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      Climatic volatility, agricultural uncertainty, and the formation, consolidation and breakdown of preindustrial agrarian states.

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          Abstract

          The episodic formation, consolidation and breakdown of preindustrial states occurred in multiple contexts worldwide during the last 5000 years and are contingent upon interacting endogenous economic, demographic and political mechanisms. In some instances, there is support for climate change stimulating integration or inducing sociopolitical fragmentation in these complex systems. Here, we build upon this paradigm and introduce the hypothesis that stable climatic conditions favour the formation of agrarian states, while persistently volatile climatic conditions can contribute to the episodic collapse of these complex societies. It is generally recognized that agrarian economies underwrite preindustrial state-level societies. In these contexts, the economic uncertainty associated with highly volatile climatic regimes makes it difficult for individuals or institutions to determine the costs and benefits of one agricultural strategy over another. We argue that this fosters sociopolitical instability and decentralization. As a first test of this hypothesis, we examine the historical dynamics of state formation and decline in the Mexican and Andean highlands within the last 2000 years. The available data in these regions are consistent with the hypothesis that the formation and consolidation of regional polities and empires is favoured in stable climatic regimes and that political decentralization can be stimulated and perpetuated by highly volatile climatic conditions.

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          Impact of regional climate change on human health.

          The World Health Organisation estimates that the warming and precipitation trends due to anthropogenic climate change of the past 30 years already claim over 150,000 lives annually. Many prevalent human diseases are linked to climate fluctuations, from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illnesses due to heatwaves, to altered transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures. Uncertainty remains in attributing the expansion or resurgence of diseases to climate change, owing to lack of long-term, high-quality data sets as well as the large influence of socio-economic factors and changes in immunity and drug resistance. Here we review the growing evidence that climate-health relationships pose increasing health risks under future projections of climate change and that the warming trend over recent decades has already contributed to increased morbidity and mortality in many regions of the world. Potentially vulnerable regions include the temperate latitudes, which are projected to warm disproportionately, the regions around the Pacific and Indian oceans that are currently subjected to large rainfall variability due to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation sub-Saharan Africa and sprawling cities where the urban heat island effect could intensify extreme climatic events.
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            2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility.

            Climate variations influenced the agricultural productivity, health risk, and conflict level of preindustrial societies. Discrimination between environmental and anthropogenic impacts on past civilizations, however, remains difficult because of the paucity of high-resolution paleoclimatic evidence. We present tree ring-based reconstructions of central European summer precipitation and temperature variability over the past 2500 years. Recent warming is unprecedented, but modern hydroclimatic variations may have at times been exceeded in magnitude and duration. Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from ~250 to 600 C.E. coincided with the demise of the western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the Migration Period. Such historical data may provide a basis for counteracting the recent political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.
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              Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci
                Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences
                The Royal Society
                1471-2962
                1364-503X
                Nov 28 2015
                : 373
                : 2055
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA djk23@psu.edu.
                [2 ] Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PO Box 60 12 03, Potsdam 14412, Germany.
                Article
                rsta.2014.0458
                10.1098/rsta.2014.0458
                26460110

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