So, the nice folks over at Transition Voice have put up a list of 5 factors that cause collapse. They’re quoting from Jared Diamond, a fairly well-known author and scientist who’s done his share of study about these sorts of things; he uses the Greenland Norse (Vikings) as illustrative of the factors. In kind of a change of pace from my “usual” list-critiquing practice, I’m just going to give you the list, with their (Jared’s?) commentary, then editorialize a bit afterwards.
- Human impacts on the environment. The Vikings unintentionally caused erosion and deforestation by reckless farming and logging. This deprived them of both food and charcoal, the latter leaving them as an Iron Age culture with no freakin’ way to make iron.
- Climate change. Yup, they had it too, though as climate skeptics like to point out, it went the other way that time – things got colder starting in the 1300s. Yet, more cold and ice wasn’t fatal to the Vikings’ neighbors, the Inuit, who weren’t such babies about a few more blizzards every season.
- Friendly neighbors going. The Greenlanders always relied on trade with the motherland. But when the seas started to ice up more, ships from Norway became fewer and farther between. Not that they were ever hot and heavy to start with. But still.
- Hostile neighbors coming. That would be the Inuit again. They killed the Vikings (doing which makes you pretty darn butch in the warfare world) and may have also blocked Norse access to fjords, sending the price of seals, which the Vikings thought were finger lickin’ good, through the roof.
- Dysfunctional political and cultural practices. As devout Christians, when times got tough, the Norse glorified God by cutting the food and defense budgets to fund the cathedral-building budget. And since they had nothing but scorn for the tribal Inuit, they refused to learn from them how to adapt to colder weather and dwindling resources.
So, we’ve got climate change, environmental damage, ticking off the neighbors, losing erstwhile allies, and using the wrong wrench to pound in those screws. Setting aside my quibbles with some of the details (I’m not sure Greenland has been “forested” since before human occupation, etc.), it’s actually pretty easy to draw analogies with current events.
We’ve done ourselves no favors in environmental terms–the West Virginia chemical spill is only one of the more recent ones that come to mind. Forest mismanagement isn’t helping any of the wildfires out west. It’s really a lengthy list, and we seem to be in no hurry to shorten it. And climate change I’m not even going to go into–my opinions there I hope are easily guessed.
Ticking off the neighbors? Losing allies? Well, we’re not exactly at the top of Canada’s list, these days. And Germany isn’t as happy with us as they once were, pre-Snowden.
Then there’s that last bit–which smacks of oligarchy, and the hyper-religiosity that has, in my opinion, poisoned our national discourse these last ten (twenty? thirty?) years.
No, overall I’d call this a pretty good list. Knowing that there are lots of buttons to be pushed here, what say you all?