This week, Nate invites colleague Tom Murphy, professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego and writer of famed blog ‘Do the Math’, to unpack his recent essay The Simple Story of Civilization
This post offers ten heretical statements that seem obvious to me, but tend to produce emotionally charged reactions by members of the cult of civilization. Watch yourself, now.
Civilisation is a way of talking about human history on the largest scale. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the latest MoMA exhibition, it binds human history together.
In the face of climate breakdown and ecological overshoot, alluring promises of “green growth” are no more than magical thinking. We need to restructure the fundamentals of our global cultural/economic system to cultivate an “ecological civilization.”
The “oil curse” refers to a long-studied phenomenon in which states that adopt petroleum as a significant foundation of their economy tend toward dictatorship. Of the top ten oil producing countries in the world, nine are oligarchies.
Anyway, this is all vaguely relevant to my present theme, which is some thoughts on Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization: A History (MIT Press, 2017). It’s hard to keep up with Smil’s output, since he seems to produce about three books every year, but I find him an interesting writer.
But how did we get from the Palaeolithic foraging of my last post to the very apogee of mixed agrarianism shown in the picture? I’m glad you asked. To answer it, I need to go to way back when and return to my main historical thread by looking at some of the tensions within…
If people just hear that humans are destroying the environment, they aren’t given much incentive to act or even think much.
People raised in urban environments come to treat their mental models as realities, more real than the often-unruly facts on the ground, because everything they encounter in their immediate environments reinforces those models.
People in civilizations tend to cut themselves off from the immediate experience of nature nature to a much greater extent than the uncivilized do. Does this help explain why civilizations crash and burn so reliably, leaving the barbarians to play drinking games with mead while sitting unsteadily on the smoldering ruins?
We can take the next step in our evolution, a step towards the Permacene.
It seems obvious: to be fully alive you have to interact directly, respectfully and in physical proximity with a variety of other fully living things as much as possible. There is no substitute.