Articles | Volume 18, issue 8
Research article
27 Aug 2014
Research article |  | 27 Aug 2014

Endogenous technological and population change under increasing water scarcity

S. Pande, M. Ertsen, and M. Sivapalan

Abstract. Ancient civilizations may have dispersed or collapsed under extreme dry conditions. There are indications that the same may hold for modern societies. However, hydroclimatic change cannot be the sole predictor of the fate of contemporary societies in water-scarce regions. This paper focuses on technological change as a factor that may ameliorate the effects of increasing water scarcity and as such counter the effects of hydroclimatic changes. We study the role of technological change on the dynamics of coupled human–water systems, and model technological change as an endogenous process that depends on many factors intrinsic to coupled human–water dynamics. We do not treat technology as an exogenous random sequence of events, but assume that it results from societal actions.

While the proposed model is a rather simple model of a coupled human–water system, it is shown to be capable of replicating patterns of technological, population, production and consumption per capita changes. The model demonstrates that technological change may indeed ameliorate the effects of increasing water scarcity, but typically it does so only to a certain extent. In general we find that endogenous technology change under increasing water scarcity helps to delay the peak of population size before it inevitably starts to decline. We also analyze the case when water remains constant over time and find that co-evolutionary trajectories can never grow at a constant rate; rather the rate itself grows with time. Thus our model does not predict a co-evolutionary trajectory of a socio-hydrological system where technological innovation harmoniously provides for a growing population. It allows either for an explosion or an eventual dispersal of population. The latter occurs only under increasing water scarcity. As a result, we draw the conclusion that declining consumption per capita despite technological advancement and increase in aggregate production may serve as a useful predictor of upcoming decline in contemporary societies in water-scarce basins.