possessions that could be stolen and needed protecting
- There were many people living close together promoting diseases
- Proximity to animals created transfer of disease into human communities
- More children were born (but many died) creating larger populations which could no longer be sustained by hunter-gatherer living. There was no way back.
Human being were now locked into a lifestyle that was hard, full of worry and nowhere near as rich as before.
The fauna of the planet had already suffered a massive wave of extinctions following the cognitive revolution. At the time of the Cognitive Revolution there were over 200 species of Megafauna weighing over 50 kilograms – including Mastodons, Mammoths, Giant Sloths, Elephant Birds, Giant Lemurs, Giant Koalas, Giant Kangaroos, Giant Lions, Giant Beavers, and many more. By the time of the Agricultural Revolution there were already less than a 100. Where-ever mankind ventured the megafauna were the first to go.
The Agricultural Revolution was the start of the second major wave of mass extinctions as habitats were destroyed and wild animals killed to prevent them damaging or eating crops.
Perhaps we should have stayed as hunter-gatherers, kept our numbers down and led a more fruitful life?