We’ve actually been here before.
If you watched History Channel back in the day when they didn’t define “history” as including the current lives of truckers in the Arctic and entire programs breathlessly reporting on the latest mouthbreather ordinary citizen claiming to have seen Bigfoot, they ran entire one-hour programs about dead civilizations that had done themselves in by various forms of disregard for the condition of the land they lived on.
On Easter Island, the major theory, borne out by considerable archaeological evidence, is that the Rapa Nui depleted their natural resources which, in turn, physically eroded the soil, leaving a weakened and declining remnant population that was easily finished off by the introduction of European diseases.
Thy must have read the signs – but they refused to change their ways. In fact, some researchers believe that their attempts to appease their gods and their chieftains pushed them to redouble their efforts, using up what little remained in ever-greater rituals and monuments.
What the Anasazi of the Southwestern United States left behind them show that deforestation, along with water management problems and long term drought conditions, precipitated violence and religious and political upheaval, which in turn led to social collapse and abandonment of their homes and major centres.
The Mayan, and the Moche, too, failed to adapt to changing environmental conditions on land and in the oceans and continued to exhaust soils and forests, despite a noticeably shrinking resource base, and ultimately, these societies collapsed, as well.
The demise of every major Late Bronze Age society, a widespread collapse that affected most of the Mediterranean and the Levant and even India, shows strong evidence of climate change that included volcanic eruptions sending massive amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrochloric acid and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, which possibly played a decisive role in almost every one of the social implosions during that period.
Closer to home, there were the Norse in Greenland. While the unexpected climate change (the “Little Ice Age”) was partially due to a volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia, the underlying demise of the colony was exacerbated by deforestation of already limited timber resources, along with overgrazing by domestic livestock, which in turn contributed to soil erosion. The inability of the colonists to change their European ways and adapt to the new conditions saw the entire population wiped out by the early 1400s.
And if you watch any programs about these now-defunct societies, you will notice the smug superiority.
The condescending tone that implies (when it does not outright state) that obviously these people could see what was happening to their land, to their culture.
Such stupid people, to not have acted promptly, and taken care of their land, to not have addressed the problems head-on, before they became not merely problems, but a death sentence.
We, of course, are much smarter than that.
Well, aren’t we?