232

History is fact littered with civilisations engaged in unsustainable practices. Some of the worst offenders have long since collapsed, but the ecological damage they caused or contributed to often still have reverberations today. Prior to the industrial revolution, agriculture dominated human life. Accordingly many examples of unsustainable ancient cultures ...


96

It is difficult to be completely sure because of the lack of written records, but some claim that the collapse at Easter Island was rather brutal. But it seems clear that: By that time [of the arrival of European explorers], 21 species of trees and all species of land birds became extinct through some combination of overharvesting/overhunting, rat ...


76

Most ancient agricultural practices deplete soil to some degree, but are just fine when population does not exceed certain limits. There are some examples of ancient cultures exhausting natural resources available to them - Pitcairn Island Polynesians, Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi). It's the cause of the semi-nomadic way of life of many early societies - your ...


59

Short answer For most of the war, the main supply of rubber for Germany and Italy was synthetic rubber. They were able to obtain some natural rubber from Japanese controlled Southeast Asia via the Soviet Union (until June 1941) and limited (by blockades) amounts via shipping. There were also pre-war stockpiles, while some was seized from French stockpiles ...


51

For the list, read Collapse by Jared Diamond. The short answer is that yes, premodern cultures definitely experienced man-made environmental disasters. Perhaps the number one cause of these was deforestation. For example, the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island cut down trees in order to build and manouevre the moai (which were huge stone statues with outsized ...


42

SHORT ANSWERS In terms of impact, the influx of precious metals into Spain (and then to the rest of Europe) from South America from the late 15th to the 16th century is hard to match. For a while, this made Spain enormously wealthy and enabled it to finance armies and conquests on a scale not seen since at least the Roman Empire. It turned Spain into a ...


30

When Iceland was first settled at the end of the ninth century, much of the land on or near the coast was covered in birch woodlands. “The people that came here were Iron Age culture,” Dr. [Gudmundur Halldorsson, research coordinator of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland] said. “And they did what Iron Age culture did.” The settlers slashed ...


27

Already in prehistorical times, it seems that the arrival of Human was the cause of major changes in ecosystems. Even before the rise of agriculture, the use of fire is supposed to have had a huge impact on the environment. For instance in Australia: all forms of megafauna on the Australian mainland became extinct in the same rapid timeframe — ...


26

The first immigrants in Northern America killing all the horses and other large fauna. Shame, it could all have turned out entirely differently if they hadn't. Supporting evidence: archaeologists have discovered the heaps of bones and arrow points where the early humans drove the animals off cliffs. Here is a link to an article discussing horse ...


25

Sugar cane in the Caribbean comes to mind. The islands were sporting single purpose economies for all practical intents, much like a number of OPEC countries do. It was extremely valuable, too. In the aftermath of the 7 years war, France preferred to give up its Canadian possessions to keep Guadeloupe and Martinique. The parallel extends somewhat in that ...


24

There is a bunch of information available about deforestation problems in Japan. See this article for an introduction: Japan - How Japan Saved its Forests: The Birth of Silviculture and Community Forest Management Basically, the Japanese population grew too fast, and they used more wood then they had timber. By the 1600's this caused erosion problems and ...


22

The Loess Plateau was flat and densely wooded as recent as less than 2000 years ago. The massive deforestation and the resulting soil erosion was entirely caused by human activities. Nowadays the Loess Plateau consists mostly of gully hills.1 In the past 2500 years, there was no evidence that the Chinese civilization consciously practised conservation. ...


21

As Denis observed in the comments above, for many countries, gold would have been traded through securities in the first half of the twentieth century. In those cases the physical transfer of the gold would indeed have been the exception, rather than the rule. That said, there would undoubtedly have been a great many cases where gold was transferred as ...


18

It's arguable whether it's "unsustainable" (any extraction of non-renewable resources is), but the common ancient mining technique of hushing resulted in near-complete destruction of landscapes, or at the very least significant alteration. The method essentially consists of using a large flow of water to wash away the topsoil, exposing deposits underneath. ...


16

I would posit that such booms and rushes are not the exception but the norm, and there is more to be learned from the study of them than from mere war and politics. The effects of the latter are comparatively easily (and often, quickly) reversed, while the effects of booms and rushes usually reverberate for generations. Some examples: Bananas. Today we ...


15

A lot of good answers- nearby me there is an example of a Native American culture whose unsustainability probably contributed to their collapse. The Cahokia Indians built a city near modern day St. Louis that was the first and largest city built in North America north of the Mesoamericans in Mexico. This site was first settled around 600AD and peaked in ...


14

In the 1950s and 1960s titanium was a very exotic metal which few had the know how to make or use at the quantities and qualities required for a high tech military vehicle. Titanium is a notoriously difficult metal to work with. You can't refine it like iron ore, instead you get titanium carbide. Instead, you use a more complex process resulting in ...


14

Some of this research gets much easier if you can search in German. ;-) All translations are my own. The German WP article on synthesized coal gives the following numbers on Germany's fuel supply: Year Mineral oil (kilotons) of which synthesized percentage 1939 8,200 2,200 27% 1940 7,600 ...


14

Yes, absolutely. It's a bit hard to proof for real pre-historic influence, but humanity as such has definitely changed things on the planet even before the industrial time. Extinct species Humanity made multiple species extinct. And no, I am not talking about smallpox, but rather about Steller's sea cow or dodo. More. While these examples are from rather ...


14

Looking at one specific ship yard, the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company: Nine shipways were constructed, producing 126 Liberty's and 117 larger ships between Dec. 6, 1941 and the end of the war. Peak employment in 1943 was 21,000 employees in three shifts. Historically, it was typical for a ship to be launched about 1/2 way through construction. If we ...


13

I'd recommend 1491 by Charles Mann for anyone interested in this topic. Humans have extensively engineered their environments even before adopting agriculture. East Coast North American tribes systematically burned the forest to weed out undergrowth and spark/germinate mast, such as chestnuts. This was sustainable in the sense that mast is what deer ate, and ...


12

How Aboriginal burning changed Australia’s climate For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians burned forests to promote grasslands for hunting and other purposes. Recent research suggests that these burning practices also affected the timing and intensity of the Australian summer monsoon.


11

According to Russian scientist Sergey Zimov, the disappearance of grasslands in Siberia was not due to Climate Change, but due to overhunting in prehistoric times. The theory is that humans killed the large grazers. This led to the older steppe-like landscape to be replaced by the less productive and less biodiverse dense forests that we associate with ...


10

Strictly speaking, first fossil fuel pipeline in USSR territory would be the the Balakhanu-Black City pipeline, built in 1878 by Vladimir Shukhov, renowned for his innovations in oil industry and in industrial architecture in general, for The Petroleum Production Company Nobel Brothers, Limited in Baku - one of the first pipeline transport systems in history....


10

It was a vital item for just about anything mechanical. All engines and most weapons/weapon system need ball bearings. You need ball bearings to rotate a turret, no matter if this is an aircraft turret or a tank turret. Likewise, the German MG 34 and MG 42 machineguns relied heavily on ball bearings. Cars, trucks, anything that (mechanically) moves, ...


9

Here is a link with annual oil production in metric tons (Mt), 1936-1948. The US is by far and away the world's largest oil producer (over 180 million MT in 1940), followed by the Venezuela and the Soviet Union (30 and 27 million MT respectively). The next tier includes Indonesia and Iran (about 8 million MT each), trailed by Mexico and Romania (6 million ...


8

No, of course not. The ancients were completely in touch with their surroundings, living lightly upon the land, and never, ever, EVER did ANYTHING which would negatively impact their Druidic karma. Ahem. Bullsh*t. "The ancients" had less knowledge of things that we today call "ecology" and "environmental impact" than today's third graders. They chopped ...


8

It is unlikely to be possible to offer an "average" for the number of hours worked per week by Andrew Carnegie's steel workers (or anyone else's steel workers, for that matter). The primary difficulty here is the range of processes encompassed by the term "steel workers". A secondary problem is that the number of hours in the working week changed ...


8

To answer your side questions about paucity of information about Soviet industry: having established a superb intelligence network in the West, USSR was understandably paranoid about the symmetric efforts and classified all information about its industry to the degree that no official numbers could ever be trusted. Combine this with приписки and you see that ...


8

Workforce Men Many men were mobilized into the army, the only people who had an exemption ("бронь" - literally, "armor") were extra-skilled workers and administrators, and the threat of withdrawing the exemption was a powerful pressure point for them (and, of course, on the other end of the spectrum, there were people who tried to volunteer for the ...


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