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ISSN: 2332-0915

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Beyond Zero Population: Ethnohistory, Archaeology and the Khmer,Climate Change and the Collapse of Civilizations

Niccolo Caldararo

A number of publications, both books and articles, have appeared in recent years attempting to prove that there is a correlation between global climate change and the collapse of complex human societies is one example where emphasis is placed on climate over human activity. This paper addresses a possible exception this emphasis of global effects. While societies under stress from weather changes may undergo significant economic and political change in response, Joseph Tainter has shown that a local systems analysis is best applied to determine the contribution of the internal dynamics of a society, rather than assign climate the ultimate effect. In this paper ethnohistorical and archaeological sources are reviewed indicating varied responses to climate challenge. We find that some, like Khmer society, are initially sustainable responses to local conditions and an exception to the proposed global collapse theory. However, failure of surrounding populations created pressures on Khmer society that destabilized adaptations to environmental stress forcing collapse. Like the Bronze Age collapse in the Mediterranean, local accommodation was insufficient for continuation on existing patterns. Others like the Japanese modified population densities and social forms to weather stress. Implications for today concern continued population growth worldwide and rising consumption are continued stresses that must be considered in the context of climate change. Pre- Neolithic population densities and modern technology could be a means of adapting human society to the constraints of quality of life and diminishing returns of technology.