May 18, 2010

Soil and climate as economic destiny

Figure 1 (on the left) Modelled “suitability” (probability of occurrence, Maxent) for (A) agriculture, (B) sedentary animal husbandry, (C) nomadic pastoralism, and (D) hunting and gathering.

From the paper:
Our simplistic exercise showed that a “geo-deterministic” approach can predict surprisingly many features of human cultural geography without any explicit cultural or historical assumptions. Although many deviations require further factors for a satisfying explanation, the nature of these deviations invite the generation of hypotheses for further research. Our ‘null model’ offers a highly parsimonious, empirically supported explanation to the question of why some regions are more “powerful” than others, supplementing the idea of a historical effect operating through the timing of transition to agriculture [2].

In some instances, our model may actually provide a simpler explanation. Putterman [10], for example, suggested that the dominance of Western European cultures indicates the transmission of “civilization” traits (other than knowledge on agriculture) from regions of first domestication. Our data indicate that higher climatic suitability may have been sufficient for Europe to “catch up”, allowing for much higher population densities than, e.g., the “fertile crescent” region. Models of “suitability” under past climatic scenarios may be helpful to evaluate this. Similarly, models applied to predicted future climatic scenarios may be useful to anticipate changes of the economic suitability of landuse types.

However, our model has clear deviations in some regions that may well be explicable by the availability of animals and plants suitable for domestication (e.g., central Africa). Apart from that, and more importantly, we know that human societies and economies went through historical development, so ignoring history may not always be the best strategy to understand causalities. This problem occurs also with other research questions in biogeography, e.g. when investigating global biodiversity patterns [45]–[47]. Nevertheless, our ‘null model’ will be a useful tool in identifying regions that require further investigation to understand additional processes that shape the distribution and performance of human economic traits.
I really like this type of paper that looks at a simple explanation for a phenomenon, in this case, economic output as a product of soil/climate quality and suitability. As the authors point out, their "null" model has its limitations, and it is precisely in regions of the world where its predictions do not match the observations, that we should look for additional factors (besides soil and climate) to explain economic traits.

Related: Soil and Greek temples.

PLoS ONE 5(5): e10416. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010416

Is the Spatial Distribution of Mankind's Most Basic Economic Traits Determined by Climate and Soil Alone?

Jan Beck, Andrea Sieber

Abstract

Background
Several authors, most prominently Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs and Steel), have investigated biogeographic determinants of human history and civilization. The timing of the transition to an agricultural lifestyle, associated with steep population growth and consequent societal change, has been suggested to be affected by the availability of suitable organisms for domestication. These factors were shown to quantitatively explain some of the current global inequalities of economy and political power. Here, we advance this approach one step further by looking at climate and soil as sole determining factors.

Methodology/Principal Findings
As a simplistic ‘null model’, we assume that only climate and soil conditions affect the suitability of four basic landuse types – agriculture, sedentary animal husbandry, nomadic pastoralism and hunting-and-gathering. Using ecological niche modelling (ENM), we derive spatial predictions of the suitability for these four landuse traits and apply these to the Old World and Australia. We explore two aspects of the properties of these predictions, conflict potential and population density. In a calculation of overlap of landuse suitability, we map regions of potential conflict between landuse types. Results are congruent with a number of real, present or historical, regions of conflict between ethnic groups associated with different landuse traditions. Furthermore, we found that our model of agricultural suitability explains a considerable portion of population density variability. We mapped residuals from this correlation, finding geographically highly structured deviations that invite further investigation. We also found that ENM of agricultural suitability correlates with a metric of local wealth generation (Gross Domestic Product, Purchasing Power Parity).

Conclusions/Significance
From simplified assumptions on the links between climate, soil and landuse we are able to provide good predictions on complex features of human geography. The spatial distribution of deviations from ENM predictions identifies those regions requiring further investigation of potential explanations. Our findings and methodological approaches may be of applied interest, e.g., in the context of climate change.

Link

20 comments:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The authors are clearly fans of Jared Diamond, whose methodology and concepts are rehashed here. Not inappropriate, but such a strong influence that even the abstract really needs to be footnoted.

Daniel said...

The map is kind of strange.

How is it possible that "climate and soil" (for Farming and Animal-breeding) change right at the German/Polish border?

Thats kind of funny. ;)

Marnie said...

Nice paper.

Perhaps it's too difficult, but a time lapse of the maps over the last ten thousand years would be illustrative in understanding the flow of how the transition from HG to pastoralist to farmer has occured.

BTW, what happened to the Caspian Sea. Not dried up yet, is it?

Steve Sailer said...

France, Germany, Italy, and the Lowland countries do well in the top two most fortunate modes -- agriculture and and animal husbandry -- which pretty much equates with cultural dominance over the last 600 years in Murray's "Human Accomplishment." The other top Old World country, England, is a little more marginal on crops, but suited for herding.

I'd probably add water transport to the model as the next factor -- the Rhine is central in Murray's maps of most eminent individuals.

Steve Sailer said...

I'd add that that you can explain some political transitions in control by climbing from lowest to highest intensity uses of land. For example, California was controlled by hunter-gatherers until the Spanish began arriving in the late 18th century, who established a rather lazy economy emphasizing cattle husbandry. (It was said no true Californio would engage in any labor that couldn't be done from the back of a horse.) They lost control of California in the 1840s to Americans, who then engaged in intensive agriculture with massive irrigation.

Jared Diamond's emphasis on different species availability can't explain the 19th Century political transition in his own state of California, since the Spanish settlers had access to all the same crop and herd species as the Anglo-Americans (e.g., English-speaking Americans proceeded to make a lot of money off oranges in California).

Steve Sailer said...

"How is it possible that "climate and soil" (for Farming and Animal-breeding) change right at the German/Polish border?"

Yes, they appear to be using some mixture of potential and actual land uses, which has obvious problems.

I'd also note that China doesn't look all that habitable in these maps, with much of it best suited for hunter-gatherers!

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"They lost control of California in the 1840s to Americans, who then engaged in intensive agriculture with massive irrigation."

Historically, the loss of control was to Californians engaged in the Gold Rush which brought about 300,000 people to the area from 1847-1855. Before then, "The "Californios," as they were known, consisted of about 800 families, mostly concentrated on large ranchos. About 1,300 American citizens and a very mixed group of about 500 Europeans, scattered mostly from Monterey to Sacramento dominated trading as the Californios dominated ranching.. . . By 1846, the province had a non-Native American population of about 1500 Californio adult men (with about 6500 women and children), who lived mostly in the southern half. About 2,000 recent non-Californio, non-indigenous immigrants (almost all adult men) lived mostly in the northern half of California. . . . by the time of extensive European contact in the 1700s, that perhaps 300,000 Native Americans were living within what is now California. . . . By 1820 Spanish influence was marked by the chain of missions reaching from Loreto, north to San Diego, to just north of today's San Francisco Bay area and extended inland approximately 25 to 50 miles from the missions. Outside of this zone, perhaps 200,000 to 250,000 Native Americans were continuing to lead traditional lives."

The influx of miners coincided with a dramatic reduction in the Native American population.

Mexico lost the Southwest in general as a condition of the Mexican-American war, which it lost largely in Texas. This war largely concerned U.S. annexation of Texas which had left Mexico largely because Americans moved there and wanted to plant cotton, while the Mexican government favored the farming of corn, grain and beef. The conflict in Texas that force the question in California, was over the type of farming to be conducted, not between farming and non-farming.

In the Gold Rush era, exceedingly expensive imported food (e.g. $1 eggs), was the model for providing food.

Agriculture in California underwent successive catastrophic booms in busts in cattle, sheep, barley and wheat (none of which were economically viable on a long term basis) through the 1890s. Irrigation argiculture wasn't the leading approach in California until roughly sixty years after Mexico lost the territory in the wake of the Mexican war and by the Great Depression was the dominant form of California agriculture.

Marnie said...

"Jared Diamond's emphasis on different species availability can't explain the 19th Century political transition in his own state of California."

Clearly, by the middle of the 19th century, technological advancements in farming and water management complicate the soil/climate picture.

Water, by the way, is encompassed in climate, which the authors demonstrate.

However, the soil/climate hypothesis can be used to look back thousands of years, so I see nothing wrong with this paper, from a historical perspective.

As to California: It's a fertile desert adjacent to a mountain range with a huge snow pack and abundant rivers. It's extremely dependent on winter precipitation in the Sierras.

The HG -> pastoralist -> farmer -> technologist transition happened in California in 150 years, obviously capitalizing on technology painstakingly developed in Europe and Asia over the eons.

However, judging by California's water/energy situation, we might have gotten a little ahead of ourselves.

The central thesis of this papers stands up, even for California, excepting recent imported technological advancements in soil and water management.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The model used in the paper is wildly wrong (and here) by the authors' own admissions, except in the trival cases of being able to predict that agriculture was not common and populations were low in places that are deserts or are very cold.

There results are suggestive of the notion that one could fix it, but this would require a total overhaul of the model. The model as presented is no better than a simple "cold cuttoff" and "desert cutoff" model.

It looks like, in essence, the model does not consider Sahel crops developed ca 4000 BCE (also common in India since 2500 BCE), East Asian crop agriculture (e.g. rice), or irrigation argiculture on steppes and in river basins (something developed in Mesopotamia by 7000 BCE and by BMAC farmers since about 2200 BCE), each of which is adapted to different conditions than the Near Eastern crop set that the agricultural niche in their model was apparently based upon.

princenuadha said...

In argumen against the geo-determinism only argument I would like to point out some regions that strongly go against the overall trend.

If you look at the Pakistan and northern India region you'll see that it tends to represent mostly type C with lesser amounts of D and B. By the model these regions usually weren't advanced. Yet the indus valley/ N. India is one of the birth places of civilization and has made many technological advancements throughout the many centuries.

The model tends to suggest that cultures have a preference towards D over A if equally represented in that region. This would explain both sub-saharah Africa and off Southeast Asia. However if you look at Japan and Korea you'll note that D has a stronger presence than A yet those areas have adopted agriculturalism and have become very technologically apt.

I think one aspect that needs to be considered when using the above model to explain regional economics is the cold selection hypothesis. That is the idea that there was a natural selection for higher intelligence for people living in colder climates. And that a higher intelligence increases the likelyhood of choosing A over D.

Marnie said...

"In argumen against the geo-determinism only argument I would like to point out some regions that strongly go against the overall trend."

The paper isn't arguing for geodeterministic theory only.

Marnie said...

"I think one aspect that needs to be considered when using the above model to explain regional economics is the cold selection hypothesis. That is the idea that there was a natural selection for higher intelligence for people living in colder climates."

Your argument doesn't hold up. I can think, off the top of my head, of ethnic groups that excell at the international level in the most demanding fields, that are descended from cultures that have lived for eons in tropical climates.

People adapted as appropriate to their environments. I can think of many cases where an HG to pastoralist to farmer choice would have been a poor one.

Intelligent people adapt and make the best use of their environment. Plain and simple.

Choosing a resource intensive path isn't always the best solution in the long run, so I wouldn't say that A is necessarily better than D.

princenuadha said...

Dienekes, can you please remove the moderator permission thing. This is much more of an inconvenience that having to deal with the occasional spammer.

Daniel said...

"I think one aspect that needs to be considered when using the above model to explain regional economics is the cold selection hypothesis. That is the idea that there was a natural selection for higher intelligence for people living in colder climates. And that a higher intelligence increases the likelyhood of choosing A over D."

Hmmm.
I recall a British study about "average IQ" in different European countries. Like 4-5 years ago.

The top 3 did cluster regionally, but not genetically (at least not by Y-DNA).

Since Britain was the source of the study, British had an exact average of IQ-100

The top performer was Germany with an average of IQ-107 (outmatched by Japan, wich had IQ-109, the most intelligent humans on earth, but thats not Europe)

Rank 2 in Europe share Netherland and Poland with IQ-106 each. IN case of Poland, this does not really match the "observations" of how Poland performed in the past.

The lowest ranking in Europe had Russia and Ukraine, with IQ-93 both. (so much for intelligence in colder climates).

Scandinavia clustered somewhere between 100-102

France and the Mediteranian Countries between 98-100

The whole Balkan peninsular including Greece somewhere at 96.

Turkey, through not Europe, was in the study, with an average of IQ-91

Sorry, dont know the name of the people who did this study.

Other studies usualy claim most African countries rank in the IQ-80s

princenuadha said...

Its called a correlation people (just like there is a correlation between agriculturalism and climate)... and the IQ of colder vs tropical climate populations correlation does exist. This correlation clearly exists globally. The correlation even exists within Europe and within Asia.

The real question is are the racial iq differences genetic and if so would that have been the cause of their "success". One must also wonder if having civilization created selection pressure for higher IQ.

One person pointed out some of the flaws to this study here but by the current model eastern Asia seems to be an unusual case. Southern China and SE Asia show greater A than northern China Korea and Japan while all have comparable levels of D. Yet it is China, Korea, and Japan that have been the most successful (I'm only considered native populations). The northern nations I just mentioned also have a much higher group average IQ.

thanks for the PC people!

princenuadha said...

@marnie To this model tends to suggest that given equal amounts A and D with less significant amounts of B and C populations tend to go to D. Thus this would help to explain most the tropics.

princenuadha said...

@Daniel I know that study. it went GE 107 NL 107 PL 106 SWE 104 ... lastly Turkey 90 and Serbia? 89. I haven't seen anything recent from Japan though, where you see it.

Dienekes said...

No correlation between MCPH1 allele status and IQ has been discovered; unless empirical data to the contrary are provided, all further comments on the topic are off-topic.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"If you look at the Pakistan and northern India region you'll see that it tends to represent mostly type C with lesser amounts of D and B. By the model these regions usually weren't advanced. Yet the indus valley/ N. India is one of the birth places of civilization and has made many technological advancements throughout the many centuries."

If one is going to look at things historically, one has to take into account recent climate change (the linked study is based on current climate). The heartland of the Indus River Valley civilization which was wet and fertile at the time is now the Thal Desert and the Thar Desert. The no longer extant Savasvati River (whose channels can be seen on topographic maps and from space), in whose basin the Harappan Civilization thrived and about which the Vedic literature has much to say, ceased to exist sometime around four to six thousand years ago (the exact date is quite important to determining the history of the region but as yet not definitively determined; I favor a recent date in that range based upon the archeology). Some of the tributaries joined the Indus River basin, others joined the Ganges River basin. Looking at current climate, one would never suspect that the region was fertile.

The issue of historical v. current climate isn't specific to North Pakistan either. The Sahara was much more fertile and Lake Chad was the size of the Caspian Sea ca. 4000 BCE when Sahel agriculture developed. The Baltic Sea was in inland freshwater Lake for a significant proportion of the time after the LGM ( fact that illuminates the older archeological finds around its shores), and the Balkan Sea joined the Mediterranean in a similar timeframe, and the Caspian was connected by water to the Black Sea in some of the post-LGM era (although probably not a fresh water body even then).

princenuadha said...

It may not be very useful to speculate so much but the current modal shows the Indus valley to have a relatively strong presence of D. I would assume that increased precipitation would not only increase type A but also increase type D. In either case it appears to me that the Indus valley is a case not like sub-saharah Africa and the tropics of the East in that the Harappans did not go D over A.