under the previous post there was some talk about the bigger picture of our current energy consumption habits, i.e. whether we can continue to live as we do in any number of ways, not just SUV-based. A little more on that…
Civilizations tend not to just run out. Sometimes they fail through stupidity, as when the Easter Islanders didn’t spot the flaw in their plan to chop down all the trees on their remote island. Sometimes they fail through natural disaster, combined in some cases by an understandable inability to adapt to the new conditions sufficiently quickly. And sometimes they fail through competition.
In the past competition has often been very direct; the various peoples of Central and South America certainly had internal problems, for example, but the Spanish and other invaders were very clear in their disregard for the existing culture, and were quite happy to kill their way across the continent. At best a particular culture could hope to become largely irrelevant, blending in to the new norm and perhaps influencing its future direction. This is what happened in Britain under the Romans and Normans, though in both cases the local cultur actually survived quite well (particularly under the Normans).
Today it seems unlikely for a particular culture to disappear completely, though we have numerous examples. The native peoples of America and Australia still exist, but the culture they represent is continuing to evaporate in the face of efforts to retain it. The same is true for dozens of smaller tribal groups across the world. On a much larger scale the former colonial powers of Britain, France, etc. have settled for now at a modest level of influence, perhaps greater than they inherently deserve, but still wildly diminished from their peaks.
In each of these instances competition was the undoing of the prevalent culture. Sometimes it was aided by internal strife, other times by a gross mismatch of technology, and in Britain’s case much of it rested simply on trying to do too much. But one of the common threads through most if not all of these declines is complacency; the assumption that there is something inherently ‘right’ about the current order.
That’s how I look at Nick’s comment about our current non-sustainable situation. The idea of sustainability is common in environmental circles, but really it’s an idea that applies everywhere. Whether it’s your bank account, your daily run or the well in your backyard, there’s only a certain amount you can do with a finite resource before it is exhausted. At the moment we’re getting a hint of that with energy, but that’s a trivial problem in the sense that we know what to do, and have the technology in place or in our grasp to achieve it. What we lack is the will to do anything, because our natural complacency overwhelms our capacity to see a bigger picture.
What is it that we’re being complacent about? That seems like another post…