Nafeez Ahmed cites a NASA study connecting wealth inequality and resource depletion as drivers of past civilization collapses. Global elites now hold both reins, and the collapse in coming decades won't just be regional.
Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system
A new study sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
... the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."
The research project 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 study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."
Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both...
Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid."
In the first of these scenarios ... "collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature."
Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites."
In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."
Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:
"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 and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."
However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.
The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth: ... [emphasis mine]
Rebecca Solnit makes the point that
... people in power and bureaucrats seem exceptionally obtuse when it comes to recognizing that the world has changed and the old rules no longer apply.
Today, given a choice between the bottom line and risk to civilization worldwide, corporations controlled by economic elites choose their bottom line.
Nafeez Ahmed hones in on the most promising way out for us, based on history. Replacing the fossil fuel economy with green energy won't be enough. We'll have to reduce global inequality and population growth as well to achieve a global civilization not reeling toward immanent collapse.
When my grandfather left Belgium about 1900, he left to get out of the war machine that was chewing up young men, had been for centuries, and continued after he left with WW i & II. He made a good life here in the U.S., prospered, had relative peace and justice here ... until the Great Depression. He lost his business, home, car, and everything but what they could put in suitcases. He was an old man by then, no retirement, no income,no health care and he was a pretty bitter old man.
How interesting about Iran's men and women having access to free sterilization and birth control. If women have greater access to education, then your prediction of decrease population growth is a great probability.
Given what I know about Europe, it's relative peace, its medical systems and retirement systems, all outcomes of being nearly destroyed during the land wars they suffered, it sounds like a good destination. They are not afraid of socialized economies.
The U.S. is not a place of opportunity that it once was. There must be a good novel in this turn of events. Are you a writer?
Craig, Very well said, I agree.