Ephesus as Metaphor
Mudslides in Colorado, floods in Texas and England, just as I return from Ephesus in Turkey, a dry land now.
Ephesus is the ruin of a famous ancient Roman port city, abandoned 1800 years ago, ironically covered and preserved by the silt washed down from the hills that also filled its harbor. The silted-in harbor was why this port city, capital of Roman Asia, had to be abandoned; the port was unusable.
The city elders worried publicly about the silt; their harbor, the reason for the city's prominence, was turning into swamp. I'm sure that there were those who argued against any change: "You can't stop lumbering the hills! You can't change the way things are done. What would heat the baths? Business will suffer."
It was deforestation that caused the silting; once the trees were gone from the hills, nothing could prevent the soil from washing down the hills, and into the harbor. Deforestation was caused by the insatiable need for timber to heat the baths day and night, and for the cement forms demanded in Rome's mania for monumental buildings. Today the hills are nearly barren, devoid of trees and soil. Ephesus is now miles from the sea.
Of course in the case of
there were other places to take its place, so the Romans didn't have to stop their pillage of the land--all over the Mediterranean. Constantinople rose some hundred miles north on the Bosphorus a couple hundred years later. In fact, most of the columns of Ephesus' most famous temple, the Artemis of Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, were shipped to the new city, used in the construction of the basilica of Hagia Sophia.
Ephesus is a metaphor for what we are doing to the planet. And just like those worried town councilors back then, there are those like Al Gore today, who worry about the impact our civilization has upon the environment. There are others, too, who say that we can't do anything because "business" will suffer.
Will we be just as ineffectual as the Ephesians? We know what we're doing, unlike the Romans, who had no clue, but can we stop doing it in time?
The Mediterranean climate might be considerably wetter today if some enlightened Emperor had decreed: no more logging or: a growing sapling must replace each harvested tree. Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy and North Africa would all have substantial forests now--as they had before the Romans conquered. "The forest precedes man, desert follows him."
Unfortunately, we don't have anywhere else to go, no Constantinople in the sky to replace the planet we are ruining far faster than the Romans devastated the Mediterranean. Global warming is global. Americans and Chinese both burn oil and coal with abandon; the Indonesians and Brazilians burn down their rainforests. The Europeans make ritualistic attempts to curb their CO2 emissions and they create markets for trading in them. We are all like those town councilors of Ephesus, who wrung their hands, but could not stop the flow of silt.
Either, we become much more effective than those doomed people of Ephesus, or we will have nowhere else to go. But it's not just silt that will make our planet uninhabitable. And it's not just re-forestation that would make it better, although that would help. Our misuse of the environment is much more massive, our dependence upon damaging energy sources much more pervasive.
Still, the point of Ephesus is clear; only
might be enough to slow or counter global warming.
For the definitive book on how Rome fell and why