Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Inconvenient Arrogance -- Part 1

The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.
-- Rachel Carson

Throughout history, man has repeatedly reached a point in the development of his society where he has determined that he influences nature.  And time after time, nature humiliates him. 

What I am presenting in this series is the affect that climate change can have on society.  There have been many times throughout the history of man when the earth has experienced abrupt climate change.  And what interests me is how often man has presumed that he was the cause of the climate change or that he can somehow prevent it or reverse it.  And what is alarming to me is how often that assumption has lead to catastrophe – not climatic catastrophe, man-made catastrophe!  Time and time again, we see the complete downfall of great cultures with grand cities and extensive economic networks.

During periods of climate stability, man has learned to adjust to the climate and flourish.  Those that have had the genius to coordinate their efforts to maximize the potential offered by a stable climate have often risen to great heights culturally.  And those who lead their societies to these momentous achievements have been rewarded with tremendous power and wealth.  It begins with a breakthrough understanding of the seasons and the climate associated with those seasons.  Over time, patterns are recognized and eventually predicted.  Astronomers learn that when the sun rises at a certain point it is the beginning of spring or summer or fall or winter.  This information is invaluable for determining when to plant, when to harvest, when to prepare for winter.  Regular spring rains are prepared for and farmers learn to contain excess water to use for irrigation between rains.  As these regular patterns come to be relied upon, they become vital to the success of the society. 

Often favorable weather is attributed to proper behavior and unfavorable weather as punishment for improper behavior.  But when the climate significantly changes, these same leaders are looked to for guidance to protect the status quo.  Having taken credit for favorable weather, they are now blamed for unfavorable weather.  Seeking to maintain their power and control, they turn the blame around.   They blame the people for bringing on bad weather with bad behavior.  And they often resort to extraordinary measures to "appease the gods" to retain control.

Pueblo Bonita in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, Ancient Anasazi Capital
When we look back at the Moche culture or the Mayan culture or the Anasazi culture it is easy to judge them as simply arrogant to believe that they had any influence over their climate.  But, the fact is, they had good reason to believe that they did and the greatest minds of the time thought that they did and the general public believed their leaders and the experts.  It was this arrogance, however, that may have brought them down.  Their stubborn persistence to try to regain control of the climate and thereby maintain their credibility with the citizens, led them to extraordinary and extreme actions.  Actions, that we look back on and find atrocious.  But, if we look closer, we can find very striking parallels in the way we are reacting to our current perception of climate change.

In the articles that follow, I will reach back in time and take a closer look at some of  the cultures of the past that have gone through climate change and present what I think is credible evidence that the arrogance of Man can significantly contribute to his downfall!

Continue to Part 2

-- Courtney Miller


  1. Have you read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond? It's a very interesting book about the collapse of different ancient cultures such as Easter Island, the Anasazi, Maya, etc due to some issues that you mention in this blog like environmental damage, climate change, population booms, and the unwise ways rules tried to deal with or exacerbate these issues. He gave a talk at Duke when I was there. very intelligent and well researched.

  2. Whatever you try to control always ends up controlling you. To perceive in absolutes, leads to deterioration of balance. Control is blind.