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Climate change did them in

by Greg Krehbiel on 29 May 2012

Maybe I’m weird, but I find this funny.

The Indus civilization fell because of climate change.

I have no doubt at all that the rise and fall of many, many civilizations was due to climate change. If the bison follow a certain route every year, or the barley harvest comes every fall, or the salmon swarm up the river every Spring, people get used to it and build cities and commerce and laws around it. Then when it all changes, things fall apart.

Things change. That’s the way it is. Which is why I’m not particularly bothered by a national agriculture policy that encourages diversity. It doesn’t bother me that farmers are being paid to pour milk down the drain if it’s all part of a plan to ensure a stable food supply. The free market is great for many things, but it’s not necessarily good at forcing us to plan for contingencies.

(Along those lines, I understand that our food supply is dangerously un-diverse.)

The reason I find the story about the Indus people funny is I have this vague recollection of scare stories from the past about civilizations that fell for whatever the crisis du jour was. I’m sure the prohibitionists had tales of societies falling from demon rum, and I definitely recall stories from the 70s about civilizations falling from abusing the environment.

Not that those things can’t happen. They do, and we should take reasonable warning. But what we should really be looking out for are the causes of collapse that aren’t trendy. If the country falls, I’m sure it will be because we’re all hot and bothered about A, but we’re not paying any attention to B.

We’ll be all concerned about climate change and the national debt and an asteroid hitting the earth, but society will fall apart because of undisciplined teen-age boys, or a precipitous drop in the birth rate, or something like that.

(DSM, this is your chance to plug the virtue of monarchies.)

-- 2012-05-29  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 7

  1. Square Cat Keith Mathison
    29 May 2012 @ 2:59 pm

    If they had just stopped driving SUVs and cut down on their carbon emissions, who knows what they could have accomplished.

  2. DSM
    30 May 2012 @ 10:32 am

    It’s true that I like constitutional monarchy for all sorts of reasons, and one of them is that it gives at least someone with power a vested interest in the long-term success of the country even as it limits the means they can use to achieve it.

    While many of the checks and balances in the American republic have analogues in monarchy, and vice versa, I think incentives for long-term planning might be a little attenuated in the U.S. I also think that a political system which is entirely constructed, entirely a function of the popular will, has distorting effects on the way people think about authority.

    To be fair, I’d be willing to bet that a large fraction of civilizations which have collapsed to date have been monarchies of some sort. At least some of those might have been prevented if the monarch had to get elected representatives to agree to fund a war, though.

  3. John Krehbiel John Krehbiel
    30 May 2012 @ 5:42 pm

    It’s certainly true that civilizations have fallen before, just as species have been driven to extinction before.

    But there is a big difference between a small number of species dying out over thousands of years when interglacial periods come and go, and an extinction rate 100 to 1000 times greater than normal.

  4. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    30 May 2012 @ 6:22 pm

    How is it even conceivable that we could know the “normal” extinction rate?

  5. kdeb
    30 May 2012 @ 8:02 pm

    Oh! I got a chance to share my link to Richard Leakey being rather absurd in his devotion to climate change concerns…
    ‘ “If you look back, the thing that strikes you, if you’ve got any sensitivity, is that extinction is the most common phenomena,” Leakey says. “Extinction is always driven by environmental change. Environmental change is always driven by climate change. Man accelerated, if not created, planet change phenomena; I think we have to recognize that the future is by no means a very rosy one.” ‘

    So, just as an aside, if it is all terribly natural and expected that we would become extinct, why get all worried?

    If Leakey really thinks we created climate change, I don’t know what to say, except maybe, “dinosaurs…..”

  6. John Krehbiel John Krehbiel
    31 May 2012 @ 10:39 am

    There are a lot of groups for which the fossil record is very good, and a certain background rate of extinction. Past events have caused great, temporary increases in extinction rates. In the past, the changes have been naturally caused, but this one is caused by human activity.

    And Deb, that’s a lot like someone who commits armed robbery and kills an old clerk saying “He was old. He was going to die anyway.”

  7. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    31 May 2012 @ 11:41 am

    John, no matter how good the fossil record is ISTM there is no comparison between what we know of current species and their extinction rate and past species and their extinction rate.

    We don’t even know how many species there are on earth right now, but it might be about 8 million. How many fossil species have been identified? I don’t know, but it’s way, way less, and that’s over the whole history of the earth.