I occasionally wonder why it was that when ‘advanced’ human civilisations started to appear, they were nearly all in the 20° – 40° North latitudes: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and in the New World, Mexico.
My best theory goes something like this: North of those latitudes it was just too darn cold throughout the winter, so hardly anyone lived there. Life there was just too hard. And south of those latitudes, rather paradoxically, life was just too easy. If you lived in the tropical regions of the world, it was warm all year round and you didn’t need to wear clothes or build anything other than the simplest huts, and food plants and animals were abundant. What else did you need? Amazonian Indians still live exactly that way.
It was only in the mid-latitudes, where life was neither too hard nor too easy, that it was possible to live tolerably well, so long as you had good tools, farms, and stone or timber buildings, and domesticated animals. All this required innovation, and it happened here because it was the only place where innovation was both needed and possible. And the result was the great early civilisations of four or five thousand years ago – Egypt and all the rest.
And using the technologies developed in these mid-latitude civilisations (bronze and iron tools and so on), humans started to be able to live further north. And so the cutting edge of civilisation moved north into Greece and then Rome.
And then a couple of thousand years later it moved further north into Britain and Northern Europe, resulting in the Industrial Revolution of the past few hundred years.
The general rule seems to be that the further north you live, the harder life is. It’s colder for a start, so you need more clothes and more substantial buildings and more fuel to keep them warm. And all this requires more work, and because more work is done, more food is needed. The result is that Northerners tend to have harder lives than Southerners. They are more hard-working, simply because they have to be. And because their lives are harder, they tend to live rather spartan lives devoid of luxuries, and to frown on waste and excess (e.g. beer and cigarettes) in a puritanical manner. There’s no place for such luxuries at the cutting edge. It’s the soft, effete southerners who live idle lives surrounded by luxuries like that.
It’s said that the current difference between northern and southern Europe (which is the cause of so much turmoil in the EU these days) is because of ‘cultural’ differences. e.g:
EMU’s fundamental problem, which is the 30pc gap in competitiveness between North and South
The way people talk about it, it’s almost as if Greece and Spain and Italy could do with a transfusion of a Germanic frugality and work ethic, as if that was something that came with German genes.
But I suspect that this gap of ‘competititiveness’ has little or nothing to do with culture or genes, and everything to do with climate, and where the northward-moving cutting edge of civilisation happens to be at any point in time. And that in a few hundred years time, when the cutting edge has moved up into Sweden and Norway and Finland, and everything new and innovative happens in Oslo and Stockholm and Helsinki, the industrious Nordics there will be complaining about the idle ways of the feckless Germans and Britons and French, and how it’s impossible to get them to take life seriously.
Much the same pattern seems to have been followed in the New World, where the cutting edge of innovation has also been moving slowly northwards, first from Mexico up into the Southern States, and then to the northern industrial states of Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile it’s the deep South that plays the role of America’s Italy and Greece, and the cultural centre of the USA is the Hollywood dream-factory in ever-sunny California. In a few centuries time, the cutting edge will have moved up into Canada, and US presidents will be going cap-in-hand looking for bail-outs from booming Winnipeg and Charlottetown.
The end result, a few thousand years hence, will be that the entire planet will be habitable. There will be cities in Antarctica and the Sahara desert and high in the Himalayas, where almost nobody lives now, because it’s just too hard. There will even be cities out at sea. Next stop will be the Moon and Mars (which are too darn cold and airless right now), and visiting Earth will be like visiting Athens or New Orleans, and it will all seem so quaint and backward.
Paradoxically, the effect of climate change – .i.e. global warming (if it happens) – will be to hasten this process. It will push the cutting edge nearer the poles. And as humans learn to live and prosper in more and more extreme environments, this will ready them for life on the Moon and Mars, or on spinning space stations full of plants and animals and birds and insects (launched with Orbital Siphons) . But on these space stations, humans will live hard-working lives. And they’ll be penny-wise and puritanical. There’ll be no smoking or drinking on Centaurus 17. You’d have to go back to the indolent Earth to do that.