Our Cousins in Rome

The ancients revered the frightful sway of the goddess Fortuna, aware, in their own way, that the presiding powers of history seem to be a volatile mix of structure and chance, laws of nature and sheer luck. The Romans lived at a fateful juncture in the human story, and the civilization they built was, in ways the Romans could not have imagined, the victim both of its own success and the caprice of the environment. The enduring power of the Romans to enchant us derives, at least in part, from the poignancy of our knowledge that they stood on the invisible edge of unsuspected change. The long, intertwined story of humanity and nature is full of paradox, surprise, and blind chance. That is why the particularity of history matters. Nature, like humanity, is cunning, but constrained by the circumstances of the past. Our story, and the story of the planet, are inseparable.

The Fate of Rome

Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire is packed full of disaster. Volcanic eruptions blot out the sun, people drop dead in the street, crops rot in the fields because there is no one to harvest them – it describes, quite literally, the end of a world. And, it might be one of the most encouraging things I’ve read in the past few months as we grapple with our own global pandemic against a backdrop of shifting demography and a rapidly changing climate.

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