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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXIV–Will Another Civilisation Rise From Our Ashes?

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXIV

August 15, 2022 (original posting date)

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Will Another Civilisation Rise From Our Ashes?

Today’s contemplation has been generated in response to some comments on a Chris Hedges’ article I shared in the Peak Oil Facebook group I am a member of. Hedges’ article suggests our civilisation has not been the first to collapse but it will be the last. Two members suggested this is likely not to be the case and that another will arise — I have my doubts.

Will another civilisation rise after ours collapses?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Circumstances are always different and most certainly are today with our globalised, industrial civilisation that is, for all intents and purposes, completely reliant upon the dense and highly-transportable energy of fossil fuels — a finite resource that has encountered significant diminishing returns.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three significant impediments to a global, complex society again rising from the ashes of our destined-to-collapse one.

First, our environment (globally) has been degraded to a significant degree. Little fertile soil remains with most of the arable lands having to depend upon fossil fuel supplements to boost food production to feed all of us[1]. Toxic chemicals have spread across the planet, some of which have had devastating impacts upon ecological systems and other species (especially very important pollinators)[2]. It will take significant time, perhaps millennia, for our planet to recover and allow the over-exploitation that is necessary for a widespread, complex society to once again flourish[3]. And then there are those who contend that our burning of fossil fuels have created an irreversible greenhouse effect that is leading to feedback loops that will ensure inhospitable environmental conditions and precluding many, if any, species to survive long on this planet[4].

Second, today’s complex societies (but especially so-called ‘advanced’ economies) have resulted in a situation — because of our leveraging of fossil fuels — where almost no one has the skills/knowledge to be self-sufficient. In the past, most of a population was still heavily involved in food production and fundamental self-sufficiency skills, and so when a society ‘collapsed’ most people dispersed into the countryside and were able to fend for themselves[5]. That is certainly not the case today. The ability to procure potable water, grow one’s own food and/or hunt and gather, and construct shelter needs for the regional climate has been mostly lost. Few of an advanced economy’s populace would survive for much more than a few weeks/months without the ‘conveniences’ of our many energy slaves due to this loss of knowledge/skills — to say little of the chaos that would ensue and probably wipeout many of those who might possess the wherewithal to get to the other side of the ecological bottleneck we seem to be in[6].

Finally, there are those very dangerous complexities that we have created that could put an exclamation mark upon our industrialised society’s impending collapse, any peoples remaining, and the ability to establish a future complex society. Nuclear power plants. Biosafety labs. Chemical production/storage facilities. We have a potpourri of potential environmental catastrophes once the ability to contain/manage these facilities and their waste products disappears — to say little of the damage that has already been done to our ecological systems from them. 437+ nuclear power reactors[7]. 59 biosafety labs[8]. Countless chemical production and storage facilities[9]. I can only imagine the local/regional/global impact of a loss of ‘containment’.

I’d argue the chips are stacked firmly against another complex society, certainly global-spanning one, developing again in the future. Of course, as several notable personalities have been credited with stating: It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future[10].

Only time will tell…

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[1] I won’t even touch upon the overshoot predicament here. See: Catton, Jr., W.R.. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1980. (ISBN 978–0–252–00988–4).

[2] Biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows have been suggested to be the most severe planetary limits we have surpassed: https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html.

[3] Yes, every one overexploits its environment; a contributing factor to its eventual demise.

[4] https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1810141115

[5] See: Tainter, J.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978–0–521–38673–9).

[6] See: Catton, Jr., W.R.. Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse. Xlibris, 2009. (ISBN 978–1441522412).

[7] For those who cheerlead nuclear as the only ‘safe’ and ‘green’ option (they are not), these 437 reactors only account for 10% of current electricity generation. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/reactor-database.aspx

[8] ‘Safety’ is relative here given the number of ‘accidents/leaks’ that have occurred. https://theconversation.com/fifty-nine-labs-around-world-handle-the-deadliest-pathogens-only-a-quarter-score-high-on-safety-161777

[9] https://www.statista.com/topics/6213/chemical-industry-worldwide/#topicHeader__wrapper; https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Chemicals_production_and_consumption_statistics; https://cen.acs.org/business/World-Chemical-Outlook-2019-Around-the-globe/97/i2; https://archive.epa.gov/sectors/web/html/chemical.html.

[10] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/20/no-predict/

Olduvai IV: Courage
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