“Caution: objects in rearview mirror are closer than they appear.”
The thirteenth century in Europe was more than just dudes on horses jousting with one another, guys wearing pantyhose living in mud huts and kings going around looking for wedding night virgins to break in as a favor to the groom. As happy as those things were ( except the guy wearing pantyhose, and even then if everyone else was doing it it was okay and it kept your legs warm- warmer than the blue scrotums under a kilt up in wet and chilly Scotland that was for sure ), you still had to worry about famine and plague. No one was as yet worried about not bathing, not just the French. And you can thank that French guy Pasteur for finding germs or the French would still be bathing once a year instead of once a week. And speaking of the French, let’s give them credit for making something gross like snails taste wonderful. Take the Chinese, who supposedly have been civilized the longest, and look at anything they serve up and they can’t seem to make it taste that good. Of course, that could have something to do with one culture serving up yummy stuff like bread and dairy and meat and the other serving bunny food and rice and anything no other people would touch like monkey brains and rotted eggs. And the jury is still out on the health effects of a mostly vegetarian diet because normally the Chinese dudes are all dead from war or starvation long before they get too old. Of course, if you do get most of your protein from high fat sources like butter and cream and eggs ( a perpetual protein source rather than a one time gain from slaughter, although to be fair to us Americans we have simply oodles of waste land to feed cattle on if the corn crop all goes to ethanol so we can afford to BBQ every week ) make sure to have a glass or three of wine everyday, as it seems to counteract the cholesterol.
That time period was also surprisingly modern, at least in its demographics. Overpopulation was a continent phenomenon, as documented in England with the Doomsday Book. Which despite its cool name isn’t very apocalyptic, much to my disappointment. In England as well as France it was estimated that the population tripled in about a century. Now, as I have already shared with you some time in the distant past when I first read “War & Peace & War” by Peter Turchin ( which is a superb book on the way empires rise and fall ), France cleared a quarter of its forests and reduced its fallow period on fields from every other year to every third year in order to feed this overpopulation. But that only doubled its food production, and if you have stayed with me so far rather than allowing your eyes to roll back into your head and doze off you will remember that we just said its population had tripled. Another fun fact of the period is that the average farmer needed three acres per household member to pay his church tithe, his taxes, set aside seed for next year and also to feed adequately all year long. Yet only one peasant household in five had enough land. You would have thought that perhaps the Pope, being in pretty tight with Baby Jesus and all, would have been a little more sympathetic and let the contributions slide a bit. But no doing. I can understand the King not wanting to have to close off any of his thirty four wings of the castle for lack of heating wood or concubines, but the Pope could have been less of a dick. Oh, wait, is this the same organized religion that authorized the Inquisition and today prohibits contraception, condemning Third World peasants to malnourishment due to scarce resources and overpopulation ( and I was a good boy and didn’t even mention choir boy molestation )?
But, if I could finally get back to my point, this caused a great migration into urban areas. There wasn’t enough farmland to go around due to the increasing population. So, this wasn’t just a sustenance farmer famine that was to come. You had a modern capitalistic ( well, more like a mercantilist system, but the same difference ) heavy urbanized society. A good portion of the population had to earn a paycheck to buy food, they didn’t grow it. The cities teemed with unemployed. And, true to supply and demand throughout time, workers real wages fell and food prices went up. As workers were paid a lot less ( about a third less ), grain and flour prices doubled and tripled and farmland rents quadrupled. At the same time that the soil was being degraded to produce more food ( not that this was altruistic, the high food prices-and higher taxes- encouraged overproduction ). Then, because Mother Nature is a bit of a Bad Girl and always appreciates a practical joke, the basic weather patterns changed. A series of wet and cold years moved in to worsen the already overpopulated areas which had already been experiencing hunger. Crops failed, animals died. And cannibalism reared its head. Now, a lot of you act like I endorse the practice. I predict with certainty that it will happen again. I don’t necessarily endorse it, but I remain open about being forced into it. Not that I want to. Which is why I have years and years of stored food, unlike your SUV driving, mortgage holding, MRE eating, semi-auto collecting ass. But I digress. It was documented by multiply sources in France in this period ( okay, granted, it was reported rather than documented, this being a bit before cameras, but there were other reports such as unfed prisoners eating newly arrived convicts- all told, hard to disbelieve ).
Then, because of malnourishment and unsanitary practices like eating corpses ( there were documented cases of people dying as they were trying to dig up corpses for food, not to mention eating family members- and to still doubting Thomas’, this kind of behavior was also documented in Chinese famines ) or letting dead livestock rot in the open, the Bubonic Plague next hit. First you had overpopulation and mass starvation wipe out at least ten percent of the population and later you added to that at least another thirty percent from plague. All told, after repeated cycles of despair, the population was down to under half its total at its peak a hundred years previous. And remember, despite a large portion of the population being in cities, this was still an agriculture economy. Most of the population had been trained since birth at farming. Now contrast this to us today.
We are already massively overpopulated. It is a bit hard to refute this. The only question is when the oil running low will cause this state of affairs to lead to actual starvation rather than mostly economic problems ( I’m discounting areas already in decline, obviously, and speaking in a broad sense ). Our soil is already depleted ( again, only mitigated by oil inputs ). And while we aren’t seeing cold and wet weather effect crops, we do have “Gore Warming”, which crops seem to appreciate even less. We have far less farmers tilling the soil. This can in time be reversed, as human labor is cheap with overpopulation, but not in time to stop famine and die off since they are untrained. And we have no infrastructure supporting a primitive farming economy. We are just stuck watching the gas tank gauge dip slowly. Again, generally speaking. Your organic asparagus grower will do well until city hordes descend or budding royalty invades. If you feel safe, take a pencil and an atlas and draw a circle two hundred miles around each city in the rain watered agriculture regions. Even if everyone had to walk and they only walked four hours every morning before the heat got too much, in roughly two weeks ( which is too soon to die from starvation, especially considering the average body fat of Americans ) even one percent of those striking out would number in the thousands. I’m not saying it is automatic that lots of city dwellers will find you, just that the odds are really poor in your favor.
If France lost over half its population in an agricultural society due to overpopulation, soil depletion and disease, imagine the numbers in a non-agricultural oil dependant society such as ours. I don’t think 90% is unrealistic. Oh, we won’t lose it all at once. The oil, even as it decreases at eight percent a year ( it is already higher in Mexico, which accounts for the crisis, not drug wars ), will not run out all at once. But disasters are perfect storms. We will see overpopulation meet soil infertility, which meets energy decline which melds with increased disease due to malnutrition and infrastructure failure, with a sprinkle of Gore Warming thrown in ( I include that phrase a second time to strengthen my claim to creation and reserve the right to trademark ), not to mention the economy But, not to worry. The Muslim Half Breed Price Of Darkness will get you ethanol to burn in your SUV so you can drive to your government job were you eat SoyLent Brown grown in an algae vat, warmed in the microwave powered by a windmill which was made by metal harvested from the moon, because we don’t have enough ore left here to build enough alternate energy machines. American optimism and Can Do Spirit are 100% dependant on increasing energy supplies, which, in case you’ve been asleep for thirty years, we no longer have. If France with a farm society can lose over half its population to overpopulation, America with its financial paper economy will lose far more over time.