Climate change created civilization

After flourishing from 2600 – 1900 B.C.E, the Indus Valley Civilization entered a period of decline. The various reasons cited for the decline include climate change, like the decline of monsoons. A crucial factor was also the disappearance of substantial portions of the Ghaggar Hakra river system, believed to be the mythical Saraswati.

Climate changes are sometimes responsible for the development of civilizations. For example, a pre-historic climate change in Eastern Sahara resulted in the rise of the Egyptian civilization. There is an argument that civilizations developed as a by-product of adaptation to climate change and hostile environments.

The early civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia, China and northern South America were founded between 6000 and 4000 years ago when global climate changes, driven by natural fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit, caused a weakening of monsoon systems resulting in increasingly arid conditions. These first large urban, state-level societies emerged because diminishing resources forced previously transient people into close proximity in areas where water, pasture and productive land was still available.

“Civilisation did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban, ‘civilized’ societies,” said Dr. Brooks.

“On the contrary, what we tend to think of today as ‘civilisation’ was in large part an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilisation was a last resort – a means of organising society and food production and distribution, in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions.”

He added that for many, if not most people, the development of civilisation meant a harder life, less freedom, and more inequality. The transition to urban living meant that most people had to work harder in order to survive, and suffered increased exposure to communicable diseases. Health and nutrition are likely to have deteriorated rather than improved for many.

The new research challenges the widely held belief that the development of civilization was simply the result of a transition from harsh, unpredictable climatic conditions during the last ice age, to more benign and stable conditions at the beginning of the Holocene period some 10,000 years ago. [Climate change rocked cradles of civilization]

3 thoughts on “Climate change created civilization

  1. “…Civilisation was a last resort – a means of organising society and food production and distribution, in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions.”
    Really? This statement sounds like classic statement that is made up just to prove a point (like that Max Muller one). Were fractured nomadic societies more equal and healthy(!) than civilizational societies? Was there nothing to be gained from living in a society, such as trade and learning from one another, beyound fleeing climate change?
    I am sure Dr. Brooks is very learned and, probably, climate had (and continue to have) a huge impact on societies. But the above statement is such nonsense.

  2. Jared Diamond in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel writes that nomadic societies were more healthy. Lot of these germs started spreading with domestication. He explicitly mentions that inequality also set in with the onset of farming communities.
    Still as you mentioned, I am not sure about the “last resort” aspect as Dr. Brooks claims.
    I am currently reading Jared Diamond’s book and will have a review in a couple of weeks.

  3. I haven’t read Jared Diamond book yet (some day, soon), but I saw his pbs documentary. Most of his thesis seems possible except, a big except, when he says that if the climate was right in Africa (ie no mosquitoes or drought, such like), it’s societies would have been on the trajectory to build a modern helicopter too – meaning, African societies would be fully developed. Actually, it’s a common theme in many studies (for example, David S. Landes in the Wealth and Poverty of Nations) that climate is a primary reason why Europe emerged as rich and dominant society: one thesis, Europe was too harsh so they had to work harder and had to be innovative, and two, the opposite thesis, no diseases, such as malaria, and didn’t need AC (no hot summers) hence they were the most productive.
    Beyound the health aspect (some groups perishing without killing thousands), I just don’t buy Jared’s (and others) view on climate’s influence on societal development. It is as though the organization of the society, interaction between the societies matter much less for societies to evolve.
    May be they just want to be nice to all societies – all societies are capable. But, I think, climate is given too much weight to speak for differences between societies (and apparently for formation of society itself).

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