Ancient Civilizations Can Teach Us How To Survive Climate Apocalypse Or Something

Climate hysteric Michael Smith at Slate, which, not that long ago, wasn’t an unhinged leftist outlet, asks a question

What Can Ancient Cities Teach Us About Surviving Climate Change?

I’m betting the answer is “climatic changes, both through warm and cool periods, was primarily caused by nature, just like today.” Because that’s what is at the heart of this. All these civilizations were impacted by natural climatic changes

Aztec Tenochtitlan began as a damp town in the middle of a swamp, but it managed to thrive across conquests, epidemics, droughts and floods to become one of the largest cities in the world today—Mexico City. When taking students to see the Aztec ruins next to the Zocalo, I used to wonder how places like Tenochtitlan, Beijing, or Rome (the “eternal city”) managed to thrive for centuries, while other cities failed.

In my archaeological fieldwork, I have encountered far more failed urban sites than cities that survived for centuries. It is now time to examine these early cities to learn how some of them adapted successfully to stresses and shocks, while others did not. Perhaps this knowledge can inform current work on urban adaptations to climate change. Researchers have identified a “knowledge gap” between what we need to know about planning cities for the future and we do know. The cities of the past can help fill that gap.

Hey, you know what really ended the Aztecs?

The tide began to turn, though, when the Aztecs were heavily defeated by the Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo in 1515. With the arrival of the Spanish, some of these rebel states would again seize the opportunity to gain their independence. When the conquistadors finally did arrive from the Old World sailing their floating palaces and led by Hernán Cortés, their initial relations with the leader of the Aztecs, Motecuhzoma II, were friendly and valuable gifts were exchanged. Things turned sour, though, when a small group of Spanish soldiers were killed at Tenochtitlan while Cortés was away at Veracruz. The Aztec warriors, unhappy at Motecuhzoma’s passivity, overthrew him and set Cuitlahuac as the new tlatoani. This incident was just what Cortés needed and he returned to the city to relieve the besieged remaining Spanish but was forced to withdraw on 30 June 1520 in what became known as the Noche Triste. Gathering local allies Cortés returned ten months later and in 1521 he laid siege to the city. Lacking food and ravaged by disease, the Aztecs, now led by Cuauhtemoc, finally collapsed on the fateful day of 13 August 1521.

That’s the condensed version. If they want to throw climate in, well, this was during the Little Ice Age. Back to the article

Historians and archaeologists have already started to weigh in on climate change adaptations. One popular genre is stories about disasters like the Classic Maya collapse (think Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse, or The Next Apocalypse, by Chris Begley, 2021). While ancient catastrophes make good reading, such stories are both too complicated and too limited to draw firm conclusions. They promote a biased view of ancient societies. People wonder what was wrong with Maya cities: Why did they collapse? Yet those same cities flourished for many centuries, far longer than any city in the U.S. has yet endured.

The Mayans actually did well during the Dark Ages, but, started collapsing at the end, before the Medieval Warm period started around 950 AD (this was their Classic Period). The Post-Classic Period occurred during the Medieval Warm period, and was already a reduced civilization. And, surprise, it was all natural. Anyhow, blah blah blah, doom from climate, we need to adapt, and, unintentionally makes the case for mostly natural climate change.

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