J. Donald Hughes in his book ‘Pan’s Travail,’ claims there was an ecological dimension to the fall of the Roman Empire (page 6). I am not denying that Rome had extensive ecological and health problems I am merely insinuating that though these problems afflicted the Roman people it had absolutely nothing to do with the fall of the Empire itself. Some sources claim Rome was basically polluting the citizens to death. Upper class citizens used lead so extensively people were dying of lead poisoning, Romans were not particularly adept at soil conservation, and they experienced their own medieval form of air pollution. They were also known for their sewage filled streets and their extensive timbering.
Yes these environmental issues will seem like that could topple the empire, but the problem with such a theory is that Rome was well accustomed to these problems by the peak of Rome’s power around the middle of the second century. Instead, the fall of the Roman Empire was attributed to an overall military, political and economic breakdown. The economic difficulties were not brought about as a result of trying to stifle environmental problems. On the contrary, it came about due to the military and populace strain of an ever-expanding empire.
The details of the fall cannot be completely documented here but as a synopsis, Rome’s demise or decline was a three century ordeal. The empire got so large that it was eventually split in two. This political system has been seen as staple for the beginning of Rome’s definite end. Eventually, the Western part of the Empire fell to the barbarians hired to protect it (Rome’s military problems progressed so that her son’s no longer protected the state). Even with the fall of the Western Empire the Eastern half persisted until 1453 where it fell to (nothing to do with environmental problems) to the Ottoman Empire.
The English Empire (the largest empire ever), which basically spanned from 1583 to 1997, too saw its share of environmental difficulties, such that the Roman problems seem trivial in comparison. Yet this empire too persisted until it was destroyed by war (as all empires seem to be). The greatest nations of today are not free of this environmental plague. The strength of a nation is determined on its accumulated resources that in turn dictate waste and consumption. Therefore I suggest, that at least to the present, that history suggests that the most powerful countries, those that truly affect world affairs are not destroyed by environmental degradation but instead rise because of or in spite of it.