Harvard archeologist Steven Le Blanc writes in “War or Peace for the Future,” the final chapter of his book, Constant Battles; Why We Fight (pg. 224), “…let’s examine the myths of a peaceful past and of humans living in ecological balance and contrast them with a careful assessment of reality that turns the more traditional view on its head. These myths assume that for long periods of time the earliest humans were simple foragers [hunter-gatherers] who lived in harmony with nature, had few wants, and were able to control their populations. When agriculture was developed, populations grew, but farmers managed to remain inherent environmentalist and continued to avoid the environment. Then finally, but not until the rise of complex societies, we humans lost our ability to live in ecological balance. At that point, the appealing story of millions of years of peaceful coexistence with nature turns ugly, and violent, environmentally threatened societies—in particular Western European society—command a starring role. As Western societies spread or affected much of the planet, the myth continues, warfare and environmental degradation spread like an infectious disease, engulfing most of the world—except where vestigial remains of this peaceful, ecologically balanced existence survived among such groups as the !Kung [bushmen], Australian aborigines, Eskimos, Siriono, and the like. In other words, noble Cro-Magnon humans were replaced by warlike, modern imperialists.
“Reality paints a different picture, one with many opportunities for peace and ecological harmony, but it is a portrait of opportunities lost. Looking back through history, several radical changes in human societies occurred, and each change provided, in theory, an opportunity to improve the population-ecological balance and usher in a new era of peace. Each time one of these dramatic changes took place, peace and ecological balance remained elusive.
“The first of these transformations was becoming human. As proto-humans became fully human beings and gained superior intelligence, language, and cultural norms, these initial human foragers were hardly peaceful. Greater intelligence did not result in greater peacefulness. Although some ecologically benign behaviors did develop, they were never effective enough to regulate population growth and to establish a peaceful, stable system. Except in the harshest environments, forager populations grew, reaching the carrying-capacity limit, and then competed for resources. For more than a million years, humans lived in a precarious balance between population growth and the limitations and variability of the environment. Periodic population increases that could not be sustained by an ever-changing resource base lead to chronic starvation, infanticide, and warfare. These early people modified the environment by such means as fire and were no more ‘environmentalists’ than their short-term goals dictated. Since their numbers, by necessity, low, and their technology limited, the impact of the first foragers was relatively minor.
“Beginning around ten thousand to twelve thousand years ago, people began to farm in the Middle East, China, and later in Africa and Central and South America. This new situation might have resulted in a peaceful world. Farmers were able to get far more food from an acre of land than had ever before been possible, and there was potential for plenty for all—but the balance was not maintained. Farmers could reproduce at rates far beyond those of foragers, and they spread quickly over much of Earth. In spite of its potential, farming itself solved no problems. The benefits of every new plant domesticated, every new animal tamed, and every new technology invented were quickly consumed by the growing number of people such advances could additionally support. Horticulture and domestic animals caused environmental degradation that went way beyond the effects of just the higher population numbers. More people translated into more degradation. In any given region, in spite of efforts to control growth or to develop new foods and technologies, the population soon grew to stress the resources once again. Malnutrition, if not starvation, and even more intense and chronic warfare were common among the early farmers.
“Once again, a major social transformation occurred. Complex societies developed. The leadership in these societies had the mechanisms and potential ability to control population growth and to force people to be more ecologically sensitive. Along with more complex societies came complex technologies. The chiefdoms and early states had developed enough technology to harm the world’s environment at levels and rates not seen before. The result was even more degradation of the environment. Although some efforts were made to control population growth, such mechanisms were always far from fully successful, and resource stress was as common as ever.” etc…