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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The heat death of civilization

The first civilizations began emerging about 10 000 years ago and were based on the cultivation of staple crops- rice, maize, barley and wheat. These could be stored to provide a buffer against bad harvests. The crop stores allowed a degree of population stability. The origins of writing can be linked (eg in Sumeria/ Iraq) to the need to keep records of the crops stored. The ability to accumulate stores of surplus  food therefore encouraged the storage and accumulation of surplus knowledge.Surplus knowledge is knowledge in addition to that required for basic survival.  Surplus knowledge is continually being created, but until the invention of writing it could not be conserved.

The above graph starts in 1750, at the beginning of the industrial revolution. This revolution marked a change as significant as the farming revolution which gave rise to the first civilizations. By harnessing the energy stored in coal then oil, industrial civilization was freed from the constraints (limits to growth) which had held back all previous civilizations. Was the industrial revolution a scientific/ enlightenment revolution? No. Capital and empire rather than science and enlightenment were the key drivers of the industrial revolution.  

...and? What is the position  I am arguing towards? Something along the lines that one impact of climate change will be the loss of the knowledge embedded in science which would allow future generations to understand why they are living in the ruins of a civilization. That in a survival situation, abstractions become irrelevant. Climate change will lead to an increase in extreme weather events. This will make farming much harder. As a consequence there will be no surplus food and so no surplus knowledge. No future civilization will emerge from the ashes of our aspirations.


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