Friday, September 22, 2023

The Climate Has Changed Before, So Don't Worry?

Nearly everyone now knows that climate change is real, and that humans are either causing it or making it worse. So I don’t discuss it with anyone anymore. I had a contract to write Encyclopedia of Global Warming for Facts on File but they discontinued the project. Fortunately I got paid an advance for just writing a headword list.

Now the fossil fuel protagonist argument is, “The climate has changed before, so don’t worry about it. Just keep buying our oil and gas, and let us make our money, and quit whining.” This is a really bad argument. The reason is that, yes, the climate has changed, even within the past millennium, but it has had disastrous effects on societies. So the argument that we don’t need to take any action to prevent climate change is like saying, “The Black Death didn’t kill everyone, therefore we do not need medicine and public health.”

About 800 years ago, a great civilization collapsed. It was the Misssissippian culture, which covered most of eastern North America, centered in what is now Cahokia, Illinois. Never heard of it? That’s because most pre-contact Native American history has been erased from our national consciousness.

Cahokia was one of the biggest cities in the world at that time. The only way it could support the number of people that it did was because of intensive agriculture, mostly corn, squash, and beans. This civilization collapsed because of political unrest but also because of a drought. If the Natives had lived off of hunting and gathering, the way most people think they did, then the drought would have had little effect. But the drought caused the collapse of their intensive agriculture. This is an example of how climate disruption (in this case, a natural one) caused the collapse of a civilization, as explained in this Scientific American article. I will also write about this in Chapter 2 of my upcoming book.

Society enables a stability that allows humans to survive natural disasters. But sometimes these disasters can exceed the capacity of society to rescue the humans. The Mississippian civilization is an example. Most of the people survived, and they continued planting fields (just not as many), and the trade networks survived.

This is all that remains of Cahokia. We can only hope that our modern civilization does not disappear the way theirs did.

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