Energy as a Measure for the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
The rise and fall of Western civilization
"The history of empire, I argue, isn’t written in the speeches and proclamations of elites. Instead, it’s written in the language of energy. Although the motivations for empire building differ between societies, the end result is always the same. A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy. This means that energy use (per person) in the empire’s core will dwarf energy use in the periphery. The degree that this is true marks the degree that the empire is successful.
Energy use, then, provides a window into the rise and fall of empires. Let’s look through this window and see what we find.
We’ll look first at the grandest scale of all — the 10,000-year history of civilization. Permanent settlements first arose in the Mediterranean basin in an area that anthropologists call the ‘Levant’. It was here that agriculture started. And it was here that agriculture was first intensified using irrigation. Not surprisingly, the Levant was where the first empires emerged.
The rise and fall of these proto-empires should be written in the language of energy. Unfortunately, the ‘book of energy’ has long since been lost. The first civilizations kept few written records. And most of their physical artifacts have been destroyed. So how can we estimate the energy use of early empires? We make an educated guess.
That’s exactly what Ian Morris does in his book The Measure of Civilization. Morris estimates energy use in antiquity. His results are fascinating, so I’ll present them here. But keep in mind that Morris’ data is less of a measurement and more of a back-of-the-envelope guess. Over the whole of antiquity, Morris estimates energy use in both the ‘West’ and the ‘East’. By ‘West’ Morris means the basin of civilization in the Mediterranean. By ‘East’, he means the basin of civilization in China.
What I do here is simply divide the two series. I compare energy use in the ‘West’ relative to in the ‘East’. This ratio gives us a window into the rise and fall of Western empire. The greater the energy ratio between West and East, the more successful is Western empire. I’ve plotted this ratio in Figure 1. The rise and fall of the West is unmistakable." (https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2020/07/11/why-america-wont-be-great-again/)