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The world’s leading climatologists, historians and archeologists have joined in spelling out some of the ways by which a variety of civilizations have brought about their own demise. Often the cultural collapse was the result of the community’s profound insult towards Mother Earth. Pick a fight with nature, and eventually you will lose. We may be in a hurry, but nature will take her time as she moves incessantly towards an inevitable conclusion. Here are seven sure-fire losers in which civilizations have tried to outwit nature, and lost:

  1. Deforestation
  2. The erosion of topsoil
  3. Salinization of fresh water – and the improper management of both surface and underground reservoirs
  4. Overhunting and overfishing
  5. Population explosions overwhelming natural resources
  6. Polluting the atmosphere
  7. Human generated climate change (in particular, global warming)

In each of the above, the civilization was decimated when, for a variety of reasons, the culture simply failed to pay attention or pretended that the natural world offered unlimited resources for it to use up. Any one of these natural affronts will eventually bring down the culture that fails to pay attention. One of our most difficult lessons is our inability to realize that the planet does not have unlimited natural resources, and that when we use them up, there just aren’t any more. 

The only adequate response must be for us to take a conservative approach. While our way of life is based on continual growth, that perspective may ultimately spell our demise. While we may long for a six percent economic growth rate, the final answer might mean a zero percent growth rate. While that may be a bitter pill to swallow in a capitalistic economic world, we may have no other responsible choice. 

When in 1972 The Club of Rome published a book spelling out The Limits of Growth, the industrialized world was scandalized. Now, 45 years later, we may just be beginning to confront what these scientists and business executives were trying to tell us — we live on a ball of mud, water and rock whose resources are finite. 

Here is the contemporary shock. We are currently faced with the reality that we are involved with every one of these potentially catastrophic issues. We are losing the nation’s topsoil at an alarming rate. Trying to make up for the rape of the soil by the increased application of artificial fertilizers only complicates the problem. In a decade, we are managing to destroy the nutrient-rich soil it has taken nature a century to create. Our forests and undeveloped wilderness areas are disappearing. The depletion of our oceans’ abundance cannot be rectified by resorting to fish farming. Efforts to feed the billions of hungry stomachs means that millions will starve to death. 

This brings us to the most immediate problems: climate change and global warming. There is no need for me to make the case here. The world’s scientists have already made it. The earth is heating up, and central to the cause is human activity, principally, the burning of fossil fuels. We have been warned by those who know best that we may be approaching a tipping-point leading on the downhill side to a planet no longer hospitable to human life. Scientists from more than a hundred nations gathered in Paris determined to do something about the crisis.

In June 2017, Trump pulled the United States out of this effort, having convinced himself that the whole thing is a made-up sham. His justification? What the scientific community asks nations to do voluntarily might interfere with our economy, so we can have no part of it. So, the nation, and the earth itself, will have to bear the shame produced by a non-scientist who is an ignorant buffoon. Whatever the ensuing environmental catastrophe, the political lemmings following him over the cliff will have no one to blame but themselves.

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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