Thursday, November 20, 2008

Collapse – What happened and where did the people go?

When you speak of the collapse of a civilization people imagine either a sudden, violent end, like Pompeii, all life snuffed out in an instant, or a gentle decline with the population dwindling toward poverty and genetic unsustainability.

The reality is much grimmer. Evidence indicates that civilizations collapse rather suddenly, but not instantly. Several systems which had been providing for the basic needs of the population abruptly fail. The result is a drawn out, violent scramble for basic resources – food, water, energy, etc. In the Mayan collapse 90% to 99% of the population disappeared. The remainder of the population fled into the wilderness and was absorbed by other groups. In most cases the systems had been pushed to the tipping point and some outside event, like drought, disease, or invasion crashed the systems. In some cases, the Anasazi for example, larger groups left when the collapse became inevitable. They moved out into the wilderness, merging with other, simpler societies and survived.

For us, fleeing to the wilderness isn’t a viable option. There isn’t enough wilderness left to actually support viable populations, and there are no remaining societies we could join. The collapse of a global civilization like ours would result in waves of violent competition for ever scarcer resources, cascading through global population centers until humanity was diminished to the point that the remaining people could survive on the simple resources they could find. Perhaps humanity would survive, perhaps not.

So, where are we on the path to collapse? How close to the tipping point are the systems that provide our food, water, energy? What happens if one of these basic systems collapses?


Sheria said...

Very scary questions. In spite of the lessons that history has to teach us, I think that most of us remain happily blind to the possibility of a collapse of civilization. In addition, in spite of the constant reference to a global economy, do we have areal sense of how intertwined our fates are? As you point out, the collapse of our global civilization precludes the survival strategies available to our predecessors.

Linda S. Socha said...

I think this in incredibly thought provoking and I wonder at where your thoughts are personally about it today.I think many people, me included have very little real idea of how our futures are interdependent.....Thanks for sharing these thoughts.