In school, I wasn’t good at many subjects, but history always seemed to be my forte. From a young age, the facts and dates of different civilizations and cultures somehow seemed to stick in my mind. As I look at the world developing today, I can’t help but think back on all of that history as a warning that we are fast approaching a collapse. Technology and globalization have made our society unlike any prior society in recorded history, but we are also following a pattern that suggests that unless things change dramatically, soon, we are heading for a societal collapse
Usually, when I say this, I get so weird looks and eye rolls, and “don’t be so negative” has been the common response. However, I don’t consider myself to be fatalistic but an optimistic realist. Looking at history, EVERY civilization before this has thought that they were the apex of humanity … they are no longer here. We are lucky to find traces of them in excavations of ruins, pieces of texts, footprints of a foundation found under feet of sand like Gobekli Tepe. Unless things change soon, our civilization is going down that same path.
Based on the tepid solutions being put forward, things are not changing anytime soon. My generation is being told we need to get rid of plastic straws, ride our bikes more, stop eating meat, don’t eat avocado toast and to stop spending so much of our money on unnecessary “luxuries.” The problems we are facing are systemic and no amount of personal change will be able to address climate change the way systemic change will. Furthermore, most research shows that the majority of greenhouse gasses aren’t coming from the majority of the world’s citizens but from a few corporations and wealthy billionaires.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the wealthy dictate much of the systems around us. The amount of control that the wealthy have over our governments is the biggest hindrance in creating meaningful solutions to climate change. And unless the masses realize how they are being cheated and lied to and take back power, we will likely continue on the path of destruction.
There is a popular legend that says Nero played the flute/violin while Rome burned, and it is an apt analogy of how the wealthy are dealing with the ravages of climate change. As we look to our politicians to create systemic solutions, it’s important to realize that their focus is on the money streams that maintain their quality of life not the wellbeing of most of us. Throughout time the wealthy elites are the last ones to be affected by the calamities facing the majority of the people. In the late 1700s in France, while the public starved, the monarchy ate lavishly, until the revolution came to their front door. Today with globalism, the wealthy are able to traverse the world avoiding the disasters of their creation: if there are wildfires in California, fly to your house in Arizona, drought in Arizona, fly to Italy and so on.
It is not that they are oblivious to the destruction caused by climate change, large companies like Exxon have known about the dangers for decades and have paid scientists, politicians, and the media, millions to muddy the waters and obscuring the data because their corporate profits are more important than the planet we live on. We know the wealthy elite are already preparing for the impending consequences, they have bunkers with plenty of food stored and waiting, they have their water sources and electricity, contingency plans that don’t include you or me, they even have their private armies.
Yet still, storms are increasing in frequency and intensity, land erosion is accelerating at a terrifying pace, earth’s carrying capacity has reached its max, vital ecosystems are on the verge of collapse … and instead of investing in the solutions that can help us move forward as a society, imperialism and capitalism have allowed the wealthy elite to take away our agency. They dictate our entertainment, the wealthy dictate our politics and who we are able to vote for, how when and where we are able to use energy and the type of energy available. This means that the real systemic changes that are needed will not be coming anytime soon in this current political system.
These are not ramblings of a weary pessimist. If we look at the systems that would need to change to begin to address our climate problems, we would need to change our energy system; to stop burning fossil fuels, change our throwaway culture, our agriculture and our food systems, the prison industrial system, healthcare system, tax systems, housing systems … everything … and recognize the things that are leading to our destruction.
There is a common belief that societies collapse when economic and environmental disasters occur around the same time with the thought being that a stable economy helps address environmental disasters i.e. clean up and the other way around. However, with climate change and massive wealth inequality, we are literally creating the forces of our destruction. To date, globalization has been able to stave off a lot of things, but we are getting to the point where we are creating a global crisis and there will be nowhere left to turn. But there is still time to change.
Here are a few things we need to do immediately to begin to redirect our path:
- Listen to Indigenous peoples.
- Take money out of politics, no more lobbying, private donors, etc.
- Greatly reduce advertising.
- Reinvest in government-funded civil corps to plant trees and engage in land restoration work across the country.
Here’s the thing, as a black man living in this world, societal collapse doesn’t scare me. I’ve heard the argument that industrial civilizations are inherently unsustainable and looking at all the civilizations before ours I think that is a true analysis. But it is my love of history that gives me hope as well. With history as a teacher, we know that EVERYONE alive today has survived “the end of the world” in one form or another, from the Incas in South America to the Romans of Europe we have all lived through civilization collapses to be here today.
With the knowledge of impending societal collapse within the next 30-50 years, we shouldn’t lose hope but focus on the skills that will be needed to ensure we continue on. We need to listen to Indigenous people, not only about how we prevent the coming collapse but also what to do to survive it. It is important to teach our children a love of nature, teach them about the importance of planting/ growing food as well as edible and medicinal wild plants It is not only our children we need to empower, it is important to grow a community of people you can rely on and most importantly, we need to learn to lead with kindness and compassion, the “what mine is mine and what yours is mine” mentality is exactly why we are where we are today and we need to begin to work towards a more compassionate world. As an optimistic realist I don’t believe that we are taking the steps needed to avert disaster so why not be ready when it comes.
After graduating from Columbia University Kern Collymore moved to the Navajo Reservation with his life partner Janene Yazzie where they raise two beautiful children and engage in sustainable community development.