Climate change and the population collapse during the “Great Famine” in pre-industrial Europe


  • Mauricio Lima

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
    2. Laboratorio Internacional de Cambio Global, LINCG (CSIC-PUC), Santiago, Chile
    • Correspondence

      Mauricio Lima, Department of Ecology, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago CP 6513677, Chile.

      Tel: +56-2-23542638; Fax: +56-2-23542615;


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Population dynamics, economy, and human demography started with Malthus, the idea that population growth is limited by resources and “positive checks” occur when population growth overshoots the available resources. In fact, historical evidence indicates that long-term climate changes have destabilized civilizations and caused population collapses via food shortages, diseases, and wars. One of the worst population collapses of human societies occurred during the early fourteenth century in northern Europe; the “Great Famine” was the consequence of the dramatic effects of climate deterioration on human population growth. Thus, part of my motivation was to demonstrate that simple theoretical-based models can be helpful in understanding the causes of population change in preindustrial societies. Here, the results suggest that a logistic model with temperature as a “lateral” perturbation effect is the key element for explaining the population collapse exhibited by the European population during the “Great Famine”.