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Earth NASA Science

NASA-Funded Study Investigates Collapse of Industrial Civilization 401

Snirt writes "A new study (PDF) sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution. Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, 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 civilizational disruption due to 'precipitous collapse — often lasting centuries — have been quite common.' They say, '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.' After running simulations on the survivability of various types of civilizations, the researchers found that for the type most resembling ours, 'collapse is difficult to avoid.'"
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NASA-Funded Study Investigates Collapse of Industrial Civilization

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  • by oddtodd ( 125924 ) <oddtodd67@noSPAM.gmail.com> on Saturday March 15, 2014 @12:53PM (#46493417)

    Read it, MFs!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @12:59PM (#46493461)

    "... the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution"

    No kidding. The depletion of cheap and plentiful supplies of petroleum alone will cause the global marketplace to seize up like a 55-yr-old American's heart after decades of being a couch potato. Too many people today are eating food produced by a highly-mechanized, energy-densified agriculture system. Too much of it runs on cheap petroleum. And cheap petroleum has arguably already run out. The energy input to produce each calorie of food, must either stop or rise to reflect the scarcity price. In too many instances, the former option will be chosen.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @01:09PM (#46493565)

    I found these two quotes most interesting:
    "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."

    "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."

    I think we can see that we are already in an early state of collapse. Environmental change is a strong driving force to destabilize society. We can see that the elites have their heads firmly stuck in the sand on the issues of over-consumption of resources and unequal distribution. Jared Diamond has covered these issues well (particularly in "Collapse").
    I personally am pessimistic that we will be able to avoid collapse due to the political and economic power of the elite.

  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @01:18PM (#46493637)
    It was written 40 years ago, the title is "Limits to Growth".
  • by 32771 ( 906153 ) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @02:51PM (#46494261) Journal

    >You do realize that the primary energy input for agriculture is the Sun, right?

    Mostly, but he was talking about food, and that in our part of the world needs 10x the Joules for production of the amount it eventually contains.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @05:55PM (#46495247)

    Meh - Tainter's work is the must read on the subject: http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Complex-Societies-Studies-Archaeology/dp/052138673X

    Here's a decent take on Tainter vs Diamond on the topic: http://narjsberk.blogspot.com/2012/02/diamond-vs-tainter.html

    And here's Ugo Bardi (one of the authors of the Limits to Growth study) putting some physics behind Tainter's take on the cause of collapse:

  • Re:BS, as usual. (Score:2, Informative)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @08:34PM (#46495955) Journal

    Could wouldn't become more expensive then diamonds. You are missing his entire point which isn't very novel but understood well.

    So lets put this in another way. Suppose you are going to build a house out of these resources. Would you build it out of coal which would cost $10 a square foot of living space, or oil that would cost $11 per square foot of living space, or solar and wind that costs $15 per square foot of living space? Suppose you decided on Coal because it was the cheapest and you could get the most for your money. Suppose everyone did so driving the demand up therefore the price of coal goes up. Now suppose the cost of the coal house is $14 per square foot of living space. Your neighbor would likely build his out of oil because again, it is the most economical at the time.

    Well, this drives oil up to $16 per square foot of living space and decreasing supplies with the same demand has already taken coal up some more to $17 per square foot of living space. Now I might chose solar and wind because it is cheaper at $15 per square foot of living space. As the resources deplete and cost more, demand will change because people will start switching to the more economical resources.

    Did that illustrate it simple enough for you to understand? As demand goes up or stays the same and supply decreases, the prices increase. When the prices increase past the costs of other resources, people switch to the other resources halting or slowing the increasing of the pricing and the depletion of the resource. Eventually, if you run out of a resource, society will be off it long before that happens and it will not be because society is dependent on that resource unless it is some magical resource with some special property that cannot be found anywhere else and no one can ever engineer around it.

Elegance and truth are inversely related. -- Becker's Razor