Wednesday, January 16, 2008
End of Empire
I’ve been reading Robert Kaplan’s book “An Empire Wilderness,” about the future of America and the changes transforming the country. The book was written ten years ago, so part of what Kaplan predicts as the future has already come to pass, or at least is much clearer now. But he’s always interesting to read, so it’s been worthwhile anyway.
Kaplan tends to be quite pessimistic about the state of things. His other books, “Balkan Ghosts” and “The Ends of the Earth,” were both terrific, but as I recall they were the same way. Everywhere he goes he sees dust, howling winds, empty landscapes and poverty -- or a rampant consumerist wealthier class depleting the world’s resources.
Pretty accurate, I know.
In this book, he travels through the American west, bemoaning the sprawl of cities into ecologically sensitive areas where there’s no water -- think Nevada and Arizona. He also dissects the precarious relationship between the U.S. and Mexicans, who congregate on the border in unstable migrant communities or, if they can cross, immigrate illegally. The book definitely makes Mexico seem like no picnic.
I’ve heard people say they believe the era of American global dominance is coming to an end, that our “empire” is falling. We’ve built an unsustainable society, dependent on resources that are doomed to run out and only half-heartedly searched for solutions. We ought to be thinking about what it really will take to turn this ship around -- cutting our energy consumption, pruning back our consumerism and crazy spending (both personally and governmentally) to what we really need, and finding a way to get along with our neighbors.
Globally, I’ve always thought the root cause of all our problems, particularly the environmental ones, is that there are just too many of us. Addressing that is the biggest challenge of all.
(Photo: Long Island City, Queens, Dec. 2007)