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March 25th, 2014
The end of the world as we know it is coming.
You’ve likely heard this before, especially from the growing number of voices in the alternative news and preparedness communities. Often dismissed as conspiracy theory or outright lunacy, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests these fringe thinkers may well be on to something.
Despite assurances from most political leaders, experts and researchers who argue that we live in a stable and sustainable world, a new study utilizing mathematical models developed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center may confirm our worst fears.
According to the Socio Economic Synthesis Center, which led the study’s research team and was made up of well respected natural and social scientists from various U.S.-based universities, society as it exists today is decades, perhaps just years, from a complete collapse of our way of life.
Given economic stratication, collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality and population growth rates. Even in the absence of economic stratication, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high. However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion. (SESC via Steve Quayle)
The study cites scores of historical examples of civilization collapse dating back thousands of years. Given the facts it is clear that humanity’s long sought after Utopian society is a goal that is simply unachievable. Every five hundred years or so, the whole system simply falls apart.
There are widespread concerns that current trends in population and resource-use are unsustainable, but the possibilities of an overshoot and collapse remain unclear and controversial.
How real is the possibility of a societal collapse?
Can complex, advanced civilizations really collapse?
It is common to portray human history as a relentless and inevitable trend toward greater levels of social complexity, political organization, and economic specialization, with the development of more complex and capable technologies supporting ever-growing population, all sustained by the mobilization of ever-increasing quantities of material, energy, and information. Yet this is not inevitable.
In fact, cases where this seemingly near-universal, long-term trend has been severely disrupted by a precipitous collapse often lasting centuries have been quite common.
This brings up the question of whether modern civilization is similarly susceptible. It may seem reasonable to believe that modern civilization, armed with its greater technological capacity, scientific knowledge, and energy resources, will be able to survive and endure whatever crises historical societies succumbed to.
But the brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex, and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse.
In short, the mathematical models utilized to determine the results of the study indicate that there are two key causes for what the authors call an “irreversible” collapse.
First, with the earth’s population now over 7 billion people our civilization is burning through resources faster than they can be replenished, and the burden of paid “non-workers” (i.e. those who are given resources for performing no actual function in society) leads to a complete break down in the system.
We can see how an irreversible Type-N (full) collapse of Population, Nature, and Wealth can occur due to over-depletion of natural resources as a result of high depletion per capita.
Workers and Non-Workers with the same level of consumption, i.e., with no economic stratication. The Non-Workers in these scenarios could represent a range of societal roles from students, retirees, and disabled people, to intellectuals, managers, and other non-productive sectors. In this case, the Workers have to deplete enough of Nature to support both the Non-Workers and themselves.
Second, and this may come as no surprise, “elite” members of society are accumulating whatever available resources there are in an effort to maintain control over the “commoners.”
The Elite population starts growing significantly… hence depleting the Wealth and causing the system to collapse.
Under this scenario, the system collapses due to worker scarcity even though natural resources are still abundant, but because the depletion rate is optimal, it takes more than 400 years after the Wealth reaches a maximum for the society to collapse.
In this example, Commoners die out first and Elites disappear later. This scenario shows that in a society that is otherwise sustainable, the highly unequal consumption of elites will still cause a collapse. This scenario is an example of a Type-L collapse in which both Population and Wealth collapse but Nature recovers.
The Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature. Despite appearing initially to be the same as the sustainable optimal solution obtained in the absence of Elites, economic stratication changes the final result: Elites’ consumption keeps growing until the society collapses.The Mayan collapse in which population never recovered even though nature did recover is an example of a Type-L collapse
There are several other scenarios outlined in the study, but the above two are seemingly the ones that may be responsible for the coming collapse of our own civilization.
In America, nearly 50% of the population produces nothing, yet receives payment in the form of money, goods and services. This takes resources out of the hands of those who actually produce these resources.
Furthermore, it should be obvious that elite members of society simply take what they want through force, whether by taxation or criminal activity (as defined by natural law), putting even more strain on the system.
Over time, the debt builds and pulls forward wealth from generations ahead, resources are depleted, and costs begin to reach levels that are simply unsustainable for everyone, including the elites who attempt to amass as much as they can.
In the end, we all suffer the same fate.
According to this and other studies, like one recently published by the UK Government Office of Science and entitled A Perfect Storm of Global Events, we are very quickly approaching the breaking point. Over the next fifteen years, it is predicted that the strain could become so burdensome on society that the system will crack and eventually break down.
The result will be famine, war, and what some refer to as a “die off.” This will affect all segments of society.
Naturally, there will be those who survive, and it will likely be the people who are able to develop their own sustainable environments on a personal, familial or communal level. These people may have taken steps to not only prepare for long-term crises, but to develop sustainable practices that will allow them to produce their own food and energy.
The mathematics being cited here have been seen time and again in other studies, and they don’t bode well for human civilization as we know it today.
With seven billion people on the planet, a massively unproductive non-workforce, and the greed of the elite, it is only a matter of time before something breaks and there is a real possibility that our civilization will not be able to survive it.
The scary version? According to these studies, the consequences will be felt within most of our lifetimes.
Here we go again.
A group of mathematicians sponsored by NASA have purportedly proven that humanity is doomed. Ho hum. No queue-jumping, please. Doomsayers are a permanent feature of human existence, but have achieved a veneer of scientific respectability ever since the 19th century’s Thomas Malthus won economics the name “the dismal science” by predicting that population growth would outstrip agricultural productivity. He predicted mass starvation.
We’re still waiting.
The NASA mathematicians are only the most recent example of well-meaning and highly intelligent people who nevertheless do not understand that human beings are not objects, prisoners of some Newtonian clockwork universe. We are not passive objects, but learning machines. In fact, the ability to acquire, understand and deploy new knowledge is perhaps humanity’s greatest strength.
Just because humanity appears to be headed in one direction, like Malthusian mass starvation, does not mean that we must ineluctably arrive at that destination. On the contrary, what Malthus failed to realize was that the burgeoning population was an opportunity for those who knew how to seize it. That opportunity helped to unlock a revolution in agricultural productivity that caused food production to overtake population growth.
Because the doomsayers can see today’s measurable trends, but cannot understand how human intelligence and opportunity work together to respond over time, their knee-jerk response is invariably that humanity must be saved from itself. And they are always willing to cast themselves in the role of saviour.
Give us the power to curb population growth, to spread the wealth, to prevent overconsumption, they murmur seductively, and we will save you from the doom that awaits. According to The Guardian newspaper’s writer who first drew the world’s attention to the NASA mathematicians’ gloomy prognostications, their work shows that only egalitarian socialism can save us from ourselves.
Ah, now I see. The system that during a time of relative plenty condemned millions to mass starvation in agriculturally rich places such as the Soviet Union and China, a system abandoned by those societies because it does not work, is now to be our salvation if universally applied. Please don’t quit the mathematics day job to become a Platonic guardian.
Of all the world’s roughly 7.2 billion people (according to the world population clock), the vast majority owe their very existence to the system the doomsayers condemn – capitalism.
Hunter-gatherer technology can only support a world population of a few million. Scratching the ground with a stick, then adding workhorses and ever more sophisticated plows, raises the level again and again. Today we can feed seven billion people because we have ever-improving irrigation, mechanization, genetic modification, food storage, transport and efficient markets, all of which emerged quite unpredictably from the knowledge, productivity and investment of the developed world responding to opportunity.
And that’s not even mentioning the medical, communications, educational and other rich-world innovations that are every day transforming the lives of the world’s poor for the better. If developing-world telecoms depended on copper land lines, billions of people would do without. Instead, we’ve developed technologies that connect those billions to the world wirelessly, freeing up scarce resources for other uses.
Far from exploiting the poor of the developing world, the developed world has created the ideas and technologies that have made their very lives possible in such large numbers, and improved the standard of living they can enjoy.
Excitingly, this revolution created by the application of reason to humanity’s challenges is increasingly moving to the developing world. New ideas, processes and techniques in every field are being developed in India, China, Kenya and Chile. But there, too, this explosion of innovation was made possible not by empowering bureaucrats to tell us what to do for our own good, but the opposite. The increasing freedom of people in these countries to act on their own knowledge, and pursue the opportunities they see, is allowing them to become part of the solution.
What is missing from the equations of the mathematicians of doom is the institutions we have developed – individual freedom, trade, markets and liberal democratic capitalism – thanks to which we are rewarded for experimenting and learning previously unknown and unsuspected things, and adjusting to new and unforeseen circumstances. These institutions allow us to act on more knowledge of the world than any central planners could ever possess, while using scarce resources ever more sparingly. Taking the doomsayers’ advice would destroy the very system that keeps billions of us alive.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.