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Sunday, 10 July 2011

What'll it be - The moon or the Stone Age?

How robust is civilization? I don’t just mean individual societies; I’m talking about the whole planetary system. We take it for granted but does civilization have an Achilles’ heel?  What would happen if the whole thing began to unravel? One shudders to think of the impact to the commemorative plate industry.  People ask the same thing about our ecosystem. Some claim the environment is like a fine watch and any disruption could bring the whole thing crashing down around us. Others claim that the environment is more like the business world; if a species dies, another, stronger species will take its place (Note to self: find image of grizzly bear wearing a blue vest, welcoming visitors to the park). Even if this is the case, you end up with a monopoly and when that species dies off you end up hungry; wishing the small mom and pop species were still around.
Which brings me back to civilizations. What if we had a species that got up early every morning and worked their butts off (They don’t really have butts but ‘Worked their cloacas off’ doesn’t have the same cachet) supporting our civilization? Bees pollinate our crops and we tend to take that for granted. The commercial colonies of European bees have pretty much displaced the domestic wild colonies that used to do the job for free, which gives them a monopoly. Those European imports are now starting to die off and no-one is quite sure why.
So, what happens if we don’t have enough of them left to support our crop production?
Sure, there are other methods for pollination, but can they keep up as the colonies that currently service our crops die off? If not, does civilization carry on or should I stop caring about my student loans? Maybe I should re-amortize my mortgage to forty years and use the spare cash to buy a small island in the Juan De Fuca straight - set up some domestic bee colonies, stock up on seeds…
If it comes apart on us, it could be worse than the fall of Rome. Back then, technology was more sustainable. A blacksmith could still get his hands on ore and produce iron. Farmers carried on with their lives, trading continued…
Nowadays, everyone is a tooth in a gear that meshes with another gear and so on. There are no blacksmiths, there are massive multinational steel conglomerates. Fifteen hundred years ago, one man could make iron, nails, hinges, horse-shoes, wagons (heck my Grandfather did it all that two generations ago), but we have progressed too far beyond that level of technology. Everything now requires the cooperation of thousands of highly specialized individuals.
So the question that I am slowly getting around to is this: How far would we get knocked back if our food production failed? Would we be able to halt the slide at the Iron Age level, or would large areas of the world fall all the way back to hunter gatherer clans with stone tools?  There could be a few isolated pockets where the Iron Age survives. Those wild west theme parks with the working blacksmith shops might just end up being the shining beacons of human achievement in an otherwise dark world. Then again, they might end up being over run…  
I’m asking because I am writing a series of stories that relate to the subject and I am wondering what folks think about it. What is the most likely outcome of my doomsday scenario? Life can be crazy, but fiction has to be plausible so I really want to hear what thoughts you might have on the subject.
I think I’ll check out the prices on some small islands in the meantime. If everything turns out for the best, I can at least pretend to be an evil super villain…


See? I was serious about the bear…

1 comment:

  1. Read your book -- loved it. Can't wait for the next installment!

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