Some Thoughts On The Relationship Between Climate And Civilization

Before our highly politicized times, it was once imagined that the weather was a safe topic of conversation [1].  Obviously that is no longer the case.  The fault for this extends in at least two directions.  On the one hand, weather has been used as a causal factor in arguing that temperate climates are better suited to the development of advanced civilizations because it is so hard for tropical societies to do anything, and because in the contemporary period the tropical regions of the world are filled with such abject poverty and failure that it is easy to blame the weather for their absence of achievement.  In contrast to beliefs about geographical determinism, though, the subject of weather and climate has become highly political due to conflicts about the direction, extent, and responsibility for alleged anthropogenic climate change, a matter of considerably dubious provenance.  Sadly, in our troubled times, not even weather is a safe subject to talk about.

It is admittedly tempting for someone with my life experience to view hot weather as a crippling impediment to high civilization.  Right now, for example, I am in a house with no air conditioning and the weather is simply barbarously hot.  It is hard to think, much less read and write as I am wont to do, given the unreasonably hot temperatures.  My experiences living in Florida as well as Thailand showed me that life without air conditioning in such climates can be particularly brutal–in Florida, hardly anyone lived in the state before the advent of air conditioning, and in Thailand, without continual fluid intake one was in a very bad way.  Yet there is an impressive amount of tropical civilization throughout the world, ranging from Mesoamerica and South America to Africa and South and Southeast Asia.  To be sure, these nations are not the most important in the world today, but once upon a time Kongo and the Mayans were extremely impressive tropical civilizations.

If tropical climates are not a stop to civilization, though, what do we consider them?  It is perhaps best to consider them as a constraint that must be dealt with.  If the midday hours are too hot to deal with effectively, then perhaps it is best to take a siesta during those hours but to make other hours more productive.  If malarial swamps are a problem, then they can be drained.  If a technology can make a place like Florida comfortable to live in, so long as one stays indoors, then that technology can be used accordingly.  Instead of seeing climate as a determining factor, we can see it as a reality that creative people must work against in order to achieve their goals, whether they do it by overcoming or leaning into or changing their own patterns and habits of behavior in order to overcome an unpleasant reality.  If ancient civilizations could do that, than certainly we can do the same ourselves if we so choose.

Therefore, we might do well to ask ourselves what sort of unpleasant realities we are dealing with.  If it is unbearably hot as it is on a day like today, how then can we be cooled?  Start your day off right with a cold shower?  Spend a lot of time in air conditioning so that one does not have to be at home in the blazing heat?  Those are definitely good ideas.  Stay hydrated?  That sounds like a reasonable idea.  And on and on it goes.  Our climate, our environment, our surroundings are a reality, but they do not determine our fates, but only challenge us to see how we can overcome the obstacles we face, lest we be stymied by them.  Even if it means resting until the heat cools down a bit so that one can write when it is not blazing hot, it is still worth keeping civilization alive in the heat.  Who knows, it might be something we all have to do a bit more often.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Some Thoughts On The Relationship Between Climate And Civilization

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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