We Wont Be The First To Screw Up: Lessons from the Past

So far we’ve had two articles (Travis’s and Tyler’s) on Didactic Discourse written about where to look for the solutions to our environmental problems; how to live without dooming our civilization. Both writers looked to rural practices, and to continue the topic, I’d like to point out that although there is a movement for sustainable lifestyles, it’s still not widely accepted. People are still questioning ‘global warming’ or ‘extreme climate change,’ and dismissing the idea as minute. If there is going to be any implementation of a solution, people should first understand and accept that this cause shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whether it happens in our lifetime or not we are, after all, talking about the end of our civilization.

In the cycles of civilization, potential downfall is all part of the process, but we can choose to acknowledge it and do something or let it consume us. There are examples of success and downfall, but both are great examples to learn important lessons. The Icelanders (six centuries ago) discovered that their overgrazing was leading to soil loss so the farmers gathered and found a solution. Instead of facing the loss of their grasslands and economic decline, they determined the limits of their environment and created quotas of sheep among themselves.

The Sumerians (fourth millennium BC), however, were not able to find the right solution. Their civilization was very advanced. They had engineered an extensive irrigation system that allowed for highly productive agriculture and eventually the creation of the first cities and first written language. Unfortunately, “water that backed up behind dams built across the Euphrates was diverted onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. As with most irrigation systems, some irrigation water percolated downward. In this region, where underground drainage was weak, this slowly raised the water table. As the water climbed to within inches of the surface, it began to evaporate into the atmosphere, leaving behind salt. Over time, the accumulation of salt on the soil surface lowered the land’s productivity” (Brown). Instead of addressing the root cause, they chose a more surface bandage. They needed to feed their society, so instead of growing wheat their solution was to grow barely, a more salt-tolerant crop. As you can guess, things only got worse and now we only hear about the once great civilization in history class.

In modern times though, we are not isolated within our own cities, states or countries. Countries that used to be exporters of lumber are now heavy importers because of deforestation. Technology has allowed us to be connected to everyone else in the world, so now when a country is in environmental turmoil they obtain the needed resources from somewhere else, spreading the turmoil. This means, that when shit hits the fan we are all getting sprayed in the face. Their problem is our problem, oh, and we have to worry about all our own problems.

Sumerian Ziggurat.

Check Out Jared Diamond’s Books: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Sources: Learning From Past Civilizaiton; Learning From the Past

Image Sources: Learning From the Past; Wayfaring travel guide.


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