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resilience

Is Civilization Just A Fluke?

Okay, perhaps the title is a bit provocative. This from Seed Magazine captured my attention though:

To begin, we need to put our role on this planet in perspective by placing humanity and the Earth’s systems in a geological context. If you graph the range of global temperature variations over the past 100,000 years, most of it forms a wild, erratic sawtooth pattern as climatic variations have at turns scorched or frozen the world. But, about 10,000 years ago, temperature variation stabilized, and we entered what geologists call the Holocene epoch. This is the stable period during which agriculture and complex societies, including our own, developed and flourished.

Considering the fact that our modern globalized society has developed within these unusually stable conditions, it might come as no surprise that today’s hospitable environment is often taken for granted in investment decisions, political actions, and international agreements.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that civilization just happened to develop during a uniquely stable climate. What does it mean that human life as we know it has existed only in one fleeting stable window of geological time? Is a semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle inherently more resilient than what we call civilization?

Probably not, but the passage above suggests that we might as well start thinking about our unstable climate—“suddenly and violently out of balance,” in Bill McKibben’s terms—as the norm, not the exception. If not from greenhouse gases, that stability was bound to end at some point, so we better start planning for our long-term future on this “tough new planet,” as McKibben says.

I’m taking a class on climate resilience this semester, so more on this to come.