Guest post: The complex of interlinked, cascading disasters

Originally a comment by Your Name’s not Bruce? on Appetite is outpacing.

…We’re not going to stop flying…until we reach the point where we can’t fly any longer, whether it is economical, climate induced, or just the total collapse of systems (from environmental damage, much of which is not climate change, and most of which is being ignored right now. How many people are paying attention to the decline of flying insects, for instance? That is crucial…but people ONLY want to talk about climate change).

And we’re lucky if people are even willing to talk about that. Climate change is but a small part of the complex of interlinked, cascading disasters we’ve initiated and continue to fuel. These are themselves the result of a series of stepwise historical developments and processes that have combined to increase our numbers and our impact. Not all of them are immediately material; some are philosophical and conceptual shifts that gave licence to pathways that other mental frameworks may have prohibited. Any of them on their own would have been a major change, but their concatenation has produced a potent force for destruction. In roughly chronological order, some of the big ones are:

The development of settled agriculture: This was an assertion of, and commitment to the imposition of human monopoly over the productive capacity of a landscape, replacing a pre-existing, dynamic habitat with a limited , impoverished one intended solely for human use and benefit. This shift in attitude presages and underlines much of what followed.

The development of colonial empires: Us and Them on a large scale, where hinterlands are conquered for the benefit of the centre or homeland of the conquerors. Control is imposed and resources are extracted.

The “discovery” of the “New World”: This came in two phases, separated by tens of thousands of years. The first humans to arrive in North and South America from Eurasia most likely triggered (or at least assured) the extinction of the Ice Age megafauna, who were, unfortunately, lethally naive when it came to the new, human predators. The second wave, from the Vikings onward, resulted in the devastation of the indigenous societies that had evolved in the preceding millennia. The disease caused human catastrophe was probably inevitable, given the introduction of diseases to which North and South American peoples had no immunity. Even if Europeans had been completely benign and altruistic in their intentions, any contact at all would have still been devastating. The rapacious greed and territorial ambitions of the colonial powers made things that much worse, actively destroying many of the societies already weakened by rampant disease and its attendant disorder and chaos.

The rest of the big turning points I’ll list more quickly.

The exploitation of fossil fuels and the development industrial production methods.

Medicine, public health and the reduction of childhood mortality.

For the last five hundred years the synergistic acceleration of our technology has allowed us to exploit and appropriate more and more of the living and non-living Earth for our exclusive use. Even if we “cure” global warming, we’ll still be an out of control global society pushing beyond the natural limits that the planet had established over billions of years. We’re like some sort of collective Wile E. Coyote, just after he’s careened off the edge of the cliff, obliviously sailing along until he happens to look down. Some of us have been looking down for some time. Soon to come, the inevitable cloud of dust as we hit the canyon floor.

4 Responses to “Guest post: The complex of interlinked, cascading disasters”