Further information: Neolithic revolution
In early human history, although the energy and other resource demands of nomadic hunter-gatherers was small, the use of fire and desire for specific foods may have altered the natural composition of plant and animal communities. Between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, agriculture emerged in various regions of the world. Agrarian communities depended largely on their environment and the creation of a “structure of permanence.” Societies outgrowing their local food supply or depleting critical resources either moved on or faced collapse.
Archeological evidence suggests that the first civilizations arose in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Egypt, both dating from around 3000 BCE. By 1000 BCE, civilizations were also established in India, China, Mexico, Peru and in parts of Europe. Sumer illustrates issues central to the sustainability of human civilization. Sumerian cities practised intensive, year-round agriculture from ca. 5300 BCE. The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating in search of wild foods and grazing land. It also allowed for a much greater population density. The development of agriculture in Mesopotamia required many labourers to build and maintain its irrigation system. This, in turn, led to political hierarchy, bureaucracy, and religious sanction, along with standing armies to protect the emergent civilization. Intensified agriculture allowed for population increase, but also led to deforestation in upstream areas with resultant flooding and over-irrigation, which raised soil salinity. While there was a shift from the cultivation of wheat to the more salt-tolerant barley, yields still diminished. Eventually, decreasing agricultural production and other factors led to the decline of the civilization. From 2100 BC to 1700 BC, it is estimated that the population was reduced by nearly sixty percent. Civilizations similarly thought to have eventually fallen because of poor management of resources include the Mayans, Anasazi and Easter Islanders, among many others. In contrast, stable communities of shifting cultivators and horticulturists existed in New Guinea and South America, and large agrarian communities in China, India and elsewhere have farmed in the same localities for centuries. Some Polynesian cultures have maintained stable communities for between 1,000 and 3,000 years on small islands with minimal resources using rahui and kaitiakitanga to control human pressure on the environment. In Sri Lanka nature reserves established during the reign of king Devanampiyatissa and dating back to 307 BC were devoted to sustainability and harmonious living with the nature.