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NASA-Funded Study Investigates Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Soulskill posted about 8 months ago | from the gotta-clear-out-the-barbarians-before-settling-another-city dept.

Earth 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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The difference is scale. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493369)

Before, it was a local government/economy, even a large one, which failed locally. Now? It's interconnected, the dominoes are all lined up for pan-global crises.

Re:The difference is scale. (5, Interesting)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 8 months ago | (#46493425)

Depends on what you call 'local'. Try reading about the Greek Dark Ages [wikipedia.org] .

Re:The difference is scale. (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | about 8 months ago | (#46493457)

However, the other big difference is travel. Today, almost any one can go any place in the world quite quickly. This gives governmental competition, and creates a safety valve of sorts. Anyone doing something different (Like Icland and the banking crisis) has the ability to attract productive people. And countries that try to hard to distribute income have the ability to lose them.

Re:The difference is scale. (2)

CBM (51233) | about 8 months ago | (#46493537)

If resources become scarce, the fuel needed to power travel and to support infrastructure may not be there. Travel may become hard.

Re:The difference is scale. (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | about 8 months ago | (#46493663)

so, what you are saying is there is going to be a market in safe, easy to use wooden sailing ships?

Re:The difference is scale. (1)

The123king (2395060) | about 8 months ago | (#46493777)

The 1600's sent a letter, they want their ships back

Manners (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493413)

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

  Robert A. Heinlein, Friday

Re:Manners (0)

The123king (2395060) | about 8 months ago | (#46493789)

So i'm meant to be more scared of someone not minding their P's and Q's than someone smashing in the local grocers?

Re:Manners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493897)

No, you should be scared of people willing to fucking kill you without a single ounce of remorse.

Re:Manners (4, Interesting)

vux984 (928602) | about 8 months ago | (#46493907)

To be fair, Heinlein also wrote that all the moral and ethical problems inherent in transplanting a brain from an old man to the body of a just-deceased young woman - such as how the womans family and loved ones would cope -- could all be resolved by fucking them.

Of course, that novel also speculated that the deceased personality would still inhabit the body, despite the brain transplant too.

I mean, really, the premise was excellent, the opportunity to explore the social and technical ramifications of such a brain transplant would be classic SF material ... the direction Heinlein went with it was pretty weaksauce. And he went "that same direction" in an awful lot of his later work.

Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of Heinlein's work, but nearly everything after Stranger in a Strange Land is a bit off the rails.

Re:Manners (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493949)

Much as I enjoyed his stories, Heinlein's grasp of social dynamics and culture left a lot to be desired. He was usually wrong.

Re:Manners (5, Interesting)

stenvar (2789879) | about 8 months ago | (#46493961)

Well, Heinlein is right, though not in the way he probably intended it.

In totalitarian regimes or anarchies, people have to be polite even if they are wronged because if they don't, they'll get hurt.

If they are lucky, those cultures then develop into wealthy, liberal societies. In those kinds of societies, people have some degree of free speech and personal security, so they feel free to speak up and speak their mind, even if it offends people.

Eventually, wealthy and liberal societies come to an end for other reasons. People like Heinlein are then looking for causes and misattribute the fall to whatever negative social phenomena they observed prior to the fall.

So, a period of "rudeness" usually precedes the fall of a great civilization, but there is no causal relationship: rudeness doesn't cause the fall, and the fall doesn't cause rudeness.

Re:Manners (4, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 8 months ago | (#46493987)

Hmm. I wonder how polite the romans were for 700 years of conquering.

700 years is a pretty good run.

I wonder how polite the old west and the gold rush area were?

I think Mr. Heinlein had on some thick rose colored glasses with regard to government and how people actually behave.

Re:Manners (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 8 months ago | (#46494023)

Today, we call it "Blowback"

'Collapse' by Jared Diamond (5, Informative)

oddtodd (125924) | about 8 months ago | (#46493417)

Read it, MFs!

Article is Short Sighted (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493429)

Reinstate Bernanke, and he will print us out of it. Don't worry.

Re:Article is Short Sighted (4, Insightful)

felrom (2923513) | about 8 months ago | (#46493697)

1. Implement policies that any Econ 101 student can tell will exacerbate income inequality.
2. Tell people that the income inequality you've created will destroy society.
3. Get people to beg you to fix it.
4. PROFIT!!

The government has become a feedback loop unto itself, fooling people into giving it ever more power to fix the disasters it caused when it used the last round of powers people gave it.

It'll happen eventually (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 8 months ago | (#46493451)

ATM we enjoy cheap stuff because of China's cheap labour and lax environmental laws. Once the Chinese workers and people start earning higher wages and standards of living closes in to that of the western world next will be Africa as the new China.
After that????
Booom!!!!

Re:It'll happen eventually (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46493725)

next will be Africa as the new China.

Africa is a little more complex than that, and in some parts (southern Africa mostly - I cannot comment on anything north of Malawi or so...), workers are already fairly expensive and environmental controls can be very strict. Ineffective often, but strict never-the-less.

Right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493801)

Right, the disaster is coming. OMG I CAN'T BUY CELLPHONE CASES FOR $3 ANY MORE. KILL EVERYONE.

What is more likely is that you top 1% fat cats in the US earning more than 34k a year will have to come back to reality and live on $1,200 a year like the rest of humanity.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2082385/We-1--You-need-34k-income-global-elite--half-worlds-richest-live-U-S.html

Oh wait, you mean inequality between people in a single country? Easy fix, we declare the virtual republic of Rich-i-stan and put the top earners there but no one else. Poof - instant equality and problem solved.

Re:It'll happen eventually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493813)

Africa isn't one country. There's enough under-developed countries there to last us aaaages!

Or we could just go over there and enslave the population to produce good for is for free... I think i've struck an original idea here...

Re:It'll happen eventually (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46493915)

I know it is sarcasm, but last time it was tried, the population was not armed with modern weapons. This time around, they are both well armed and adept at guerrilla warfare. South Africa officially is the only country to give up their nuclear program voluntarily, but who knows, there may be a couple of nukes someone forgot to mention somewhere. They were suspected of running a test or two, so they might even work.

In summary, good luck with that - the suggestion isn't particularly amusing.

Re:It'll happen eventually (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494053)

Actually, South Africa, Ukraine and Libya all gave up their nuclear programs and arsenals voluntarily. (Libya didn't have a functional device yet) After the Russian invasion of the Crimea, Ukraine might be rethinking that decision.

Re:It'll happen eventually (2)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 8 months ago | (#46494183)

After that????
Booom!!!!

After that? Robots. Before that, apparently, since Foxconn is already deploying assembly robots. Africa may not get the opportunity to become the new China since China will very likely do what the US could have done, and fully automate assembly lines for everything from toasters to smartphones, in advance of rising wages and standards of living.

iPhones will still cost $500, but I predict a $25 Android smartphone in less than a generation, with effectively no compromises in hardware or software capabilities. The only reason we aren't there already is patent royalties. When the patents expire, expect a candybar smartphone to be as trivially cheap and as trivially available as a simple 12 button corded handset once was.

Must have been written by Captain Obvious (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:Must have been written by Captain Obvious (5, Informative)

siddesu (698447) | about 8 months ago | (#46493637)

It was written 40 years ago, the title is "Limits to Growth".

Re:Must have been written by Captain Obvious (0)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46493827)

The energy input to produce each calorie of food, must either stop or rise to reflect the scarcity price.

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

And cheap petroleum has arguably already run out.

Anything is arguable even when it's simply not true.

Re:Must have been written by Captain Obvious (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46493873)

The energy input to produce each calorie of food, must either stop or rise to reflect the scarcity price.

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

The primary energy input for almost everything is the sun - if you go back a little ways (though not too far cosmologically). Sure you can plow fields with oxen. You might struggle to keep up with demand (oxen are slower than tractors) and harvesting will also be labour intensive. In America, I suppose you could just use your corn to make bio-diesel, but in other places in the world, this may prove unpractical.

But you are very correct, we have not run out of cheap oil, and can even make more. South Africa makes both petrol and diesel from coal. I am not sure how economically viable it is(I never looked that closely), but it is the same price at the pump.

Unsustainable lifestyles (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#46493473)

are unsustainable. Who would have thunk it?

Bullshit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493487)

Civilization as we know it won't collapse. Stuff never collapses anymore... stock markets, housing markets... nope! we're free and clear now!

Reminds me of Control Theory (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46493493)

Any decent engineer could probably put together a PID loop or two (possibly cascaded) to keep stability in the system, but what would you use as a control mechanism?

Re:Reminds me of Control Theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493535)

Income inequality

Re:Reminds me of Control Theory (3, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | about 8 months ago | (#46493617)

Any decent engineer could probably put together a PID loop or two (possibly cascaded) to keep stability in the system, but what would you use as a control mechanism?

And what would you do if the most powerful and affluent had a great deal to lose if we attemped to put such controls in place? Suppose they had powerful PR machines, sharpened through years of product marketing and fierce political campaigns, at their disposal to sew disdain for those who advocate such restraint.

"May you live in interesting times."

Re:Reminds me of Control Theory (3, Insightful)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46493683)

I suppose the best solution there would be to contrive a solution that appeared to be in their best interests. I would assume that anyone able to do so would be both powerful and affluent or soon to become so.

A control mechanism need not involve only limiting something (showing restraint). It may be active, and add to the process as well.

Re:Reminds me of Control Theory (0)

Normal_Deviate (807129) | about 8 months ago | (#46494187)

The stabilizer is self interest, because people don't like to be poor. And control is indeed the key. Pass enough laws to prevent people from adapting to change, and collapse is inevitable. As inevitable as the statists who caused the collapse blaming it on the one percent who made civilization possible in the first place.

NASA 1946 - 2011 (0)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493497)

NASA is dead.

Re:NASA 1946 - 2011 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493601)

Another study shows that when trying to increase funding it is important to scare the wealthy portion of the society into parting with some of their wealth. Presto magico, NASA is back from the dead.

Re:NASA 1946 - 2011 (1)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493645)

These people could at least be a little less predictable.

Re:NASA 1946 - 2011 (2)

felrom (2923513) | about 8 months ago | (#46493659)

Nonsense!

NASA lives on, reaching out to Muslims to make them feel better about themselves, and doing pseudo social science research!

We can't have NASA be the bastion of national pride and accomplishment that it once was. It's now just another government jobs program intended to promote the government.

Where? (4, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 8 months ago | (#46493523)

Is Hari Seldon when we need him?

Re: Where? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494095)

I doubt we have enough computational power to do justice to the concept of psychohistory right now.

Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (4, Insightful)

Jerk2 (1153835) | about 8 months ago | (#46493527)

I don't want NASA using their funds for Social/Political Simulations. Not their job and a complete waste of NASA money. Fire the writers and buy another Rocket, or a fuel tank, or something that has something to do with Aeronautics and Space, not make believe liberal arts studies. Let some other organization waste their money. NASA is for Space Engineering/Science Research, not for some third rate Social Pseudo Science study.

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (0, Flamebait)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493677)

Comments like those aren't going to make you many friends here, if you want kick ass karma you have to buy into political left wing agenda. Science is just a tool. 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself' is now 'The only thing we have to sell is fear itself.'

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 8 months ago | (#46493869)

Because of course we can just keep doing what we're doing forever...

I don't know what's more pathetic; your belief that the universe can be forestalled by your ideology, or your tacit belief that our civilization is protected from the consequences of its action by magic.

Maybe they're one and the same view.

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (1)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46494135)

Was that sentence constructed using a random word generator? Maybe it would have been more informational if it had been?

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 8 months ago | (#46493809)

Yeah, this is why they are turning off the rovers [slashdot.org] .

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (1)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | about 8 months ago | (#46494041)

I imagine this study is an attempt to justify space colonization, but no matter how much I support this in principle, this particular attempt is executed very poorly. Basically just rehashing the old "ecological capacity" and "peak resource" arguments, and over-dramatizing potential problems with obvious hype like "civilization collapse".

Re:Fly me to Mars or even to the Moon. (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 8 months ago | (#46494145)

I can only guess this is a prep work to argue for greater funding for trips to mars and moon and etc.

The foundations (4, Funny)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 8 months ago | (#46493531)

I foresee the imminent fall of the American Empire, which encompasses the entire world, and a dark age lasting 30 thousand years before a second great empire arises. I also foresee an alternative where the intermittent period will last only one thousand years. To ensure my vision of a second great empire comes to fruition, we should create two foundationsâ"small, secluded havens of all human knowledgeâ"at "opposite ends of the internet".

Re:The foundations (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | about 8 months ago | (#46493713)

Your obvious parody of the foundation series may not be far off. I am sure there will be a group of highly educated folk who find a place with decent sustainable resources and set up a society based on sustainability and preservation of human knowledge. Then once the chaos consumes existing civilizations it will be able to expand and grow to dominate the world once again...minus the psychologists that lean to use psychic powers of the mind.

Who wrote the report? (2)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 8 months ago | (#46493561)

Someone named Cassandra? [wikipedia.org] . Jared Diamond wrote a whole book called Collapse [wikipedia.org] about it. Greenland colonization attempt, anasazi Indians etc. When the collapse avoidance is still possible, the new course requires sacrifices from the current top dogs of the system. Not being sure whether the top-dogginess will persist in the new course, they stay on original course to disaster.

Re:Who wrote the report? (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 8 months ago | (#46494063)

Someone named Cassandra?. Jared Diamond wrote a whole book called Collapse about it.

The beauty of crying that the sky is falling is that if you say it long enough, eventually you'll be right.

While I'm a bit skeptical of the study after reading TFA, they avoid that particular pitfall and put their money where their mouth is. They conclude that if things don't change, we're looking at about 15 more years before collapse.

Counting on Surplus (2, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 8 months ago | (#46493563)

The trick with good times is when they don't last. What we see, more so in this cycle that most, is centralization of power and responsibility/regulation (there has never existed a more regulated society than the modern West).

The cost of this is extreme - by some estimates, most people pay 30-60% of their earnings for the year to support such a structure (if you don't understand the average 22% cost of goods as embedded income taxes, google for the Harvard economics study). When we have an extreme downturn, like now (we need 350,000 jobs per month added for 10 straight years just to get back to "Bush era" employment numbers), people can't afford it. Just this week we have the example of Obama saying that people should cancel their phone service to pay for his healthcare scheme, but that's just a glaring example of a pervasive problem.

Only so many people will allow their homes to be confiscated to pay for the ostentatious lifestyle in DC and on Wall Street, while they're having trouble putting food on the table for their families. If trends continue, the USD will lose its place as the national reserve currency (debt-to-gdp is over 100% now; Bretton Woods was agreed upon when the USD was still backed by gold) which will cause a rapid loss of buying power. And the more the US outsources, the less will be there when the USD loses its value. At some point, they can crank up the printing presses to fund poverty programs, but when people stop accepting dollars, there's nothing else to do but to implement wage and price controls and/or seize the means of production. The odds of a revolt go up with each step along the way.

The shame of it is, we can see this coming, and we can recognize that we need decentralization and de-escalation of power, but the political system does not allow for it to back itself down. Even the very name, "lawmakers" is telling - "law-removers" isn't in the lexicon.

Jefferson himself predicted the situation, and even recommended revolution as the solution. I'd rather see a peaceful and economic one.

Re:Counting on Surplus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493821)

I vote seize the means of production.

We have the resources and means to completely feed, shelter, and provide health care to our entire population, as well as continue research in vital technological areas. There is no reason that the greed and corruption of a few should result in mass starvation and suffering. Capitalism has failed us, it is more apparent now than ever but many people have seen the signs for a long time. Push the reset button now, while we can still do it relatively painlessly and lets have a truly fair and civilized nation.

Re:Counting on Surplus (1, Insightful)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493893)

Lighten up Frances, Capitalism has not failed us. I understand it is fashionable in some circles to ignore the benefits of the very system that has given us the highest standard of living the world has ever known with technologies that were unheard of 200 years ago but please give it a rest.

Or is my sarcasm meter broken?

Re:Counting on Surplus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494057)

umm, all those benefits came from stepping on other people and the environment, and all those technologies just make it easier for us to destroy the environment we live in.

Re:Counting on Surplus (1)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493835)

Unfortunately our education system has produced somewhere in the order of two generations of people who really don't read that much, 'hate' mathematics and simply have no desire to learn. How do I say this, education is held in contempt by a significant number of young people and their parents?

What you wrote is very good, and dead on.

You can cut down on food or something instead (1)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | about 8 months ago | (#46493973)

Just this week we have the example of Obama saying that people should cancel their phone service to pay for his healthcare scheme, but that's just a glaring example of a pervasive problem.

So not what he meant. If you like your phone service, you can keep your phone service.

Re:Counting on Surplus (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 8 months ago | (#46494107)

What exactly is "decentralization"? The oligopolies and monopolies that tend to result under reduced regulation is more centralization; it's just corporate centralization instead of gov't centralization. Is one better than the other? Having banks that are "too big to fail" is a nasty side-effect of such. (They are still too big, by the way.)

Jefferson warned about excessively large government AND excessively large corporations.

Re:Counting on Surplus (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 8 months ago | (#46494127)

The trick with good times is when they don't last.

The problem is that the good times usually last longer than the short-sightedness of 99% of the population.

Re:Counting on Surplus (3, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 8 months ago | (#46494185)

(there has never existed a more regulated society than the modern West).

They call it Byzantine for a reason......also 1700s Germany gets a special mention, and it wasn't by accident Prague produced Kafka. So your claim is somewhat questionable.

Insightful study... (4, Informative)

mspohr (589790) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

Re:pessimistic (1)

airdrummer (547536) | about 8 months ago | (#46493653)

lucky 4 me i won't be around that long;-}

http://www.theguardian.com/the... [theguardian.com]

Re:pessimistic (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 8 months ago | (#46493719)

Interesting article. There's always someone to play the cynic.
I am pessimistic but not that cynical.

Disgust with the human race. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493743)

The evolutionary economists compare us to seals. The biggest seal gets to mate with all the females. So, the lion seals kept getting bigger and they developed heart and other problems as well as the tendency to crush the females under their weight.

We do the same thing. How many people do you see go into serious debt to buy BMWs, Mercedes or some other luxury car to look "bigger" - more important? Even if you have the cash, buying a luxury car is a terrible waste of capital.

The same goes for the McMansions. People rationalize it was "moving up" or it's an "investment" or what have you, but it boils down to looking "bigger."

iPhones are/were the same - and now smart phones have become the norm; when for most, a $35 pos would be more than adequate (Do you REALLY need to check email every 10 minutes?).

Bigger cars, jewelry, bigger, bigger and more and more energy and resource use.

Basically, our consumptive economy is to prove that we're a little better than the next guy.

When you look back about 100 years ago, what were the popular books? Books on character and how to get it.

Now, it's how to get rich quick.

We are becoming more like animals. You look at the primate studies and the only difference is we can talk and they have more hair.

Re:Disgust with the human race. (1)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46493881)

We are becoming more like animals.

This is always how the human race has been right to the myopic malcontents whining about materialism. I would suggest improving yourself rather than improving humanity. It's something you can actually do.

Re:Disgust with the human race. (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#46494075)

Becoming more like animals would be a welcome change! Humans after all invented garbage and plastic.

Just like everything (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 8 months ago | (#46493633)

Our hard drives get bigger, the programs grow fatter. Everything grows as big as it can, and will use all the space and time has.

Dear NASA (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493661)

I hear good things about outer space. Maybe you should check that out sometime when you're not busy.

Re:Dear NASA (1)

approachingZero (1365381) | about 8 months ago | (#46493727)

I have read there are resources in our solar system that would benefit our industrial civilization, maybe they could do paper on the limitless opportunities?

Bingo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493673)

and increasingly unequal wealth distribution

I always knew that civilization would end because of greed.

B-b-b-ut what about American exceptionalism??? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 8 months ago | (#46493699)

We'll have resources forever.!Jesus and Santa Clause and the EIA said so! There's infinite oil and gas! We find more every year RIGHT HERE IN THE USA, don't we?! And we have infinite water! Infinite phosphates! Infinite free money! Golly gosh-a-rootie, the whole ding dang show will just go on *forever* because we have God and TECHNOLOGY on our side!

Whoo, that was too much sarcasm. I have to lie down now.

Re:B-b-b-ut what about American exceptionalism??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493729)

Sorry your dad beat you. Don't take it out on my country.

When? (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | about 8 months ago | (#46493707)

If it's 100,000 years from now, I won't lose any sleep over it.

"Collapse" is an overstatement (0)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | about 8 months ago | (#46493737)

I cannot imagine how we could have a real collapse of our civilization, unless you really stretch the word definition. Even in the most catastrophic scenarios like a nuclear war or a dinosaur-scale meteor hit, enough people should survive to gradually rebuild it to the current level.

And the risks mentioned here, like resource shortage, conventional war and economic problems cannot even lead to that sort of "collapse". The words you might consider are "crisis", "depression" or maybe "decline".

It would take a true cosmic scale disaster to destroy our civilization at this point, something that would make life impossible anywhere on the surface or under it in a very short time. Even then, if we had an early warning, we could try to relocate enough people off the planet.

If you want your research to be taken seriously, please avoid sensationalist overstatements like this.

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493763)

So how many people are capable of building a transistor? Where will those computer things come from after a couple of generations?

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (4, Interesting)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 8 months ago | (#46494101)

So how many people are capable of building a transistor? Where will those computer things come from after a couple of generations?

You might be surprised. Nothing has to be reinvented from scratch. The earliest versions of modern chip-making processes are now public domain, as the patents have expired. The patents themselves are less than useful as descriptions of what to actually do to make a chip, but they are legitimately a place to start for anybody bootstrapping a foundry. Those patents are old enough that many copies of them exist in printed form, so having a functional computer connected to a functional Internet is not a prerequisite for access.

But I don't see how it's possible to collapse that far any longer. Maybe before the ascendance of ARM chips, you had a good point. There were only two companies in the world making fully capable CPUs (I discount microcontrollers here because they're usually too specialized). Nowadays there's an ARM foundry around every corner. ARM cores may not be cutting edge in performance, but they can do all the scalar operations you need and enough of the vector operations. And they're dirt cheap and a lot of people all around the world know how to make them. The process is cheap and easy and can work in suprisingly primitive conditions. (Where "primitive" is a relative term, of course.) More to the point, there are ARM systems all over the world now. We're not quite to the point where there's a functional ARM system for every human on Earth, but we're very rapidly approaching that point. That kind of ubiquity is hard to lose once it's established. It would take a world wide religious pogrom to do away with sufficient numbers of those pocket computers to actually put a dent in their availability.

And as long as we have those pocket computers, we can hold things together. We have functional processors and data storage so vast that somebody, somewhere, has access to anything you need to know to keep civilization running, right down to how to produce ad hoc power solutions to keep it all working. Making a solar panel in your garage isn't really feasible, but making a multi-kilowatt wind turbine is astonishingly easy, especially when salvaging parts, and you could store complete plans for how to do so in a tiny fraction of your phone's storage device, available for the rest of your life.

Civilization is a lot more robust than many people imagine. Some of that robustness happens specifically because people imagine it isn't, and so they take steps to improve an already remarkably resilient system. If it bothers you, join the crowd. Storage for detailed plans and procedures for making every kind of machine required for at least a modicum of civilization costs less than $100, with room not just for blueprints, but for How To instructional videos for every piece of it. Leave out the video and depend on just detailed textual instructions and that storage can be solid state for the same price.

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 8 months ago | (#46493875)

Survival of H. sapiens != survival of civilization

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (2)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | about 8 months ago | (#46493911)

Survival of H. sapiens != survival of civilization

Yes, and collapse of iPhone sales != collapse of industrial civilization.

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (1)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46493989)

Even in the most catastrophic scenarios like a nuclear war or a dinosaur-scale meteor hit, enough people should survive to gradually rebuild it to the current level.

That's pretty much what they're talking about. Some hit that breaks down society and then requires a rebuild.

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494067)

You lack imagination, as well as the ability to understand sentences in the English language.

'Collapse of civilization' does not mean that the human population goes to zero. While that has happened (as on Easter Island and the Viking colonies on Greenland), the more likely outcome is that the population is severely reduced, as well as the quality of life of those survivors is also severely reduced. As I see it, the most likely result would be many centuries of society organized on medieval lines with many small fiefdoms (along with a few short-lived larger kingdoms and empires) based on subsistence farming with very limited travel or commerce. I think that most scientific and medical knowledge would be lost, and slow to be re-acquired. This would be especially true if the collapse occurs more than a couple of decades from now, when most paper books will not be common any more. And since we will have already consumed most of the earth's richest mineral deposits, the richest source of metals will be the carcasses of today's cities (although that might be a benefit in rebuilding).

There is a huge number of novels that have been written describing life in a pre- or post-civilization society. None of it is very pretty, and certainly not anything that I would wish on anybody.

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#46494119)

It's people like you, with your lack of basic understanding of finite resources and the amount of resources needed to sustain a western lifestyle, that make the probability of such a scenario almost 100%.

Once the resources are gone,which resources are you going to use to rebuild the society?

Oh wait, you're an economist right?

Re:"Collapse" is an overstatement (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 8 months ago | (#46494147)

How many people and links in the supply chain to you need to repair an iPhone, or to make a replacement part for a car (I assume some of those parts are non-trivial for a single machinist to make).

A few years of negative economic growth might be all you need, suppliers start going out of business and the shocks travel up and down the supply chain. Also consider political stability, you're not going to make a major investment if guys with guns can walk up and simply take it. It hasn't really happened in modern memory, since the industrial revolution tech has been simple enough and growth potential high enough that little shocks don't really last. But go to the modern world where stable growth might be 1-2%, add some major political upheaval and I'm not sure how fast things fall.

Look how much things fell after the collapse of the Roman Empire, I'm not sure why we're fundamentally immune to that.

Didn't know a study was needed (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 8 months ago | (#46493751)

What's obvious has been obvious for a very long time. The only disagreement is when.

Re:Didn't know a study was needed (1)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | about 8 months ago | (#46494019)

And what to do about it. And how.

Re:Didn't know a study was needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494111)

...and if it can avoided, and what the world would look like if it is avoided.

mod 0p (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46493815)

Achi3Vements that

BS, as usual. (3, Insightful)

PeterPiper (167721) | about 8 months ago | (#46493837)

A climatologist, likely with a political agenda, a math grad student, and a political science BA, put together a model that shows that if growth trends continue in a finite system, the system breaks. No shit sherlock! Except that such growth trends do NOT continue. Any increase in resource consumption results in an increase in price. Any increase in production results in a reduction of price. If the system gets to a point where consumption outpaces production then the price rises, and it can rise a lot! This results in people using less of the resource and finding alternatives.

Any such models that are built without the input of an economist should be automatically discarded as being total BS.

Re:BS, as usual. (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 8 months ago | (#46493895)

So you don't think using resources at sustainable levels has merit, or not doing so will eventually lead to depletion and potential collapse?

Re:BS, as usual. (4, Insightful)

PeterPiper (167721) | about 8 months ago | (#46493947)

You missed my point entirely. My point is that the price mechanism ensures that resource consumption is always sustainable. As resources get scarce and harder to extract, the price rises. The rise in price can be HUGE. Right now we burn coal and oil for instance, for energy because it is cheaper than the alternatives. If demand increases outstripping production sufficient to cause a price rise of only a factor of three, oil and coal will no longer be burned for energy, as the alternatives will be cheaper. This price point would be reached LONG before there is 'no more' coal and oil. The same principle applies to all other resources.

We never get to the point where were run out of things that get scarce. Instead we find alternatives. The price of the alternatives might well be high, but they will be cheaper than the original resource. The higher prices in turn serve as a break on consumption. A free market ensures that the system is sustainable. Only to the degree that states attempt to intervene in the price mechanism, or societies that simply never had such to begin with, can you wind up with a situation in which resources get completely used up.

Re:BS, as usual. (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#46494143)

haha, you're funny.

ah the joys of 20th century economics.

Hardly. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46494105)

. If the system gets to a point where consumption outpaces production then the price rises, and it can rise a lot! This results in people using less of the resource and finding alternatives.

Ahh. The magic of the self-correcting markets. Why bother to manage or regulate anything? Nature will take care of the whole thing for us!

The problem is that the "alternatives" you mention invariably include mass starvation, which always leads to disease and the disintegration of functioning infrastructure and social norms. Then steep population decline.

This is what classifies as a collapse.

So you're not exactly disagreeing with the premise.

Toss in psychopaths leaping to the head of masses of unhappy people in order to "lead" them, (which always happens), and a catastrophic event or three, and... welcome to the next dark age.

We're well into the process right now. Might as well pull up a chair to watch and learn, because our society is so utterly blind and willfully programmed, any chance of mitigating or avoiding the scenario passed us by years ago.

The reason for all these surveillance and population control measures as sold under the bogus rubric of the "War on Terror" are so that the elites can survive the fallout. It is a bitter consolation to know that they won't. They never do.

Of course, they always think they're special and that *this* time, they'll be all warm and cozy in their bunkers.

Re:BS, as usual. (2)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | about 8 months ago | (#46494121)

Exactly. The authors fail to account for both the adaptability of the demand, and for the rate at which disruptive technologies appear these days, making any such "static world" analysis meaningless.

All eggs in the same basket (1)

FridayBob (619244) | about 8 months ago | (#46493859)

This is one of those scenarios in which it would be better to not have all of our eggs in the same basket. For instance, it might be possible to avoid a complete catastrophe if, in advance, we managed to set up a self-sustaining colony on the Moon or on Mars. However, unless we're very careful, that could easily be such an expensive endeavor that attempting to achieve it would only hasten the collapse of our own civilization. Ho-hum.

political paper? (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about 8 months ago | (#46493887)

It is an interesting idea, to model sustainability, but the paper isn't particularly convincing in the way it models things. They start by admitting it's not clear why various societies have collapsed, then create a model which may or may not be related to reality, but matches their political viewpoints.

They chose only a few different variables to look at. If all you do is look at inequality and resource use, the answer you get is going to be in terms of inequality and resource use. This is similar to if you have a rocket flying through space carrying a flea; and the only variable you examine is the flea jumping, you are going to find a huge correlation between the jumps of the flea and the trajectory of the rocket. In other words, they might be right or they might not, but this way of studying it won't give you any good conclusions.

To understand my point, (if you've read the paper), consider if they had been Ayn Rand disciples instead of modern democrats. It would have been just as easy to create the model in terms 'producers' and 'leaches,' and deriving whatever conclusion you want from that.

Re:political paper? (0)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#46494167)

... but matches their political viewpoints.

No they didn't. You just assumed that because it is what you do.

Unequal Wealth Distribution .... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#46493929)

.... has also been a characteristic of civilizations' growth.

Equality is really only seen in hunter-gatherer tribes small enough not to require some sort of hierarchical governance or specialization in various crafts. What disrupts societies (wealth-wise) is actively inhibiting its members from receiving the compensation that their particular skill sets command. And one of the prime methods of interference is wealth redistribution.

Re: Unequal Wealth Distribution .... (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 8 months ago | (#46494009)

The days of feudalism and robber barons when there was no wealth redistribution were far better.

Re: Unequal Wealth Distribution .... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#46494129)

feudalism and robber barons

This is just one form of wealth distribution. And it is less a matter of who receives the proceeds than of who has it taken away.

Collapse or Stagnation (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 8 months ago | (#46494029)

Sooner or later we're getting one of the above, at some point economic growth will become at best neutral and the top scientists will spend their entire careers simply understanding the work of their predecessors. The question is whether our massive interconnectedness means we'll have more redundancy and be able to withstand inevitable setbacks, or if we'll just have more links in the chain that we don't know how to repair and be at risk of a fairly sudden and drastic collapse.

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