We are on the verge of irreversible tipping points, but there is still time to avert catastrophe. The combination of unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution may unravel our civilization. This is the conclusion of a new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Based on historical precedents this research indicates that if we continue on our current course we may very well see the collapse of global industrial civilization in the coming decades.
Citing historical data from the last 5,000 years, they show that there are numerous examples of precipitous collapse of human civilizations. A few examples cited by the researchers include:
- Roman Empire
- Han Empire
- Mauryan Empire
- Gupta Empires
- Mesopotamian Empires
The study is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists.
The researchers identified several harbingers of collapsing civilizations, they are:
These factors are eerily reminiscent of the situation we face in the present era. In the words of one of the researchers, these factors closely reflect the “reality of the world today.” They specifically state a couple of key factors that could be taken out of today’s headlines:
1. The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity
2. The economic stratification of society into rich and the poor
Their research indicates that these two factors are interconnected. While the poor experience the adverse impacts first, the rich inevitably follow. Although in the interim the rich appear oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory and they continue with business as usual which further exacerbates the problem and hastens the collapse.
“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites [Rich] and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”
They further state that we should not expect that technology will resolve the problem. While the situation may seem hopeless, they indicate that if we can become more sustainable collapse is not inevitable. The study suggests that with the appropriate policy and structural changes we can avoid collapse.
They cite four key solutions:
1. Reduce economic inequality
2. Reduce resource depletion
3. Reduce population growth
4. Employ renewable resources
Although it is hard for many to fathom, the research shows that the collapse of civilization is not hyperbole. The only difference now is that this collapse will be global and not regional. While the situation is dire, there is still time. By transitioning to more sustainable methods we can pull ourselves back from the brink.
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