Contemplating Climate Change From Inside a Fallen Civilization

Anszazi dwelling A recent camping trip to remote Utah (USA) gave me a good opportuity to contemplate why we pursue Green ICT. I was surrounded by the remains of an ancient civilization that may well have succumbed to its own eco-disaster.

Anszazi dwellingDoorway detail

When I say "remote", I mean that my friends and I did not see another human being during the five days we explored the region. Most signs of human habitation were those of one of America's ancestral pueblo peoples - the Anasazi of the Colorado plateau - whose civilization appears to have suffered a dramatic collapse ~800 years ago. Our days were spent searching for the small settlements created in remote canyons as people fled the cities.

We came across a perfectly preserved doorway, down to the bindings the held the lintel poles in place. It is ironic that the hot, dry climate that may have toppled the Anasazi now serves to preserve their technology.

Greg Johnson wrote in the New York Times a month after I returned from Utah:

We won’t ever know what the Anasazi were thinking on the eve of the 13th century when they abandoned the cities they had worked so long to build on the Colorado Plateau. The reasons had something to do with climate...The rains were not just sparser. They were no longer coming when they were supposed to — when the seedlings were in the ground waiting for water. Cooler temperatures were putting an earlier end to the growing season. Fields had been overplanted, forests stripped of wood. Crops were failing as people reverted from agriculture to hunting and gathering and fighting violently over food...

Something was happening — a slow horror, perhaps so slow that it didn’t feel like a horror, until the Anasazi’s culture began to unwind. Did their leaders engage at first in denial and then quiet deliberation? When that failed, did communities split into factions with the conservatives insisting on standing their ground — clinging to the old ways and waiting for the rains to return — and the liberals pushing for new approaches?

How will people 800 years from now assess our response to the twin threats of climate change and resource depletion?

The regional environmental art of one of my camping companions
How I powered my iPhone to use as a backcountry GPS