Synchronization of energy consumption by human societies throughout the Holocene


We conduct a global comparison of the consumption of energy by human populations throughout the Holocene and statistically quantify coincident changes in the consumption of energy over space and time—an ecological phenomenon known as synchrony. When populations synchronize, adverse changes in ecosystems and social systems may cascade from society to society. Thus, to develop policies that favor the sustained use of resources, we must understand the processes that cause the synchrony of human populations. To date, it is not clear whether human societies display long-term synchrony or, if they do, the potential causes. Our analysis begins to fill this knowledge gap by quantifying the long-term synchrony of human societies, and we hypothesize that the synchrony of human populations results from ( i ) the creation of social ties that couple populations over smaller scales and ( ii ) much larger scale, globally convergent trajectories of cultural evolution toward more energy-consuming political economies with higher carrying capacities. Our results suggest that the process of globalization is a natural consequence of evolutionary trajectories that increase the carrying capacities of human societies.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences