That grim, much-derided prediction of impending apocalypse that has provided satirical grist to many a cartoonist’s mill – so often depicting an unkempt, placard-carrying vagrant picketing the street – was last month elevated to the status of rocket science. Literally. Research funded by no less hallowed an institution as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has predicted that our civilisation is in terminal decline. Not many of us will be around to welcome the dawn of the next century, apparently.
The way we have been destroying our environment over the past couple of centuries and the way climate change – man made or not – is ravaging us, we don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that we’re all heading for trouble. Big trouble. But when an organisation like NASA, full of rocket scientists besides other nerdy, brainy sorts, gets associated with what claims to be a serious study proposing that we’re all doomed, the world does take notice.
The study draws parallels between several past civilisations that declined and disappeared, some of them mysteriously, many of them for good reasons – and compares them with the challenges that our civilisation finds itself confronting. Again, most of the findings are more common sense than rocket science: too many people chasing dwindling resources, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots upsetting the social status quo leading to war, disease, chaos and ultimately, decimation. Instances of past civilisations going down the tube are legion.
From the highly progressive Nabta Playa people who disappeared in about 6000 BCE around what is now Egypt, through the great Indus Valley civilisation (India/Pakistan/ Afghanistan) that is believed to have gone to seed around 1900 BCE to the Khmers (in today’s Cambodia) and the Incas (in modern Peru) well into the Christian era, history is littered with vanished civilisations. The list is endless: Romans, Guptas, Mesopotamians, Mauryas, Han…
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