Article and art from Collapse of Industrial Civilization
To the extent that we depend on prosthetic devices to keep ourselves and the biosphere alive, we will render everything fragile. To the extent that we banish the rest of life, we will impoverish our own species for all time. And if we should surrender our genetic nature to machine-aided ratiocination, and our ethics and art and our very meaning to a habit of careless discursion in the name of progress, imagining ourselves godlike and absolved from our ancient heritage, we will become nothing.
~ Edward O. Wilson, Consilience; Chapter 12: ‘What Does It All Mean?’
[F]rom its inception, capitalism paved a one-way path to annihilation, predicated as it was on unmitigated growth, the extraction of finite resources, the exaltation of individualism over communal ties, and the maximization of profit at the expense of the environment and society. The capitalist world was, as one author described so bleakly, ”dominated by the concerns of trade and Realpolitik rather than by human rights and spreading democracy”; it was a ”civilization influenced by the impersonal, bottom-line values of the corporations.” Capitalist industrial civilization was built on burning the organic remains of ancient organisms, but at the cost of destroying the stable climatic conditions which supported its very construction. The thirst for fossil fuels by our globalized, high-energy economy spurred increased technological development to extract the more difficult-to-reach reserves, but this frantic grasp for what was left only served to hasten the malignant transformation of Earth into an alien world.
The Fossil Fuel Age did not end for lack of fossil fuels, but because there was no place left to store its CO2 waste. Earth’s overwhelmed carbon sinks became carbon sources. Humans with their hubristic technological overreach had been living on borrowed time for a long time; techno-fixes were not able to artificially expand the carrying capacity of the planet any longer. The climax of the ecological crisis had arrived.
The ruling class tried to hold things together for as long as they could by printing money, propping up markets, militarizing domestic law enforcement, and orchestrating thinly veiled resource wars in the name of fighting terrorism, but the crisis of capitalism was intertwined with the ecological crisis and could never be solved by those whose jobs and social standing depended on protecting the status quo. All the corporate PR, greenwashing, political promises, cultural myths, and anthropocentrism could not hide the harsh Malthusian reality of ecological overshoot. As crime sky-rocketed and social unrest boiled over into rioting and looting, the elite retreated behind walled fortresses secured by armed guards, but the great unwinding of industrial civilization was already well underway. This evil genie was never going back in the bottle.
The melting of the glacial poles meant that global weather patterns and jet streams were irrevocably altered. Consequently, extreme floods and drought wreaked havoc on agriculture. Sea levels also rose much faster than predicted, inundating coastal cities and salinating farmland. Currency markets collapsed, cell phones went silent, transportation systems ground to a halt, and grocery shelves went bare. The disintegration of globalized trade, the dissolution of nation states, and the exhaustion of the biosphere brought forth a new dark age. Deadly microbes and pathogens that had lain dormant or been restricted to certain outlying areas of the planet were now free to migrate and proliferate in new regions. This opened the door for a string of global pandemics that the world had never seen before. Pestilence and famine whittled the population down to under a billion within a few decades.
The electric glow of the world’s cities was blotted out; the stars and moon were the only sources of illumination in the pitch black of night. A ghostly silence replaced the hustle and bustle of people and machinery that once animated the city. Time was no longer measured with the hands of a clock, but by the rise and fall of the sun and the changing of the seasons. A carpet of overgrown grass, weeds, bramble, and trees silently overtook the crumbling city, uprooting and splitting concrete and asphalt. Skyscrapers, once the temples of corporate power and wealth, were now nothing more than monstrous sundials casting their long shadows across the decaying wastelands. Never again would there be such a complex, globe-spanning civilization on Earth.
Haunted for millenia by the legacy of mankind’s fossil fuel binge, roving bands of human survivors were condemned to wander this angry Earth. Only the most physically and mentally fit were able to eke out an existence in an increasingly inhospitable world to pass through the evolutionary bottleneck. They huddled together at night around bonfires and fed the flames with old office furniture and business papers from abandoned buildings. Without electricity, modern medicine, and sanitation systems, life became a short and brutal affair. Nature’s primal forces could no longer be disregarded; their harsh reality sharpened all the senses. Nearly all the technology that had enslaved and anesthetized modern man for so long was now of no use in this neo-medieval world. Megacities were reduced to entropic wastelands, their detritus scavenged by these post-apocalyptic tribes.
Like a rocket disintegrating in mid-flight, capitalist industrial civilization rushed headlong into oblivion, always believing human ingenuity and free markets would solve the mounting number of crises. It turned out humans were extraordinarily clever at deceiving others and, in turn, equally clever at deceiving themselves. They burned the devil’s excrement, split atoms to play with lethal radiation, and tinkered with the building blocks of life, but they never heeded numerous warnings against such folly. Like Icarus who, flying too close to the sun, forgot that his wings were made of wax, humans ignored their earthly origins, believing too much in their own technological infallibility.
A passage from The World Without Us:
There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
~ Sara Teasdale