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The relationship between climate and wealth

 
 
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:23 pm
In my life one of the topics I have most frequently discussed was the relationship between climate (specifically temperature) and a culture's wealth. While it's blatantly obvious that temperature is not the singular relevant factor I maintain that it is one of relevance nonetheless. Success as a nation is clearly influenced by millions (literally) of factors and I do not pose the following as a rule with no exceptions.

Let's start with what we know:

Temperature is known to affect human disposition. Heat makes the body lazy and less ambition is the staple in hot climates compared to cold ones. The 'siesta' and such is much more common in hot climates than elsewhere. This is paralleled on a smaller scale as well. The advent of air conditioning is routinely cited as of paramount importance to modern society serving as a boon to productivity in office buildings the world over.

I have discussed this subject with many people from many fields and I'll summarize some of their input.

I used to teach a Surgeon in Brazil who made some insightful observations about the relationship between heat and health. We all know that in tropical climates certain pests exist that do not exist in cold climates. Take the mosquito. The mosquito is easily the most dangerous animal in history, causing more human deaths than perhaps the rest of the animal kingdom combined. Mosquitoes and other such pests thrive in hot climates. So do many pathogens.

That much was self-evident to me but the Doctor brought up another interesting factor. The cleansing effect that winter has. Every year in temperate climates winter brings a fresh slate. In tropical nations where winter in non-existent there is no such thing and last years epidemics are not wiped clean by low temperatures.

Another one of my students was an engineer and we discussed, at length, different construction methods in different cultures. Relevant to this topic are the discussions we had about the differences that indigenous factors have on construction. In Japan construction has to deal with the frequent earthquakes for e.g. and the use of flexible materials such as wood is commonplace.

One of the things I noticed in tropical nations was the simplicity of construction methods. Anyone who wanted to have a house got some laymen together and built it. Not much planning in comparison to colder areas. One of the reasons for this is temperature. In nations were it gets very cold measures must be taken to insulate the constructions and a higher level of technology is utilized in such construction. I believe that this, in turn, fuels a more industrialized economy through necessity.

Yet another student worked with agriculture, she had some interesting points to make about the comparative ease of growing one's food. In warm climates food grows readily, heck, in some places it's always falling on your head. The basic staples of life are easy to have in these places. Hungry? Take a walk and pick something. I maintain that this leads to a simpler life but furthermore the rigors of winter do not force the advancement that storing food and paying more attention to what you will eat brings.

In warm climates where food is plentiful year round one does not have to concern oneself with food as much as in a more harsh climate where more planning and better facilities are needed to ensure survival. When America was colonized the pilgrims had to learn from the Indians or they'd have all died. In warmer climates the conquistadors did not have to learn under such a brutal threat. This is a basic element of survival (food) and in colder climates the planning for this means that greater attention is paid to being prepared to fight the elements. This is often reflected in culture, salaries in Brazil are quoted as monthly while in the US people use yearly figures (whoops, I am already waxing anecdotal, let's save this for later).

The rigors of the cold are beneficial to forwarding progress in many other ways. Consider that in cold climates an additional wardrobe is needed while in hot climates winter clothing is not needed (and therefore not manufactured).

This is but a sampling of the reasons that lead me to believe that cold climates are more conducive to industrialized economy. It forces more technology (to fight the elements), it generates more commerce (think winter clothes), it helps fight pathogens that can cripple a society, it forces man to prepare and plan (and planning helps success), and possibly the most important is the immediate effect on the human body. Eating a heavy meal in strong heat can knock one out as well as can a few beers. I think these factors are reflected in the comparative wealth of cultures while not being the only factor of course.

The anecdotal evidence for this is overwhelming. There are few rich and tropical nations. Many nations are richer in the colder areas and poorer in the hot areas. Many nations have their industrial base in the colder land while leaving less economically productive things like agriculture to the warmer terrain. Note that the many other factors of wealth make this a trend and not an rule without exception. fbaezer (the only person I have discussed this with who seems to disagree that climate effects wealth) notes that there is anecdotal evidence in Mexico that would not support this (in comparison to my anecdotal evidence from Brazil that does).

Furthermore it's important to note that extreme cold can be so destructive an element so as to eliminate any advantages and man is, in taht climate, bogged down with fighting the elements year round. If I were to guess offhand I'd say climate such as what northern Europe and the US enjoy is ideal for modern economy.

What say you?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 16,073 • Replies: 185
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fishin
 
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Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:29 pm
I can't think of a single reason to disagree with ya Craven. I think it's is readily apparent that once things get to cold they don't foster industrialization as well (hence the sparseness of norther Canada, Siberia, etc..) either but regions that have "moderate" temps gain quite a bit from the coolness that winter brings.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:33 pm
I'm not so sure that extreme cold doesn't foster industrialization so much as it simply doesn't foster human life. ;-)
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fishin
 
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Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:38 pm
lol Well, ok.. Maybe that's more accurate! *snort*
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:41 pm
Well I'm being pedantic but one of the essential elements of my theory is that a climate that is more hostile to human life is better suited for industrialization through necessity. Of course too hostile becomes a problem.

I'm waiting to hear from fbaezer and sugar. This has long been a topic of interest for me.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:55 pm
Certainly, in Oz, the south is more industrialized than the north.

Interestingly, political corruption has always been at least more blatant in Queensland, our northernmost state, than in parts further south....

Anecdotally, living in the tropics here has always been associated with "going troppo", and political and social backwardness, although this is changing, as huge numbers of southerners move north for the lifestyle, as Australia becomes more and more of a service economy.

One would expect, I would imagine, Craven, that the expected effects of your thesis would be ameliorated by the tropical and non-tropical parts being contained within one country, though.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:56 pm
In my experience the effect can be as drastic even when contained within a nation. See Brazil.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 03:59 pm
Hmmm - see my forgetfulness of geography! I had forgotten the large climate range of Brazil - even though, in such a huge country, they are bleeding obviously gonna be there!
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 04:01 pm
while i am not taking into account climate changes, its appears that historically some pretty significant industrialization occured in north africa (egypt) the middle east, the india sub-continent, central and south america prior to the more recent developments in europe, asia and north america. it seems that climate, if not significantly different than today, did not hamper or impede industrial activity.
0 Replies
 
Vivien
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 04:05 pm
mmm but wasn't this more craft and skill based? not building large businesses employing lots of people?

Certainly silk, carpets etc came from the east, hot countries. They were family businesses on a small scale rather than large concerns.

I think on the whole I agree with Craven. With global warming what will happen to countries that warm up considerably - will industries decline? I wonder.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 04:09 pm
I am certainly not making the case that no industrialization outside of cold climates occured.
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husker
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 04:12 pm
Quote:
The rigors of the cold are beneficial to forwarding progress in many other ways.

To illustrate that theory, Sinclair noted that red wines from regions with harsher growing conditions -- Spain, Chile, Argentina and Australia -- contain more resveratrol than those produced where grapes are not highly stressed or dehydrated.
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fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 04:59 pm
I believe the factor here is the relative level of harshness in life and its relevance for human (individual or societal) character.

If you are given everything, you become spoiled. If you are given too little, you are struggling, strictly, for survival. If you are given enough to make it, but only though hard work, you thrive.

So it's not heat against cold. Where nature gives most, chances are your culture will not be work-ridden.

I'll give examples from several regions in the world:
The Mexican north -hot and dry, with cool winters- is much more industrialized than the Mexican southeast -hot and damp, with practically no winters-. Why is this? Because in the north they had a water shortage problem, they had to learn how to save and how to use optimally a scarse commodity. In the gulf and in the southeast, the problem with water, if ever, is that it's too plentiful. You need little technology to have a good crop.
The northeners are famous for being cheapskates (they skimp and save and spend their lives industriously), while the gulf and southeastern people are famous for having a loose grip of reality.

The Italian north and south have quite diverging philosophies of life. In the relatively cold and industrialized north, city buses are on time like precision swiss watches. On Naples, instead, you can go to a store, at normal opening time, and find a sign: "The store is closed. I went fishing". Both northerens and southeners are proud of their philosophy.


One aside:
There are always exceptions, depending on the type of history-colonization of a place. My example: Sinaloa, at the Mexican northeast, is hot and damp, but thrives in a peculiar way. It was rather occupied by colonists than conquered, and the place is so hot, colonization is relatively new (XIX Century). There are no "patricians", and everybody is "plebean". People work a lot, even if disorganized and with little culture. And their set of values is strange, IMO: they eat a lot (lots of meat, lots of shrimp), ride big cars, are always building their houses (by themselves, making them bigger and bigger), but disregard basic services such as proper sewerage, asphalt and basic cleanliness as secondary. First world and third world put together.
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dyslexia
 
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Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 06:00 pm
Jacob Bronowski deals at least partially with this issue in "The Ascent of Man", also in his "Western Intellectual Tradition"
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akaMechsmith
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 06:00 pm
Craven, I would like to see a chart, perhaps a world map with the places of birth of great persons parents dotted upon it.

What is a "great person". I would define one as a person whose ideas influence (d) several generations.
The Greek philosophers, The French ones, Lenin, Hitler,Jesus, Ghandi,Mohammed, Moses, Hammurabi, Bolivar, Budda, Rutherford, Einstein,the Curies, Phillip of Macedon, Hannibal etc.

Would it be possible even to make such a map without a serious cultural bias creeping in? Personally I doubt it but it might be fun to try.

A chart like this may give some credence to your ideas concerning climate and its influence on human activities.

I think that you may have something there but pretty near every premise will be argueable.

Personally I think there is a genetic component to it also. Lazy and improvident ones never made it through a Scandinavian winter. Climate change in the Middle East also has something to do with what would be shown as a distribution curve.

It would be an interesting project for you to try to validate what you surmise. Good Luck, M
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BoGoWo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 09:59 pm
"What is WEALTH?"

this question is, perhaps more important than its relationship with 'climate'.

Unfortunately the economic 'holdings' of an individual, or state are touted as a measure of the 'strength' of a culture; where its true value may lie in the relative fairness of sharing the available resources, and the degree of respect for one another practiced by the common citizen.

Does climate have the same impact on world states using this yardstick; or would any countries be able to claim such 'riches"?
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 10:28 pm
dyslexia wrote:
Jacob Bronowski deals at least partially with this issue in "The Ascent of Man", also in his "Western Intellectual Tradition"


I don't have those books. What did he say?
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 10:29 pm
fbaezer,

Do you think it's possible that your referenced examples might be exceptions? After all there are even exceptions to the trend of inductrialized nations and wealth with some nations having as their driving economic force things other than manufacturing.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 10:33 pm
Mech,

I said nothing about "great" people and you have left me wondering what the heck you are talking about.

I wrote of less subjective comparisons such as wealth, industrialization etc.
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husker
 
  1  
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2003 10:38 pm
Interesting side information - charts and reference material
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