Are we seeing the beginning of the end of this global civilisation?
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The economic collapse of 2008/09 showed that the global economy is delicate. If such serious collapse can be triggered by the failure of a relatively trivial thing such as the sub-prime mortgage market in the USA, how much worse will the collapse likely be following some combination of the problems listed below?
I hasten to say that this page is not a prediction of Armageddon; rather it is a statement that, if we do not change the ways our civilisation works by a conscious effort, great and probably unforeseeable changes will be forced upon us.
It is worth noting that probably the only major world-wide sustainability problem that has ever been substantially resolved is the destruction of the ozone layer by chloroflurocarbons.
There are many reasons to believe that the present global civilisation
is facing its last years.
The problems listed below may not bring down civilisation, but they will
greatly change it.
In addition, many of humanity's activities are
unsustainable, the forced
change toward sustainability, which must come in time, will also greatly
change our society.
By definition, a civilisation that is unsustainable must change in one way
If the unsustainable features of a civilisation are not changed by a
conscious effort of
the citizens then changes will be forced onto the civilisation.
Each of the problems below must be solved if our civilisation is to become
The first twelve points in the list below are based on those that Jared
Diamond included in his excellent book, Collapse, I added the remainder.
(Diamond's list is repeated in its short form on my page,
Threatened disasters compared.)
Of critical importance is the fact that humanity has not reacted
appropriately to these problems.
In response to climate change governments are doing as little as possible
and the great majority of individuals are not changing their
lifestyles; governments refuse to see that growth cannot continue for ever
and seem to not want to know about the declining petroleum supply.
People live as if most of the
above problems did not exist and we can continue to live the next
fifty years with as little care for the environment as in the past fifty.
We have become reliant on a globally integrated economy. Given the above problems, this cannot continue.
Science, greed, selfishness, ignorance, short sightedness, apathy; all are factors.
We couldn't have destroyed the world without science, but science is not to be blamed for our destruction of the world. Science allowed us to understand how the world works, what we did with that knowledge is outside of science.
The seemingly inevitable destruction of the world by Mankind is linked to Man's failings: his ability to delude himself (eg. religion), his shortsightedness (eg. chasing profit at all costs), his selfishness and greed, his innate tendencies (eg. to have too many children and overpopulated the planet), the inability or unwillingness of the great majority to work for the greater good.
Science is, will always be, Mankind's greatest, most noble, achievement. The destruction of the world could be blamed largely on the lack of ethical standards in those who rose to the top of the heap and the apathy of the great majority.
The costs of food, water and energy are increasing.
So, it seems likely that the graduall decline in availability of cheap food, water and energy will cause finding a livelihood on this planet to become steadily more challenging.
It is possible that an outbreak of a highly contagious disease, such as the flu epedemic of 1918 or SARS, might provide the trigger that begins the collapse.
Governments and economists have long relied on growing economies and have irrationally seemed to believe that economies can continue to grow for ever. Declining resources, the end of cheap energy in particular, will probably cause negative economic growth.
In the early stages of the decline there will be rising unemployment. This will result in reduced turn-over in the retail industry, restaurants and other businesses that rely on discretionary spending; in turn this will lead to increasing defaulting on mortgages, eventually resulting in the failure of banks. Governments will have greatly reduced revenue because of the decreased tax income and increased expendature due to unemployment; so they will not be in a position to bail-out the banks.
Age of free thought and scientific advance will continue in at least
Manufacturing and services industries will decline because people will make-do with aging machines or do without, and will not be able to afford many of the services. This will lead to widespread unemployment, particularly in cities, with consequent defaulting on mortgages and loans; many banks will fail (many came close to failing in the recent Global Financial Crisis). The GFC showed that banks are less stable than we used to think; in a more serious down-tern many will fail, and governments will not be able to afford to prop them up. Financial constraints on governments – largely because income from tax will be much reduced – will become very tight, but the lessons that we are seeing in the near-economic failures of states such as Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Spain and Portugal in 2010 and 2011 will probably not have been learned and there will be many states that will become bankrupt.
In the developed nations agricultural industries will have to be supported so that enough food can be produced to feed the people. Unemployment, and the lack of the option of any subsistence gardening within our crowded cities will probably cause a migration from urban to rural areas, placing heavy loads on local economies and societies. Regulation of wages will be reduced or stopped all together to put more flexibility into economies; reduced wages and government support for agriculture will cause a great increase in employment in the sector. The availability of lowly paid workers will allow for an increasingly labour-intensive agricultural industry and probably lead to an increased level of productivity per hectare.
On the world scale it seems likely that mass migrations and consequent wars will ravage Africa and Eurasia in particular.
If, in the worst case, there is a major decline into barbarism, it will be difficult to climb back to civilisation because all of the easily mined resources have been used up. The next civilisation will be a different one, we can hope it will be a saner one.
Our environment is suffering insults on many fronts, the rate of extinctions is high enough to make the present comparable to the great extinctions of the geological past.
We are in the later years of a great global golden age of freedom and enlightenment.
There is no reason to think that our present civilisation should be in some way fundamentally different to other civilisations (other than its global nature) and immune from the failures that have occurred to many others in the past.
Acidification of oceans
Addicted to cheap energy
Agriculture too fuel-hungry
Economists in dream-world
End of oil
Environmental footprint increasing
Environment has a low priority
Food supplies declining
How will it fail?
Insects are in decline
Our civilisation is unsustainable
Phosphate running out
Problems due to climate change
Productive land less available
Soil and fertility loss
Water supply declining
What will follow?
When will the decline begin?
Why might civilisation fail?
Wild food stocks declining