Following is an excerpt from the book that inspired this web site. Between each chapter of this exciting novel of the near future appears a brief vignette that helps to explain how climate change and social upheaval brought civilization to an abrupt end in the world of the near future in which the book is set. These include fictional excerpts from books and articles, news reports, personal accounts or diaries, and even a poem of lament. We will occasionally post selected examples of these vignettes for our readers. You may also like to read the first chapter of the book, which is posted in the sidebar under “Pages.” To enjoy all of the “Phoenix Archives” pieces, and the exciting adventure story to which they relate, click on the advertisement at the right to order your copy of The Star Phoenix.
“Calamity,” as it has come to be known in common parlance, was not a single event. In fact, the process of ecological and social breakdown had proceeded for centuries before reaching its climax in the devastating combination of cascading disasters that nearly wiped out the human race and destroyed much of the Earth’s ecosystem.
Looking back with the false wisdom of hindsight, it is clear that the Englishman Thomas Malthus was correct in warning in his 1798 “Essay on the Principle of Population” that the growth of human numbers would eventually exceed the ability of the planet to produce sufficient food. By the late 1900s, this process was beginning to take place everywhere.
And yet, even then and despite the warning bells and sirens, little heed was paid to the specter of over-population and its ramifications for the future of the human race—and indeed, for the very planet itself. Economists clung to the flawed assumption that alternatives would always be found for any depleted resource. Politicians ducked the issue and gave lip service to “democracy” and “freedom” as millions starved and resources steadily dwindled or were wasted and destroyed.
Perhaps most important, scientific farming methods and the so-called “Green Revolution” created the illusion that the Earth could always provide. But all that did was to postpone the tragedy and allow human numbers to grow even larger.
There were many setbacks along the dismal road that led to Calamity—the Great Pandemic of 2017, total civil breakdown in large parts of Africa, widespread famine in the Asian subcontinent—these are only examples of the many warning signals. And yet, despite those warnings, little of substance was done to stave off the eventual breakdown…
Source: “The Roots of Calamity,” an unpublished manuscript from the Refuge files; dated 2078, by Aaron Sikes, Ph.D. (2022-2085). Dr. Sikes served with distinction as official historian of the Star Phoenix project.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As readers of this website may know, I have recently learned more about Thomas Malthus and by reading his book on population have learned that he did not actually predict that population growth would destroy the planet (see my essay, “Malthus’s Classic “Essay on Population” Revisited,” posted October 29, 2006). Interestingly, he believed that natural forces would keep population and the ability of the Earth to produce food in balance, and presented the doomsday scenario with which he is unfairly credited as a thought experiment for the purpose of demonstrating its impossibility. He was not aware of the ecological principle of “overshoot and collapse” through which a population can far outstrip its environment’s ability to sustain it, leading to catastrophic collapse. At this time it is believed that the human race has reached the position of being in overshoot, and that collapse may soon occur. This is illustrated in my book by the event I call Calamity. — David L. Brown