Fans of archaeology are familiar with the concept known as the Bronze Age Collapse. For those of you who don’t spend your holidays in the library or excavation sites, the Bronze Age Collapse refers to a period of massive transition among most, if not all, Mediterranean and Near East Societies starting around 1200 BCE.
The collapse was a sort of ancient apocalypse of sorts, during which a fairly globalized economy that included continent-wide trade routes, complex societies, and relatively high literacy levels fell almost completely apart. Written records for much of the Mediterranean world cease almost entirely during that time and don’t reappear for about 500 years. The Dark Age that followed the Bronze Age represented a much more significant collapse than that which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, so much so that when writing did reappear, the chroniclers confess to not even knowing HOW humans could be capable of building the sort of monumental structures they saw lying around in ruins.
Archaeologists have been debating the cause of this collapse for years. Volcanoes, piracy, famine, population migration, and more efficient weaponry have all been put forward as potential candidates.
Turns out, according to new research by the National Academy of Sciences, the culprit may have been climate change. At least for the Harappan civilization. The Harappans were one of the major Bronze Age societies, and may have contained around 10% of the world’s population. A significant change in climate, causing the monsoons on which the Harappans depended for their agricultural production to become erratic. The population fled in the wake of a changing climate, and the civilization collapsed.
Today, climate change is again causing governments to weaken and fall. We’re just starting to see the beginning of how climate change will alter, and perhaps irreparably damage, our current society. It’s one thing when Tunisia can’t afford to feed its people due to a record drought in Russia. But what happens when Russia, a nuclear-armed nation state, can’t grow enough wheat to feed its own citizens? What happens, one must ask, if the drought currently tearing through the US makes it impossible to maintain American food supplies?
Although it’s too late to avoid some significant societal changes as a result of global warming, we can still prevent some of the worst case scenarios (like a Harappan-style collapse) from occurring. But we have to act now.