Sunday, February 25, 2007
Fiddling While Rome Burns.
I have written previously regarding my belief that our current civilization is heading for a pretty catastrophic collapse. I may not really have stated it in those terms, but that is what I thinking is coming. The twin causes: global climatic change which will disrupt water supplies, the ability to produce food, and severely change the livable ecosystems on the globe, and the slow but every increasing scarceness of cheap energy, which will disrupt pretty much everything upon which our interconnected infrastructure depends.
Our current civilization is built upon technology and the ability to control our local environment. I don’t think the average person realizes how much everything depends on everything else. I look at it at a gigantic, interconnect pyramid; each layer is successively more technological than the lower one which supports it. At the very bottom of this pyramid are basic blocks like the ability to feed and house (at least a large percentage of) our population, and have the cheap, plentiful energy to distribute food and water and to house our population. This enables everyone to work on things other than trying to stay alive, such as building airplanes, making movies, designing computers, selling groceries, being doctors, lawyers, musicians, engineers, policemen, history teacher, artist, glass blower, brewer of beer, etc. Each one of these occupations fits somewhere in one of the layers of the pyramid. Some occupations are more necessary to the overall population than others. But all are dependent for their existence on people in the lower layers doing the jobs that they themselves don’t do.
I think these twin slow moving catastrophes I mentioned earlier are going to have devastating effects on the low levels of our societal pyramid. Things may not fall apart completely, but there are going to be some severe disruptions, such that our normal fabric of society that we become so accustomed to in the last 100 years may suffer some severe dislocations. I think that much of our knowledge and technology may ease the transition back into a more rural based agrarian society in many areas of the world. However, I just cannot see what might bind cities and suburbs with enough force to keep them from falling apart. If all the life-sustaining infrastructure is removed, it is my opinion that life in large cities and the surrounding suburbs is going to be untenable at best.
There have been many civilizations over the millennia that have collapsed. Great ruins in Greece, Egypt, Rome, Central American, South America, Northern Africa, Indonesia, China, and the South Pacific attest to the fact that no society, great or small, is impervious to collapse. Why we think our current civilization is immune to a collapse is beyond me. We have been getting warning signs as long I can remember. And yet, we collectively pretend that it isn’t going to happen to us. We seem to believe that we are somehow “special”. I will admit that our society is special in its size and complexity than anything the ancient world achieved. However, that does not mean these ancient civilizations were without knowledge, advanced reasoning, and technology. It is just that our current hubris and conceit that blinds us, such that we are unable to learn from the harsh lessons learned by our predecessors.
We need a massive effort on a global scale to find a way to ease the way into the coming dramatic changes our society is going to experience. But we are too busy bickering with and killing each other, too busy with the “bread and circuses” spoon-fed to us by our governments to keep us entertained and docile, too busy amassing large amounts of money and power solely for the sake of amassing money and power, to actually consider we may be current living out the last couple of generations before a massive revision in how the human population of this planet exists.