Civilization’s Link to Global Climate

In his effort to imagine what the experience of approaching extinction would be, that is, how and why seemingly stable cultures collapse; the mariner began looking for reasons why significant societies had failed in the past. Quickly, after reading studies from climatologists, anthropologists and language historians, he first had to learn what permitted societies to emerge.

The common opinion from many experts in many disciplines, is that modern humans (Homo sapiens) were stuck in Africa because of the ice age. Paleoclimatologist J.P. Steffensen in the January 7, 2002 issue of The New Yorker Magazine commented: “You can ask, why didn’t human beings make civilization fifty thousand years ago? You know that they had just as big brains as we have today.

When you put it in a climatic framework, you can say, “Well, it was the ice age. And also, this ice age was so climatically unstable that each time you had the beginning of a culture they had to move. Then came the present interglacial– ten thousand years of very stable climate. The perfect conditions for agriculture. If you look at it, it’s amazing. Civilizations in Persia, in China, and in India start at the same time, maybe six thousand years ago. They all developed writing and they all developed religion and they all built cities, all at the same time, because the climate was stable. I think that if the climate would have been stable fifty thousand years ago it would have started then. But they had no chance.”

The nuance of Steffensen’s comment is that, all along, humans were as dependent on global climate as any other creature. The advancement of human society through nomadic, agricultural, industrial, and modern periods has always been taught with the nuance that humans grew in sophistication and it was their independent intelligence that lifted them from the past ages. Steffensen implies that it was simply a stable global climate in which to have the human experience.

One would think that our brains should not have taken 10,000 years to move from grubbing for roots to growing roots, to canning roots, to making altered roots. However, there were those distractions:  war, predation, unlimited population growth, not replacing parts of the Earth we borrowed like water, dysfunctional environments left behind, lust, and unbeknown, thereby disrupting the global climate – the real reason our species is in trouble. 10,000 years was long enough to forget our place in the Earth’s command of life.

Heavy stuff. The mariner will continue another time.

Ancient Mariner

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