Cosmos and civilization collapse through climate change

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, this note might be met with skepticism, but I had no idea when I composed my Bronze Age collapse entry this weekend that Cosmos would discuss how climate change had affected various civilizations throughout history, notably the Akkadian empire in Mesopotamia.  Some of the interactions I had with people after that post makes a bit more sense now that I’ve watched the latest Cosmos episode.

It’s interesting that the middle east suffered a drought in the 2200 BC time frame, 1000 years before the later collapse, which at that earlier time apparently led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and the Egyptian Old Kingdom.  It goes to show just how precarious life must have been in the earliest civilizations, how vulnerable it was to the climate conditions.

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12 Responses to Cosmos and civilization collapse through climate change

  1. Steve Morris says:

    It’s always interesting to put climate in perspective. Even without humans, climate change is a fact of nature. CO2 levels have varied enormously more than the change we have made, and mean temperatures have varied by many tens of degrees. Even during the million years or so since humans appeared there have been massive climate changes and we are currently experiencing an anomalously cold period in which there is permanent ice at the poles.

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    • I guess it depends on what timescales you’re speaking to. Certainly over geological time periods, the temperature has been all over the place, often with wild swings leading to mass extinctions. Over closer time frames, my understanding is that we currently living in an interglacial, a pause in the overall ice age, that may end in 10-20 thousand years.

      But looking at briefer time frames within the span our our civilization, we’re definitely causing the temperature to rise in a manner unprecedented during that span. Seeing how the climate effected previous civilizations should give us pause.

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      • Steve Morris says:

        I didn’t say we weren’t causing the climate to change 🙂 I’m just saying that change is what climate does.
        Question: are we already doing something to prevent CO2 emissions? Yes, rather a lot. I predict that in 10 years we will have moved on to another disaster scenario to obsess about. (There’s no shortage of candidates.)

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        • Sorry Steve, I misunderstood your first comment. However, I think my point about timescales is still worth noting. Comparing changes over tens of thousands or millions of years to the changes happening in the last few decades can give a false sense of security, or futility..

          The UK and Europe are probably doing a lot more than us in the US. Unfortunately, we’re not doing much, and we’re a major emitter. From what I understand, it’s too late to prevent climate change. It will happen. However, we can probably still mitigate it. But it’s not looking like the US will do anything soon.

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          • Steve Morris says:

            Even the US’s transition to shale gas will lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions compared with burning coal or oil. In the medium term, government action or inaction is irrelevant as technologies like solar power achieve price parity with fossil fuels, LED lighting replaces conventional lighting and computing becomes exponentially more energy efficient.

            You could call me complacent if nothing was being done to solve the problem, but the shift in energy production and energy efficiency technologies we are currently experiencing is unprecedented. It makes the Industrial Revolution look slow.

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  2. guymax says:

    SAP – Good point in your first para. above. A lot of people make this irrelevant comparison and conclude we’ve got nothing to worry about. My feeling is that we’re doing nothing whatsoever to prevent net CO2 emissions from increasing year on year. A few sticking plasters isn’t going to do it.

    It makes me laugh that in the UK us folk are encouraged to reduce household emissions, while the state is demanding that an extra 250,000 houses be built. Nobody who matters seems to taking the problem seriously.

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  3. Steve Morris says:

    SAP, you know that I am no climate change denier (you would have to be scientifically illiterate and wilfully ignorant to be) but here’s how I see it.

    Mankind has depended on carbon-emitting technologies for our very survival for thousands of years, and yet, within a couple of decades of discovering that we have a potential problem, the whole world is working to fix it at an unprecedented rate. That makes me an optimist.

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    • I understand Steve. And you’ve definitely clarified this before. Your position is nuanced.

      I guess here in the US, climate change is still such a contentious issue, with one of the major political parties still actively denying its existence and effectively blocking anything like what’s happening in the UK, that I get nervous when people use language that the climate deniers could use as ammunition. It’s a US thing.

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