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Indus Civilization Upended by Climate Change and Dependence on Finite Resource?

As first reported at the New York Times, a recent study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences makes a strong case for the influence of climate change on the demise of the Harrapan civilization of the Indus plains, a sophisticated culture that “rose about 4,500 years ago, flourished for 600 years and then began a steady and relentless decline.” Essentially, the study shows, the civilization was highly dependent on monsoon rains to feed the flooding of rivers in the Indus valley, its essential means for watering crops, and was thus unable to adapt to climatic changes that weakened the monsoons, and failed to flood the rivers (the Harrapans did not utilize irrigation systems, being spoiled by what they believed was an infinite cycle of river flooding). The Harrapan civilization occupied an area that today includes “Pakistan, northwestern India and eastern Afghanistan.” Given the almost debilitating insecurity that continues to plague these nations, this study should raise the eyebrows of anyone concerned with regional and international security, particularly given regional climate change projections.

Looking beyond the confines of the Indus, one of the authors of the study, Dr. Giosan, also offers the results as a warning for current policy makers that may not know the meaning of the word “finite:”

Modern-day cultures and policy makers need to pay attention to “deep time,” or the very slow changes that accompany the deterioration of climatic conditions and resources, for the benefit of third, fourth or fifth generations, Dr. Giosan said. But in some cases, he adds, the changes are not so slow — for instance, the depletion of fossil fuels.

“Just as the Indus civilization did, we’re depending on a resource that came and went,” Dr. Giosan said. “That resource is oil.”

Thanks to Andrew Holland over at ASP for bringing this to our attention.


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