The Tyee's Murray Dobbins sees signs everywhere that our civilization is heading for collapse.
The exceptionally successful four decades campaign to change the "ideological fabric" of society has put western civilization on a track to irreversible collapse according to a major study sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The study focused on population, climate, water, agriculture and energy as the interrelated factors that determine the collapse or survival of civilizations going back 5000 years.
According to a Guardian report on the study, these factors can coalesce and lead to civilization's collapse if they create two critical 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]."
According to the study these two developments played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in the demise of the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Gupta and multiple Mesopotamian Empires as well as the Maya. The study provides convincing "testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."
...Is this really what the geniuses at the Chicago School of Economics like Milton Friedman had in mind? Did he really believe that "a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy"? Would he have had any qualms about his policy prescriptions resulting in capitalism devolving into neo-feudalism or into Plutonomies -- a term first used by analysts at Citigroup in 2005, to "describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality.'" The analysts singled out the U.K., Canada, Australia and the United States.
Warnings go unheeded. The NASA reports says "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)."
How close are we to collapse? The study points out that the process can extend over decades and even centuries. Yet some of the supporting empirical studies (by KPMG and the British Office for Science) suggest a perfect storm that involves food, water and energy could occur within 15 years.
The NASA study highlights two trends -- resource depletion and inequality -- as the key factors in civilization collapse. But there is a third and it explains why historically elites have been "oblivious" to their unfolding catastrophes. That factor is the political system of the particular civilization. Designed to govern and manage social and economic life before it became corrupted, and still in the hands of the benefiting elites, these governing systems were simply incapable of incorporating the idea of collapse into their thinking.
Yes, a collapse of civilization could happen, no doubt about it.
"The NASA reports says "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)."
How close are we to collapse? The study points out that the process can extend over decades and even centuries. Yet some of the supporting empirical studies (by KPMG and the British Office for Science) suggest a perfect storm that involves food, water and energy could occur within 15 years."
First, the Roman and the Mayan empires finished with pretty much the same technology they started with.
You will note that this is not the case, today.
Second, the "perfect storm" is unlikely to be a world-wide occurence everywhere at the same time.
Third, water will be a problem, but it seems that thanks to recent advances in nano-scale fabrication, water desalinization membranes are about to become a lot cheaper — and a lot more efficient.
So, yes, we should be actively concerned, but it ain't over til it's over . . .
What's being overlooked here, Ed, is something that you're very alive to - the arms races now underway especially through areas that are in line for major climate impacts - south and southeast Asia for example.
With every country going for their guns these days, Canada being an exception, I fear that warfare is a more likely response to climate change than anything else, including geo-engineering.
The most worrisome of the water-stressed nations are all nuclear-armed: Pakistan, India and China and all have disputed interests and absolute dependency upon the Himalayan headwaters, much of which China 'controls' through its annexation of Tibet.
I don't know if you're aware of it but the Indians are now shitting bricks over China's construction of a rail line to the border of Arunachal Pradesh.
I think you're right to push this article. I highlighted here at home, within my social media circles that Nova Scotia only produces 8% of the food it consumes. It would only take a volcano, a few hurricanes or a global war to leave us totally screwed.
Dobbins makes a good case to explain how the death of democracy can lead to environmental collapse, Mound.
Strange, isn't it, how history repeats itself?
That Guardian story references in the Tyee is from a while ago and has some severe problems and was widely criticized. (The author no longer works for the Guardian.) Also, the study referred to (which isn't a NASA study), has been criticized as not especially well done.
It's a bit surprising the Murray Dobbin, or anyone at the Tyee wouldn't be aware of this. The controversy was in social media quite prominently at the time. Slack editing.
It is not that the subject isn't serious: but if Dobbin wants to do it justice, he shouldn't cite Nafeez Ahmed's article.
Yes there could be giant problems.
"The most worrisome of the water-stressed nations are all nuclear-armed: Pakistan, India and China and all have disputed interests and absolute dependency upon the Himalayan headwaters, much of which China 'controls' through its annexation of Tibet."
Well, if a warming earth makes all that Tibetan glacial water melt and no replenishment, avoiding a nuclear war in central Asia makes efficient desalinization technology a really swell idea.
Hell, poor ol' Bangladesh could use it, and they've got all the water they can use — except it's contaminated by arsenic. The 20th century was oil pipelines, the 21st century could be water pipelines.
So, there are potential solutions, but we could see a big, huge die-off 20-30 years from now, if Africa and central Asia turn into dustbowls as climate changes.
@ Owen. As Jared Diamond describes it in "Collapse" history seems to show that environmental failure precedes civilizational collapse or they occur simultaneously. He also writes that civilization collapse tends to occur rather quickly and usually at the society's zenith.
I think that reflects the parlour tricks advanced societies can use to continue growth and development far past their sustainable limits.
One example is the "Green Revolution" that taught farmers that they could eliminate the scourge of crop failures and famine through the use of irrigation from underwater reservoirs together with sufficient quantities of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
No one, at the outset, foresaw that this would lead to exhausted aquifers and degraded farmland requiring ever increasing applications of chemicals to maintain crop yield. Eventually this can lead to desertification, crop failures and, of course, famine.
@ CRF. Hi, Chris. I have had some reservations about Ahmed from time to time but, as The Guardian admits, he was axed for straying too far from his environmental remit. It seems that his article on Israeli designs on Gaza's offshore natural gas reserves was the line that was crossed.
That said, the theme about the interaction of inequality and resource depletion has become sufficiently mainstream to be a focus at the WEF meeting in Davos. I think it's real.
@ Ed. I don't see how desalination could ever be a reality for overpopulated and generally impoverished populations in countries such as China and India. It's very energy intensive and relatively costly. It would impact significantly on the economies of both countries. I just don't see the "haves" in either country countenancing it.
"It's very energy intensive and relatively costly." — with today's technology, and we're talking about a problem that may be some years off. Please lay off the "nothing can be done" attitude.
Right now, there are a number of efforts to get those costs under control through the efficiency improvement of nano-scale membrane assembly.
Well, it may be feasible. But the report suggests that such technological fixes don't generally help for long.
"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."
Buying time with tech won't save us unless we use the time to change how we do things. Problem is, normally every time this society buys a couple years we immediately conclude the problem is over and business as usual can continue.
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