There’s a new doomsday prediction making the rounds today, but this one comes from a more credible source than most.
A new NASA-funded study says that given current consumption and income inequality levels, a societal collapse in the industrial world is not far-off. The study was carried out by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri and a team of natural and social scientists.
Aware that predictions of societal collapses tend to be viewed as extreme or fringe, Motesharri points out that the rise-and-fall cycle of civilizations is a recurring pattern throughout history.
“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” he said.
In studying past collapses, the researchers found that the overuse of resources and the stratification of society into elites and commoners are constants. Our society bears these same marks, they say.
"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite,” the researchers write. “The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."
To predict future societal dynamics, the researchers plugged different variables into the “Human and Nature Dynamical" model (HANDY). Motesharri’s team writes that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today…we find that collapse is difficult to avoid. “
In the first scenario, civilization ".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”
Another scenario focused primarily on resource depleting finds 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."
Both scenarios, the team notes, are avoidable if people begin taking action to prevent them. The study says that historically, those in power prefer a “business as usual” approach until it’s too late.
"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,” they write.
The study has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Ecological Economics journal.