It seems that everywhere you look the end is near. The scientist tells us of imminent environmental catastrophe; economists say we’re headed for financial disaster; the politician claims a nightmare ahead for the poor, or the youth, or all of America for that matter.
And then I encountered this breath of fresh air:
It’s a feature story on environmental researcher, Karl Butzer. Butzer’s cool-headed argument is that ups and downs in humanity’s history have come from a variety of factors, and that resilience comes about from crisis response and adaptation and not from alarmism.
And in fact, the piece states that “the historical record offers many more examples of societies that have survived and adapted than those that collapsed.” How optimistic!
Butzer’s 50 years of work in Egypt has revealed that alongside environment struggles in the ancient dynasties, it took other “cultural and psychological factors” to create a breakdown. His body of work spanning Egypt, Old Norse settlements in Greenland and Spanish settlements in Mexico reveal that failure was “about institutional failure — incompetence, corruption, dynastic crises, invasion and loss of economic networks. Environmental degradation seldom had a significant role.” And that collapse “was neither abrupt nor inevitable”.
Projecting that to today, Butzer claims that Hurricane Katrina isn’t so much a tragedy of climate change as it is about institutional failures: poor dike placement and “municipal incompetence”.
Yet rather than seek a remedy, the biggest question on people’s minds following Katrina was, “Who’s to blame?”
The finger-pointing, dooms-day problem infects economic, environmental, and political thought in America today. Fear is primary and responsibility limited. It’s trendy and easy to get attention and web page views by chastising the opposition and speaking about their threats to our lives. Also, Americans’ ideological stances are more important today than solutions.
The article finished with this quote from Butzer: “Collapse becomes possible when people cannot collaborate to find solutions, and that is rare. In most situations, disasters are avoided because people succeed in pulling together to confront crises.”
To cooler heads this weekend.
to new plateaus,