Thursday, December 31, 2009

Even Al Jazeera Sees It Coming

It comes as no surprise even to Al Jazeera that the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca, is at a tipping point which could lead to an environmental catastrophe followed by a Mass Migration of millions of people.

Of course, one has to wonder, if the Al Jazeera English broadcasting and reporting network sees this coming, do those who rely on Al Jazeera's Arabic broadcasting and reporting network also see this coming?

If, for example, you were the political leadership of factions interested in promoting the weakening -- or even downfall -- of the USA, you might start praying for Titicaca to fail, in the hopes of being able to find willing recruits and activists within the millions of people who would be displaced.

Note carefully the statement at the end of the video clip: Titicaca needs to have the water level fall only by 30 centimeters -- about one foot -- for the crop and fish-spawning failures to begin.

The video was uploaded to YouTube on 2009 November 27. A month later, and the water level may have already fallen by nearly a foot.

And in the same way that they had to abandon Tiahuanico and nearby Puma Punku -- great and powerful cities in their heyday when the water levels of Titicaca were much higher than any recent peak levels -- the millions of Aymara natives may have to abandon the highlands of Bolivia.

History is replete with examples of really very advanced (for their time) cities being abandoned -- and their civilizations vanishing -- when their water supplies were disrupted.

For example, Angkor Wat was abandoned due to climate change.

Jared Diamond is quick to point out a list of both failed civilizations of the past and at-risk civilizations in the modern day, and from that he draws comparisons between modern civilizations and the Maya, who like so many other failed civilizations, rose to prominence in part because they built in relatively disease-free semi-arid lands which they made habitable through engineering an improved water supply, making the semi-arid lands arable and indeed fertile.

Yet the Mayans did exactly what we're doing in the US Midwest: they exhausted their aquifer.

Diamond notes:
Well, for a few billion of the world's people who are causing us increasing trouble, there isn't any clean water, there is less and less green grass, and there are no supermarkets full of food. To appreciate what the environmental problems of those billions of people mean for us Americans, compare the following two lists of countries. First ask some ivory-tower academic ecologist who knows a lot about the environment but never reads a newspaper and has no interest in politics to list the overseas countries facing some of the worst problems of environmental stress, overpopulation, or both. The ecologist would answer, "That's a no-brainer, it's obvious. Your list of environmentally stressed or overpopulated countries should surely include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, and Somalia, plus others." Then ask a First World politician who knows nothing, and cares less, about the environment and population problems to list the world's worst trouble spots: countries where state government has already been overwhelmed and has collapsed, or is now at risk of collapsing, or has been wracked by recent civil wars; and countries that, as a result of their problems, are also creating problems for us rich First World countries, which may be deluged by illegal immigrants, or have to provide foreign aid to those countries, or may decide to provide them with military assistance to deal with rebellions and terrorists, or may even (God forbid) have to send in our own troops. The politician would answer, "That's a no-brainer, it's obvious. Your list of political trouble spots should surely include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, and Somalia, plus others."

The connection between the two lists is transparent. Today, just as in the past, countries that are environmentally stressed, overpopulated, or both are at risk of becoming politically stressed, and of seeing their governments collapse. When people are desperate and undernourished, they blame their government, which they see as responsible for failing to solve their problems. They try to emigrate at any cost. They start civil wars. They kill one another. They figure that they have nothing to lose, so they become terrorists, or they support or tolerate terrorism. The results are genocides such as the ones that already have exploded in Burundi, Indonesia, and Rwanda; civil wars, as in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philip pines, and the Solomon Islands; calls for the dispatch of First World troops, as to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, and Somalia; the collapse of central government, as has already happened in Somalia; and overwhelming poverty, as in all of the countries on these lists.
[ ...] ("The Last Americans: Environmental Collapse and the End of Civilization", Diamond, Jared PhD, Harper's Magazine, June 2003)

Ah, Tiahuanico, ah, Puma Punku! Ah, the nameless Mayan cities that still lie mostly undiscovered in the overgrowth, overgrowth that returned once the humans moved on and stopped consuming more water than nature could replenish soon enough to satisfy the humans.

Alas, Babylon!

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
—"Ozymandias," Percy Bysshe Shelley

And given the length of their history, I am sure that even Al Jazeera sees this coming...

Coming to America.

More to come?