I can’t shake the feeling that I’m living during the peak of civilization. That, in a few years, things will unravel, and we find chaos where there now is order. Consequently, we might find order where there now is chaos. I shall explain this further.
Collapsing civilizations is nothing new to man. Just look at the Mayans, the Ananazi people (the Pueblo people), or the Romans. These were all advanced societies that, in some way, overstressed sustainable living, and succumbed. The Roman Empire, stretching from the Middle East to the British Isles, could not handle the internal destabilization of opposing politicians and masses of wandering peoples, combined with the invasion of the barbarians. The collapse of the Mayans during the 8th and 9th century, is a mystery, although it is commonly believed to be a result of ecological stress. Whatever the reason, their culture was advanced in both art and science, but to no good. Ananzi indians however, was most probably subject to hunger and plague, provoked by widespread deforestation.
All cultures were noted for excellence in mathematics, architecture and language. As they collapsed, the knowledge was for the most part lost. Every descent brought forth by great catastrophes. The catastrophes were often consequences of human behavior, such as deforestation, or groundwater pollution. And catastrophes often have mechanisms for positive feedback, so that when one dire situation is over, a new one, even more dire, emerges. Basic commodities, such as food and water, become scarce. When people starve, society unravels fast.
Interestingly, even though the globalized culture of the 21st century has knowledge of these downfalls, and of the actions that brought them forth, we still haven’t learned. Many crises are emerging on us now, although they aren’t visible to the general public. To act on them early might be of importance to the survival of civilization. But to identify the problems, I suggest we start with identifying a stable society.
A stable society is just what it sounds like. A society that isn’t under pressure from destructive forces externally or internally. It is not a culture where nothing happens, nothing is ever invented, or no changes are ever being made. It has to be dynamic, so that it can handle such challenges. But the way it exists must not threaten its existence. Cultures that depend on finite resources, are, in a way, a threat to themselves. But cultures that are imperialistic, or big weapon exporters, are also like this. Their existence is based on forcing others through violence, to serve them. If one thing is certain, it is that violence follows violence, and that they will succumb to others.
A stable society is part of a natural cycle where everything is constantly being torn down, and renewed. Garbage is just another resource, but if treated wrong, as in our culture, it will eventually strangle us.
This is the essence of the crises that the global Western culture is facing. Our economy is based on a yearly growth in resource consumption, mainly depending on energy resources that are finite (coal, oil an natural gas). These are soon going into depletion, but that is not the only problem. The use of these resources is threatening the very ecosystem that us humans are a part of. Every previous society that has ever meddled with its ecosystem, is now gone.
The effects are becoming clearer every day. Climate change, loss of habitat, mass extinction of species. On the other side, our consumption is driving forth situations such as Peak Phosphorous and Peak Oil. The result is a food price that has never been higher*. This again is driving rebellions against bad leadership all over the world, such as the recent rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
I expect the situation to only get worse in the coming years, eventually reaching the heart of the Western world, and changing our very culture. Hopefully to the better.
*FAOs statistics on food prices: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/foodpricesindex/en/