The Fate of Us?

Environmentalist eschatology has it that the world is ending. Nature? I think not. The human world as we’ve known it, undoubtedly — that has been the pattern for as long as there have been humans; it’s just a question of timing. But the planet will abide. Much simplified and profoundly poisoned by humans, true, but the Earth will keep spinning, life will keep living, however much we’ve knee-capped it. One day, all this will just be a toxic layer in the geological strata. The HS — for Homo sapiens — Line?

It’s we who are the worry. Among ourselves, anyway. Ain’t nobody going to miss us when we’re gone.

Climate instability, global networks of trade, exotic diseases sparked at the ever expanding human/wilderness frontier. These three horsemen go together.. and have done so for some time now. This is the thought that inevitably bubbles up while reading Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, & the End of Empire. “The precise conjuncture of environmental damage, political disintegration, and religious ferment decided the final sequence of Rome’s demise.”

As we race towards our own climatic fate, much of historiography is now climatological. There was, for instance, a Roman climate optimum (200 BC – 150 AD), when the glory of Rome was something to write home about. It was warm and wet — only August didn’t see rain, unlike now when the Mediterranean climate is essentially dry through the whole summer. (Great for tourists, more problematic for food-production.) Remember marveling at the idea of North Africa being the granary of empire? Times were good (-ish, it depended where you lived and who you were, of course).

Then came three centuries of climate transition, becoming dryer and dryer. This transitional era saw two devastating plagues (165 AD, probably smallpox — hey, anti-vaxxers, this one’s for you, you selfish fuckers) and (249-262 AD, possibly something Ebola-like). Recoveries of sorts were made, but there was no going back; the borders were busted, the economy in decline, the barracks emperors a dime a dozen to the last trump.

Finally (for Rome) the one-two of little ice age (450-700AD ) and the Justiniaic Plague (541-543 AD, then reoccurring for 2 more centuries). This last seems to have been humanity’s first pandemic. Mortality may have been as much as half the population of the Roman empire–in Constantinople they say 5000 died a day. This was plague of the plague, the same bacillus (Yersinia pestis) as the medieval Black Death.

Harper touches lightly on the similarities between that decline and fall and ours — which of course we can’t know beforehand, but…. He doesn’t need to be heavy-handed. History speaks for itself. Climate disruption, political instability, untold suffering, massive migration, dictators promising walls and fantasies of ethno-racial nativism. I read history in light of the present. How will our times be remembered?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you probably need some BBs of H.

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