Deserted cities

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, December 13th, 2009 - 38 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, Environment - Tags:

I think it is a pity that the currently dominant country / culture in the world, America, has had such a short history. Pakeha history in New Zealand suffers from the same limitation. All of our history has been about expansion and growth. “Progress”. It seems to us to be the natural state of affairs.

In many other countries people grow up in the shadow of a much longer history. Sometimes literally amidst the ruins of once great cities and empires. I visited a few many years ago. Vijayanagar, for example, was the seat of a South Indian empire from 1336 to 1646. The ruins of the city today are spread over 26 sq km. Temples, palaces, stables, tanks, siphons and pipework, chariots, markets – much of it still well preserved, much of it fading back into the harsh, red, rocky landscape.

Vijayanagar

Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of a Mughal empire, founded in 1570. It is a smaller site, and so perfect that it might have been abandoned just yesterday. This city was never sacked by war, it was simply evacuated by its people, abandoned just 15 years after it was built when the water supply failed. No water no people, just an empty city.

Fatehpur-Sikri

Such places impressed on me, in a way that growing up in NZ never had, that our civilisations and their works are both fragile and temporary. And I think the fact that too many people in the world today are missing this gut level understanding is one of the things that makes it so hard for us to address the global challenge of climate change. Too many people simply can’t believe, can’t even imagine, that the world that they see around them could suddenly and catastrophically change. It seems ludicrous, impossible, so those who say it is going to happen simply must be wrong. Because I have never broken my leg, my leg is unbreakable!

Well. Just rambling on a Sunday. But I wish that folk who can’t or won’t believe in the threat of global warming could spend time wandering in some of the ruined cities of the world. Or perhaps even just read Collapse (by Jared Diamond). I can’t help but wonder sometimes (when I am in a city) whether 500 years from now the people will be exploring our ruins. And if so, what they will think of us.

38 comments on “Deserted cities”

  1. Andrei 1

    They quite possibly be amazed that we threw our civilization away on the basis of the basis superstition, AGW.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      It’s the deniers such as yourself that are delusional. The evidence is quite clear but you’re going around denying it. In 500 years I suspect that they’ll be asking why we took so long to do anything (we knew we had to do something back in the early 1970s) and then they’ll come across posts like yours and wonder why the rest of us were held to ransom by people who were obviously mentally ill.

      • bill 1.1.1

        Be fair DTB. We must all be mad buggers or else we would never have been arriving at this situation in the first place.

        On the action/inaction front. What’s the name of the guy who did the ‘Right Authoritarian’ studies? From memory, he shows that voters (authoritarian followers) vote in representatives (authoritarians) and that authoritarians are the worst possible person type with regards getting it together with others to sort shit out. The second worst are authoritarian followers (wishy washy can’t decide when and how to take action types….must be told what to do)

        And in 500 years I doubt if there would have been people around to wander through ruins at liesure regardless of climate change.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1

          When presented with the wrong information we tend to make the wrong decisions which is why we’re where we are today. Wrong information such as the Catholic Church’s condemnation of contraception and peoples belief that they can have as many children as they like. Both of these fallacies and a few others have been pushed onto us by politics, business and church’s. Now, and for a few decades, we’ve been slowly realising through the help of science that these are complete BS and making changes.

          Now the CCDs are pushing another fallacy upon us against all the evidence and, unfortunately, our political leaders are either listening to them or actually are them.

          • Bill 1.1.1.1.1

            It might surprise you ( I suspect it will), But it was not just the Catholics who espoused the idea of out breading competitors.

            Some notable anarchists did too.

            See. There was a time when the orthodoxy maintained that genes (or bloodlines) were determinant factors.

            So the Catholics were not unusual or peculiar when seen in contemporaneous context.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Still doesn’t make it anything less than false information and no, it doesn’t surprise me. Many cultures still have the concept of having many children to prove yourself a man etc.

          • Andrei 1.1.1.1.2

            It is actually an individuals responsibility to raise the next generation.

            You are supposed to have children and bring them up and if people don’t they die out. This is not rocket science

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.2.1

              There’s a difference between ensuring the next generation and over population. The world is now over populated by some 6 billion people. As you say, it’s not rocket science but you still don’t get it.

    • QoT 1.2

      Threw our civilisation away? If your idea of our “civilisation” is one based on burning fossil fuels and pillaging the planet’s natural resources, I have no problem with binning it and starting over.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Haven’t read Collapse yet but I’m presently reading <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Tainter"Joseph Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Gah, spam blocked

  4. Olwyn 4

    I couldn’t agree more rOb; and would add to that weak sense of history (History is bunk – Henry Ford), the idea of infinite resource. While we no longer think that resources are infinite, much of our thinking follows from a time in which it seemed that way.

  5. Marty G 5

    fantastic post, r0b.

  6. outofbed 6

    500 years ? won’t the “rapture” have happened by then ?

  7. andy 7

    Detroit is a living example of an abandoned industrial city, Johannesburg SA next. IMO.

  8. rainman 8

    It’s going to be interesting to see just how rapidly our suburban infill de-skilled car culture declines, as oil becomes scarce. Won’t have to wait 500 years for that either – it’s likely to be fairly soon.

    Be nice if we had some real political leadership around here, to drive along some central mitigation activities. Sigh.

    You’re spot on about the lack of history, btw.

  9. Rob 9

    The thing that always strikes me most about books like Collapse is when the cultures collapsed. Always only a few years after their peak. Building their greatest structures, having the greatest feasts and showing off their wealth. That in its turn was what killed them. It seems to me this is what we are constantly trying to do now. Build the tallest buildings, the fastest planes the greatest of everything possible with our current technology ignoring the effects of it. How many abandoned construction programs have there been around the world now leaving the people surrounding them desolate?

    We need to concentrate on living as best we can not merely showing as best as we can. Maybe then we can make some progress on issues like climate change and poverty.

    • Olwyn 9.1

      rainman & Rob: One has to look at how many of these dependencies were inflicted upon people by vested interests, rather than welcomed with open arms. I have been told that in the early days of universalising the car, firms such as Ford bought up public transport systems in American towns and destroyed them, so that the people would be pressed into buying cars. And here in NZ there are areas in West Auckland and Manukau that were not built to be communities, but car dependent outposts. It often makes me angry when I hear petrol-head West Auckland jokes – they have had no bloody choice in the matter. I agree with you entirely Rob, that we would be better changing our focus for progress in the manner you prescribe, and with you too rainman, that this requires political leadership.

  10. outofbed 10

    I see that there are so many denier groups out there
    that an umbrella group has been formed
    It called ESCHEWED
    which I am reliably informed stands for
    Empirical SCience, Holocaust,Engineers,Warming,Evolution Deniers

    One group to bind them and in the darkness.blind them is the motto

  11. Zaphod Beeblebrox 11

    Diamond also points out that after the fall, some societies reach an equilibrium point where they learn to live in a way that allows their consumption to equal what nature can create itself over a period of time. This is invariably a much lower standard of living than at their peak.

    So its probable that our grandchildren will have to live with a much diminished GDP and quality of life. This is similar to what happened to Maori who wiped out most of their food supply (easy to hunt giant birds) and were forced to survive on scavenging shellfish and cannabilism by the Seventeenth Century. Who knows what would have happened to Maori if they remained isolated until the present day.

    The greatest survivors were the Australian Aboriginals who managed to survive in equilibrium in probably one of the harshest environments imaginable for 30,000 years.

  12. Jenny 12

    Rob, I agree with your point that what people thought was permanent could actually be pretty impermanent. The thing about these society’s collapses was that without the benefit of modern science they never saw it coming.

    Whereas apart from the wilful deniers, and the genuinely ignorant, we are aware of what will occur if we don’t change our ways.

    (Those I term wilful deniers are those in the pay of those with a vested interest in polluting who out of self interest, choose to ignore the predictive power of the scientific studies, or even claim as they recently have, that these studies were forged as part of some liberal conspiracy).

    Unlike previously failed civilisations, we still have a chance to protect and preserve the best of existing human development for future generations, rather than suffer the total apocalyptic infrastructural collapse, and a new savage dark age.

    Tha is if we act now.

    For the leaders in Copenhagen to decide on anything less than the maximum needed to prevent the coming calamity would be irresponsible. And in my opinion would disqualify them from leading.

    Rob I can’t help but wonder if the people of those ancient societies that you mention, could have taken the necessary actions to prevent the calamity that was about to befall them, would have taken those actions, if they had had the benefit of the pre warnings similar to the ones that we have had. I suspect they would have.

    What do you think?

    • r0b 12.1

      Hi Jenny. My guess is it varied. Those at Pompeii had no idea a volcano was going to wipe them out. Those on Easter Island knew very well they were cutting down the last of the trees (but they did it anyway). And surely many endings were foreseen and averted, as civilisations lasted for centuries.

      As to the future, seems to me the same possibilities apply. If the Earth ever gets hit by a big enough asteroid that’s just game over. Global warming on, the other hand, can be averted. In theory. I’m not so confident that it will be averted in practice…

      • Bill 12.1.1

        Oh ffs

        The privileged didn’t want to give up their position of privilege. This goes for any culture or any society past and present and it’s really fucking naive to lump everyone together in to (say) Easter Islanders or whatever. I mean, who the fuck do you think was left behind. More to the point. Who the fuck do you think got places in those last ocean going canoes?

        And when do you think they left?

        At any point before the last conceivable moment ( ie when their position of privilege was patently unsustainable)?

        And if there was nowhere to go do you think that that last conceivable moment would have shifted in time? Or would events have simply continued to evolve/devolve/degenerate?

        And since we are handing over a possible departure to our accepted or habitual ways of living to a privileged few ( our elected and materially rewarded representatives…..who serve not our interests but the interests of business elites ie market imperatives.) do you honestly believe that they will abandon their privileged status any sooner than the escaping elites of Easter Island?

        And since our elites and privileged can’t just paddle their way out of this (this really is a collective shit creek with no paddle!) , what chance you say for any modicum of modernity being preserved?

  13. Lanthanide 13

    The tagline of the final episode of Six Feet Under: Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends.

    I like to do a thought experiment and try to imagine things around us ending. Try and imagine how your house comes to its end – is it a house fire in 2 years time, a tsunami in 22 years time, knocked down to build a new commercial complex in 29 years time, or scavenged by people looking for scrap material in 38 years time? How will your computer desk end? How will a company like Microsoft or Google end? How will the company you work at end?

    • Jenny 13.1

      We should all do as much we humanly can to prevent to it.

      But as an interesting thought experiment everyone should look in their hearts and ask themselves where would they go if the world was about to end?

      The answer will tell you why we should fight so hard to prevent it.

  14. Kezia 14

    By ‘America’ I assume you mean the United States. America, as in the American continent, has quite a long and distinguished history. And while the presence of ruins are not and shouldn’t be prerequisites for ‘civilisation’ status, I think you’ll find the American continent has many.

    I get what you’re trying to express with this post, but the way you’ve framed it is a bit offensive. We, in New Zealand, are growing up in the shadow of a long history. Just because there aren’t ruins everywhere doesn’t make that untrue.

    • r0b 14.1

      Beg your pardon Kezia, no intention to offend. I did try to be clear that it is Pakeha history in NZ that is short. Of course there is a longer history here, but Pakeha mostly have very little knowledge of it.

      • vto 14.1.1

        Pakeha history is relatively short in NZ but it is not short. Maori history in NZ is also relatively short.

        • Galeandra 14.1.1.1

          ‘History’ in a narrow nationalistic sense is an artifact. Surely by now it’s possible for us all to ‘own’ a sense of the deep past and our genetic & cultural place within it?
          If we do foment that sense of value, we may be willing to work harder to hold ALL of modern civilisation intact.

          Then the glibness of all the Andreis out there: “They quite possibly be amazed that we threw our civilization away on the basis of the basis superstition, AGW.” will find its answer.

          They, whoever they might be, will certainly notice the lack of water and other life resources, the vanished species, the slow holocaust of millions upon millions of people as human habitat shrank. The article in today’s Sunday Star Times “Following The River Of Sorrow” ( about current glacial melt in Nepal and sedimentation of cropland etc) is an article to read and to weep.
          The smart arsery of the Andreis is sociopathically sick in the light of the flow of information about the current manifestation of climate issues.
          A thoughtful post, rOb.
          Well done.

      • Deus In Machina 14.1.2

        well, technically maori history is exactly as long as pakeha history. History is by definition recorded, before that it was Maori pre-history which relies mainly on archeology and study of culture.

  15. Like its 1999

    captcha – unwanted

  16. Jenny 16

    Hear, hear.

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    Today is a Member's day, and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill continues its slow crawl through its committee stage. They're spending the whole day on it today, though the first hour is likely to be spent on voting left over from last time. After that they'll move on ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Flight to Los Angeles turned back after passengers decide they don’t want to go anymore
    An ambitious plan to fly to Los Angeles petered out into a brief sight-seeing trip and a desire to return home and get some sleep before work tomorrow. Air New Zealand has confirmed a flight to Los Angeles last night was turned back about a quarter of the way into ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Indigenous Futures: defuturing and futuring – an analytical framework for policy development?
    There appears to be consensus – by omission – that the concept of indigenous futures should be accepted at face value. So I scavenged the internet to see if I could locate an academic descriptor or a framework around how we think about it as a concept, and whether it ...
    EllipsisterBy Ellipsister
    1 week ago
  • Cadbury rumoured to be releasing the Pineapple Trump
    Here’s another novelty chocolate to shove in your gob, New Zealand Cadbury could be seeking to make itself great again with a rumoured new release: Pineapple Trumps, a spin on its classic chocolate-encased pineapple treat and do-it-yourself tooth remover. The global confectionery manufacturer and bumbling “before” character in an infomercial, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • The coming resource war.
    During my time in the Pentagon I had the privilege of sitting down with military leaders and defence and security officials from a variety of Latin American nations. Sometimes I was present as a subordinate assistant to a senior US defence department official, sometimes as part of a delegation that ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    1 week ago
  • Māori Language Week with The Civilian
    Kia ora, Aotearoa. It’s that magical time of year. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. In English, the week that frightens talk radio. As you probably know by now, all your favourite media outlets are participating, some more successfully than others. Stuff has changed its name to Puna for the ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Will Horizons act on climate change?
    Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • BORA reform is stalled
    Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going? I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Corbyn and Brexit
    As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity. The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • A ditch for him to die in
    Last week, English Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly declared that he would rather die be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit. Unfortunately for him, the UK parliament accepted the challenge, and promptly dug one for him. The "rebellion bill" requires him to ask for and secure yet another temporary ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Warning! Warning! Danger Jacinda Ardern! Danger Marama Davidson! Warning!
    Lost In Political Space: The most important takeaway from this latest Labour sexual assault scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of ...
    1 week ago
  • Union solidarity with Ihumatao land occupation
    by Daphna Whitmore Every Sunday for the past two months unionists from First Union, with supporters from other unions, have set out to the Ihumatao land protest, put up gazebos and gas barbeques, and cooked food for a few hundred locals and supporters who have come from across the country. ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • Climate Change: The wrong kind of trees?
    Newsroom today has an excellent, in-depth article on pine trees as carbon sinks. The TL;DR is that pine is really good at soaking up carbon, but people prefer far-less efficient native forests instead. Which is understandable, but there's two problems: firstly, we've pissed about so long on this problem that ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • No freedom of speech in Turkey
    Canan Kaftancioglu is a Turkish politician and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Like most modern politicians, she tweets, and uses the platform to criticise the Turkish government. She has criticised them over the death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas grenade during ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Speaker: Tadhg Stopford: Why I’m standing for the ADHB
    Hi there, just call me Tim.We face tough problems, and I’d like to help, because there are solutions.An Auckand District Health Board member has nominated me for as a candidate for the ADHB, because her MS-related pain and fatigue is reduced with hemp products from Rotorua.  Nothing else helped her. If I ...
    1 week ago
  • Good little vassals
    The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?
    Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are ...
    1 week ago
  • The Politics of Opposition
    For most of the time I was a British MP, my party was out of government – these were the Thatcher years, when it was hard for anyone else to get a look-in. As a front-bencher and shadow minister, I became familiar with the strategies required in a parliamentary democracy ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • More expert comments on the Canadian fluoride-IQ paper
    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    1 week ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago

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