We live in a complex society. So did the Romans. Ours is more complex because of the modern technology, but the basics are the same. Like us the Romans specialized production with some people making pottery, some being tradespersons, some farmers, some professional soldiers, and so on. The upside of this is that by specializing resources can be combined to achieve an economy of scale in production, which can result in considerable quantities of good quality items being made widely available. The downside is that when most people specialize they often lose both the means and the skills to perform many of the functions necessary for survival, and become reliant on the services of others and the system to provide them with much of what they require. Unlike in a simpler society where everyone or every community is more or less self sufficient, in a complex society like ours or ancient Rome's when things begin to fall apart the links that bind it together begin to break leaving it vulnerable to social and economic disaster. At its peak Rome dominated the Mediterranean basin and outlying portions of Europe, Africa and the Mid-East. Somewhat like our society it was one built on trade with significant urban populations that received their food supply from the far corners of the empire. It levied considerable taxes to support a standing army to protect it, and to finance public works such as roads and water systems. The average Roman of 07 AD probably would have found it hard to imagine the total collapse of the system that she or he lived in. Yet, four hundred odd years later the Western half of the empire was collapsing for various reasons, central authority was evaporating and without it security was lost. Specialized production declined, trade diminished, the abundance of quality goods shrank, and the infrastructure began to decay. Within a century or so the state of Western Europe's society and economy was worse than it was in pre-Roman times. In Britain, for example, a country that had been relatively literate was no longer keeping written records, and in much of the rest of the empire literacy was becoming less widespread. Today our society may be facing a fate similar to that of ancient Rome. We have taken a social and economic ethos built on private welfare and greed, fed it with a great abundance of non-renewable energy, and developed a complex system much more vulnerable to catastrophe than that of the Romans. Today we ship much of our food from halfway around the world, as well as our clothing, our tools, our toys and so on. And we do it in a manner that makes some of us quite wealthy, a wealth that comes at the expense of others. And underneath it all lies a foundation of petroleum and coal, the primary sources of the energy that drive our modern, very complex, industrial system. That foundation has not only given us wealth, it has also given us the means support much larger populations. The bad news is that petroleum production is expected to go into decline as the world's supplies are exhausted, and even if it wasn't, the excessive use of petroleum and coal are damaging our atmosphere and changing our climate. We are caught in a bind where on the one hand some of the resources that we require to maintain our society and support our populations are vanishing, while on the other hand if we continue to use them as we have, the by-products may destroy us anyway. The real bad news is that many of us are in denial about this, and there might not be the political will to take adequate corrective steps before our complex system starts to unravel. This week officials from around the world gathered in Bali to discuss the problems. Mostly what they did is put on a show for political purposes without really facing the problem. If anyone thinks that serious work to fix the environment was on the table, just look at the Canadian delegation. One would think to find environmental scientists who have studied the issue there. Not so in Canada's case, they were not invited. Instead we have officials from the private energy companies serving on the delegation. It is like sending Klu Klux Klan members to represent us at a conference on race relations. Unlike the ancient Romans we have their example and almost two thousand more years of history to learn from it. And unlike the post Roman Britains we are still literate. The writing is on the wall, all that is lacking is officials who will take action on it rather than try to avoid it.