General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Are we headed for a collapse of our global society?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) March 14th, 2014

An important article summarizing the findings of a NASA-funded scientific study should be read here. It is brief but insightful.

The findings of this scientific study are not about climate change. They are about factual, historical human activity. The scientists who wrote the study pointed to the collapse of numerous highly evolved, creative, and thriving societies around the world.

They wrote that the over-exploitation of natural resources accompanied by growing wealth inequality resulted in the collapse of those formerly thriving societies.

I don’t think it takes a wizard to understand that we are using too much of what the Earth has to offer. We know we are running out of oil to fuel our global economy, and we are taking steps to wean ourselves from this habit. Agribusiness uses chemicals indiscriminately that are linked to colony collapse among bees and obesity among people. Water is increasingly seen as a valuable resource to be fought over among nations. The CEO of Nestle stated that water should be bought and sold as a commodity.

An article in Forbes magazine of all places quoted a study by Oxfam International that there are now walking on the planet 85 individuals who own as much wealth as another 3,500,000,000 persons. To clarify, there are 85 humans with wealth equivalent to half the entire current population of the planet. That kind of wealth inequality is unsustainable. Personally, I believe it’s immoral, too, but that’s another question.

The NASA-funded study also addresses the threat that it will be written off as a fringe paper by alarmists.

Have we created a global society headed for collapse?

Is this scientific study the proverbial canary in the coal mine?

Please, note this is a General Section question. Let’s do our best to keep the discussion related to the topic at hand.

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43 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

Yes… but the survivors will learn from our mistakes.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Society and a lot of other things are cyclical. So yes we could be headed to a low spot, but doesn’t make it the end of the world.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Since humanity cannot set its course straight then I think this is inevitable. Any time now really, we can’t keep dodging bullets forever. Hopefully whoever inherits what is left will treat it better than we did. Possibly they will treat each other a little better also.

talljasperman's avatar

When so many people value money those who have it are admired and those that don’t are envious. If the desire to become a millionaire, or billionaire disappears than the value of money drops. For the rich to be come richer people will have to worship money more. I say get rid of all your money and invest in things our sociality really needs, like food for your self (or start your own garden if you can find the space) and basics, that way the rich have no way to get any more money from you… For the rich to become richer someone must still be giving them money. When I went on disability my life seemed over but I’m happy now that I don’t have to worry about becoming a billionaire…I’m still in the trap of wealth but I’m focused on food clothing and shelter right now. (and bandwidth) I had a carrot a coke zero and a loaf of garlic bread for super tonight and I liked it more than a greasy pizza.

CWOTUS's avatar

What, exactly, do you suppose is the real problem with “wealth inequality”? It’s not as if those wealthy individuals are going to eat what they own and turn it all to shit. (I agree that a disgustingly large number of pseudo-wealthy people already do exactly that, but those aren’t the people you’re pointing to.)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@CWOTUS May I ask if you read the article in the link? It quoted the study as saying when wealth is amassed by a very tiny portion of a society’s population, it leads to physical decline in the number of those without wealth. The commoners, as the article calls them, die off.

Who is the “you” in your post? Are you addressing me or the author of the article?

Cruiser's avatar

The wealthy need water and electricity to sustain their lives and livelihoods just as much as the “commoner”. Like the article intones that history is a record of how the wealthy will outlast the commoner when resources become scarce but they also eventually succumb to the lack of resources they need to survive.

We are already seeing water resources particularly in the West here in the States where there is cities and state setting their eyes on the Great Lakes and demanding there be some sharing programs put in place to supplement the over pressured water resources they have. This will be a slow burn only a few people will notice and be concerned with at first and then it will quickly develop into emergency situations where people just won’t have clean water coming out of their faucets.

As far as electricity is concerned we as a planet can only absorb a handful of Fukijima meltdowns before we irradiate ourselves out of existence so we as a world population have to find better ways to produce the electricity we demand and better ways to conserve this precious resource. If we fail to appreciate the fragile nature of these resources we too will lead the charge of a global collapse.

Interesting question HJ

Coloma's avatar

Ya think! It’s not a matter of “if” but when.
I wish the fuck it would just all be over, really….a slow malingering death is always worse than a sudden and abrupt departure.
Instead of degenerating into massive suffering and depletion this planet just needs to have one massive coronary and be done, so the deserving life forms, not humans, can evolve again.

It’s time, no doubt about it.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Coloma On a geological time scale, a global collapse in 15 to 20 years is the blink of an eye. What is being written about is not slow nor malingering.

I like humans. I think we are a wonderful species full of many good qualities. The end of our species would be a shame.

I do not think the article is even intimating that our species may be coming to an end as you are suggesting. It is arguing instead that our way of life may be unsustainable.

Did you read the article?

Cruiser's avatar

I agree with you @Hawaii_Jake…both the Mayan’s and the Roman’s, as referenced in the article, have magnificent ruins as weathered historical records of their greatness and should serve as poignant reminders as to how inattention to crucial details of life can let it all slip away through your fingers.

Coloma's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Yes, I read it, just saying that there is no news under the sun and for every relatively decent and conscious human there are 5000 that are not.
I went a little abstract, interjecting my personal sentiments. Right, it is all a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but, it is also the maxed out human population that is igniting the arson of the planet. It is no mystery that when populations of any species exceed available resources that there will be an increase in violence, competition, sickness, be it rats or man.

We are there now, and have been for quite some time.
The depletion of our natural resources also has a huge impact on human behavior.
More crime, violence, cut throat competition, lack of compassion, etc.
Over populate any species and you have the makings of decimation.
I like people too but, the truth is, the vast majority of us should be culled.

This world needs a rebirth of the best of humanity, not the worst, which dominates at this time.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Coloma I don’t share your cynicism about human nature. I believe we are capable of great compassion. I do not deny evil, but I also believe in good.

I cannot cite the relevant studies at this exact moment, but I am positive that I have read in many places studies which say the world is actually getting more peaceful and crime is decreasing.

I, too, hope for a rebirth of the best of humanity.

kritiper's avatar

Yepper we sure are. MRSA (or variations of it) will get us all before climate change kicks in real strong. Antibiotics, especially penicillin, contributed to a almost 30 year increase in life expectancy and that will soon come to an end, maybe even more (total!) than a 30 year decline.

Coloma's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Yes, and that is key.
Humans have done more damage to this planet in a miniscule 150 years than any other natural shift, ever, in the history of the universe. That’s not cynicism, that’s truth. :-)
Don’t forget our species is extremely young in the grand scheme of things, and that there is a fine line between madness and genius.

For every genius human that has made a positive contribution there are 100’s of thousands that are have created the madness we experience today.
The human animal is more a blight than a blessing IMO.

kritiper's avatar

@Coloma Wow. I totally agree with your “The human animal is more of a blight..” statement. I call mankind a pestilence. Like a germ or bacteria. Vermin.

Coloma's avatar

@kritiper Hey…an encore. haha

GloPro's avatar

I’m just curious as to what everyone’s timeline is here. Are you all on the same page?

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kevbo's avatar

This is my general section answer. We are life itself. Only through attention and belief do we identify as persons. All the calamity of the “human condition” (as well as the joy) is merely a catalyst for our transcendence and nothing more than the flickering of images across our consciousness.

With attention and belief focused on our personhood, there is the pain of all these worries. With them focused on awareness of the perceiver of all the images, there is stillness and peace—and there is wholesale negation of the power of worldly phenomena. If we are pure awareness, then what can possibly come to our harm?

LostInParadise's avatar

Something has to happen, because what we are currently doing is unsustainable. Climate change can’t be ignored. It is a far larger problem than either wealth distribution or resource depletion. I am optimistic that humans will continue to be around, but we are going to have to do things differently. There is no choice. The only question is how bad things will have to get before we take charge and starti making decisions to turn things around. It may not take a complete collapse, but there are going to be a number of catastrophes that may have the effect of bringing people to their senses.

On the bright side, we are in general becoming nicer people. There are statistics to back this up. Homicide rates have been steadily declining for the last few hundred years. Slavery is universally condemned. We take steps to prevent discrimination by race, gender and sexual preference that were unimaginable 1000 years ago. Religious belief and its associated divisiveness is on the decline. I can envision a future that is much better than the present, but it will require a major readjustment.

NanoNano's avatar

I would say the “handwriting is on the wall” so to speak with your question Hawaii Jake. Whether we can turn these trends around in the 21st century is debatable.

It doesn’t help when you have lunatics like Putin invading a sovereign neighbor, threatening to restart the Cold War with all its implications for global nuclear annihilation.

Michio Kaku talks about how society is at a turning point right now. We are a “type 0” civilization currently on the brink of reaching Type 1 status – harnessing the entire planet’s energy sources… The earth basically has two competing ideologies at this point in time. One is the insular, fundamentalist ideology of religious extremism (both Islamic and Christian religions have these elements) which look to the past. And the other ideology is one of openness, tolerance, and democratic ideals.

Whichever of these ideologies wins out as the dominant one on the planet in the next 100 years will probably determine the fate of the human race.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This writer is doing some investigation into this story. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be evidently.

CWOTUS's avatar

Thanks for that follow-up, @Hawaii_Jake. I never accepted the premise of the story, but I wasn’t willing to debate most of Fluther and any or all of NASA for what I had thought were tired, ancient and always-so-far flawed Malthusian predictions. (Since I didn’t make that public statement here prior to your much-appreciated link to real journalism here, I’ll have to enjoy that little victory silently, though. But I will enjoy it.)

Sooner or later someone will walk by with an End of the World sign, and lo and behold, the end of the world will occur immediately thereafter. Until it happens, I’m not believing any such predictions, however.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

One could say that every day is the end of the world as we know it…I feel fine!

LostInParadise's avatar

The timeline for the paper is exaggerated, but it is still worth considering its message. Jared Diamond wrote the book Collapsed, in which he gives strong evidence that many civilizations, including the Maya, were driven to extinction by ecological collapse.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Here’s more about the actual scientific study.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

By the way, I’m grateful there are counter arguments against the articles in the mass media which quoted the study as authoritative.

What did Mark Twain say? “The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” It was something like that.

CWOTUS's avatar

Actually, @Hawaii_Jake, I learned that Voltaire had preempted Mark Twain with an even better quote prior to his own death around 1778. (This was from Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Benjamin Franklin, and was mentioned in the context of Voltaire and Franklin meeting shortly before the death of the former.)

Responding to rumors of his own death, Voltaire supposedly said that “Reports of my demise are correct, only premature.”

I don’t doubt that at some point “Western civilization” and the (government of the) USA in particular will come a cropper and “collapse”, whatever that means. But that will probably happen in the context of the Earth’s human population doubling yet again. Civilizations (by which I mean “governments”) will always fail, because their leaders seem not to learn, or want to learn economics. Either that, or they start to believe their own public relations, and ignore King Canute’s wisdom.

kritiper's avatar

@CWOTUS Do you really think the population will/can double again to 15 billion? Do you realize that the population of the world (minus any/many problems) triples within 75 years?

Coloma's avatar

Can’t find the link but…the senior population will reach an all time high of like 180 million in the next 50 years.This is my daughters generation, she is 26 now and will be 76 in another 50 years. This insane push to live for 100+ years is an anchor that needs to be hoisted.
The drain on resources of trying to care for a plague of ancient ones is not going to be pretty.

Personally I think everyone should drop dead by about age 80, tops.
The natural order of things is to die within a reasonable amount of time after your reproductive years are spent.
The familial, financial and fiscal burden of an astronomical senior population is staggering.
In my county the highest rate of poverty is for widowed and divorced women age 60 and over.

Medicine focuses on longevity not quality of life and this push to live/stay young forever is a really detrimental drive in our society.
Get over yourselves and just die already! lol
Call me evil but anyone that desires to live to be 100+ is a fucking egotist to the 10th power. Surprise…your organism is just not that special. haha

Cruiser's avatar

@Coloma…my mom is about to turn 80 and I swear on a Fender Guitar she told me/us to put her on an iceberg and push her off out into the Ocean before we get saddled with taking care of her invalid self. She was dead serious and I can only imagine the amount of things she will throw my way when I defy this wish of hers.

Coloma's avatar

@Cruiser well of course, coping with out loved ones aging process is a challenge, but your mom sounds like my kinda girl! haha
We MUST get over our narcissistic omnipotence complex, if we wish this planet to survive.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Coloma, you usually speak more or less sensibly, but… c’mon. The planet isn’t going anywhere except in continuous circles around the Sun, same as it has for the past four billion years or so. It hardly matters what man does or tries to do to it; the planet will survive any and all predatory, lunatic or destructive acts we do or attempt. The question is, I suppose, whether we will, and that’s certainly an open question. That’s the question of the thread, actually.

And we will. In one form or another, even if some one or some group of people attempt barely-imagined total warfare, some will survive. Mankind will go on in spite of mankind.

But I don’t think it will come to that. Even though we have the capacity to wipe out most of the race, I don’t think we will. I do believe in my one-word answer of a few posts back. We’ll be doubling the population again before too much longer, and I think that we’ll be living better than ever as we do it, too – and longer, and healthier, and richer in general. The planet has a lot more carrying capacity than any of us imagines.

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS,...sorry you “c’mon”.
At the expense of what? More humans, less resources, less natural habitat for all the other species, continuing to reproduce at the current rate and people insisting on living until they are 120 is a blight on the planet, not an asset. Is Walmart going to feed to teeming masses? lol
I agree… life will prevail one way or another, but at the rate we’re going it’s not going it’s not going to be for longer, healthier or richer.. Even the sun will die, to parrot a popular philosopher.
We’re at burnout now…how can you possibly think that seeing the population double is going to lend itself to some Utopia?

CWOTUS's avatar

Now you’re putting words in my mouth, @Coloma. I didn’t say – have never said since I was a teenager, anyway that there will ever be a Utopia on Earth. Not that.

But there will be more people, a lot more. And they will live better than they do now, in general.

Yeah, life for other species may be more problematic (except for the rats, worms and bacteria, which will thrive even better than we do – and most of the insects, too – and the spiders). But life for many species of fish will be dicey unless we manage to find a way to privatize oceans in some way – some livable way, that is – so that pelagic fish won’t go extinct in the same way that cattle and chickens won’t. Other vertebrate species, especially the top-of-the-food-chain predators, will also be declining and unfortunately disappearing, too.

But as long as we have the internet, dogs and cats (puppies and kittens, anyway) should do just fine. Actually, I think that as we become generally richer, we’ll set aside more habitat for endangered wildlife. I’m hoping that China and India will join the party of “living better by living richer” one of these days, too.

I also never claimed that mankind was an asset to the planet, but it would be even more hypocritical than I am at my worst to say that “we’re a blight” ... and then continue to try to live. Sure, we can do better than we do (I say that about every thing that I do), but we’re not doing as badly as we could, either.

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS Perhaps, perhaps not,it all looks pretty damn bad to me, but, it could and most likely will get worse.
I’m just sayin’ that humans have done more damage to the environment in a short 150 years or so than in all prior history.
I do not believe we are going to live better, that is being proven now.
Dwindling natural resources, polluted oceans, economic destruction, lack of jobs with a sustainable living wage, substandard or no health care, over population, increase in crime, addiction, violence, abuse, sociopathic politics….no way is this mess going to get better.

As far as my Utopia comment, I was not putting words in your mouth, simply saying that your rose colored outlook of quality of life only getting better and better sounds Utopian, and is not even remotely reality based. Sorry…we must agree to disagree on this one.

kritiper's avatar

@CWOTUS Forgot to add: The Earth’s population, unheeded, triples within EVERY 75 years. You can do the math. (Just sayin’...)

LostInParadise's avatar

Not to worry. Come the singularity, we are all going to be replaced by robots. Then it will be their problem.

LostInParadise's avatar

As for setting the elderly collectively adrift on ice floes, I don’t think that is such a good idea. It is at best a temporary fix as far as population level is concerned. They are not the ones doing the reproducing. The numbers will still keep going up.

Additionally, the elderly are not only living longer, they are also healthier than in years past. There are a good number who have saved up enough to retire in comfort and, freed from the shackles of the 40 hour week, can make real contributions in volunteer work. Our older population is a resource that is largely untapped. When I retire in a few years, I will be thinking more in terms of giving back rather than in how much I can grab.

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