Is there any indication that our world has stepped on the path leading to collapse?Some of the factors are already present – and how the West will respond to them will determine our future, says columnist for BBC Future.
The political economist Benjamin Friedman, author of the book “the Moral consequences of economic growth”, once likened the modern Western society with holding the balance on the go with bike, wheels which rotate due to the economic growth.
And if that momentum “bike” will slow down or cease, the foundations that underpin our society – democracy, personal freedom, social tolerance and so forth, staggered.
Our world will become more bleak place where life is determined by the lack of resources and the risk of falling into a group of outcasts, those who were outside the elite or beyond those few States which from time to time with the resources all right.
If we can find a way to make the wheels spin again, our society would essentially collapse.
Following the collapse of civilizations has happened in history many times, and no society, however prosperous it may seem, is immune to it.
Even if for a moment forget about the natural disasters and man-made disasters (asteroid, nuclear winter, a deadly epidemic), it is still history inevitably shows: there are many factors that provide ultimate collapse.
What are these factors? And some of them have already started to manifest itself in one form or another?
Two scenarios of disaster
I think you will not be surprised if I say: humanity is now on a slippery and unknown way. But, how far it is from us point, after which nothing will correct?
Of course, to accurately predict the future is impossible. But with the help of mathematics, history and other Sciences you can try to find more or less clear hints about what the long-term prospects of Western society.
American scientist, specialist in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland Safa Matcharray simulates on a computer the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainable development, and to the collapse of civilization.
According to published in 2014 the results of the research Motierre and his colleagues, there are two most important factors: the load on the environment and the economic stratification of society.
Environmental category more understandable to modern society and popular as a potential source of end of the world – especially in connection with what is happening now with the depletion of natural resources (potable water, fertile soils, fisheries, and forest reserves), exacerbated by climate change.
But knowing that the economic stratification of society into rich elites and poor masses can, by itself, without the participation of environmental catastrophe, lead to the collapse, was a surprise to Motierre and his colleagues.
In the “economic” apocalyptic scenarios mindlessly increasing consumption and expanding personal wealth of the elite to plunge society into instability, leading eventually to complete collapse.
“Commoners” in this scenario do not get almost anything from public wealth – and this despite the fact that much of the poor more than the rich, and well-being of the elite depends on their work.
In the end, due to the fact that the share of social wealth allocated to the poor is too small, the masses of workers simply die. And after that comes to an end and the whole society, because the elite can not live without the labor of others.
Existing today, both within some countries and between countries – a dangerous degree of inequality clearly indicates a problem.
For example, 10% of States with a maximum level of income is responsible for about the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions, which generate the remaining 90% of poorer countries. Another example: about 50% of the world population lives on less than $ 3 a day.
Model each of these scenarios of the end of civilization define the so-called carrying capacity (carrying capacity) – the number of the population that can be sustained natural resources for a long time.
If bearing capacity is too overloaded, collapse is inevitable. However, there is a way out.
“If every time we do a reasonable choice, aimed at reducing the influence of factors such as inequality, uncontrolled population growth, pollution of the environment, the level of destruction of natural resources (what to do!), we can avoid collapse and to keep society on the path of stable development,” – said Motierre.
“These decisions have to be taken now, can’t wait forever,” he warns.
Unfortunately, as some experts believe, to make such a choice is beyond our control, we are not ready either politically or psychologically.
We have entered a dangerous cycle
“Our world will not be able to use the chance to solve the problem of climate change in this century – just because it is more expensive than leaving things as they are”, – stressed Jorgen Randers, a Norwegian scientist, author of the book “2052: a global forecast for the next forty years” (2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years).
“The climate problem will become more acute, because we can’t do what is promised in the Paris agreement and other similar documents,” he says.
And even though we all live on the same planet, the poorest regions of the world are the first to feel the approaching collapse. Yes there are some States now play the unenviable role of a Canary in the mine for example, it is possible to observe that sooner or later it will end, and richer nation.
For example, in Syria some time ago observed the explosive growth of the population. But then, in the late 2000s, followed by severe droughts (possibly exacerbated by climate change) that dealt a blow to local agriculture.
Particularly affected by the crisis young people – many were left without work. Angry and desperate, they flooded the city in the country, the government which is struggling to cope with maintaining at least some level of well-being for residents.
It existed before the ethnic tension reached new levels, becoming fertile ground for violence and all kinds of conflicts.
Add to that the badly administration of the state – and the country was plunged into civil war, which put the Syrian society on the brink of collapse.
In the case of Syria – as with many other social collapses in history – we must blame no one but a variety of factors, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, the canadian scientist and environmentalist, author of “the decline” (The Upside of Down).
He calls these factors the tectonic stresses (tectonic stresses) is due to the fact that they quietly accumulate power and suddenly explode (like volcanos erupt), thereby overloading and breaking the social mechanisms of stabilization.
In addition to the case of Syria, Homer-Dixon points to another sign that mankind has entered a dangerous cycle of development: frequent cases of nonlinearities, unexpected change in a routine world order: the economic crisis of 2008, “brakcet”, the winning trump in the presidential election in the United States…
The budget problems of the Roman Empire
Our past gives us hints on what may happen in the future.
Take, for example, the Roman Empire. By the end of 100 BC, the Romans controlled the Mediterranean – all of its regions, which was easy to get to the sea (it was the only state in history, which belonged to the entire coast of the Mediterranean sea – Approx. interpreter).
They would stop, but things had gone so well that they decided to push the land boundary.
But travel by land are not economical, as on the water. Expanding the borders of the Empire, the Romans gradually sapped their reserves, but still, despite this, for several centuries, the Empire remained stable.
Starting from the III century it began to pursue troubles, from invasions of barbarians to civil wars.
Rome tried to keep the control over at least their core areas, but the maintenance of a powerful army hung a heavy yoke on the budget, inflation grew.
Some scientists call the beginning of the fall of the Empire in the year 410, when the Visigoths sacked Rome, but this was possible only because the premises had matured a long time ago.
According to Joseph Tainter, American anthropologist and historian, author of “the Collapse of complex societies” (The Collapse of Complex Societies), one of the main lessons of the collapse of the Roman Empire is that the more complex the society, the higher the price we pay for it.
To the III century Rome did, which added new elements to the Imperial structure: the army has doubled in size, increased the cavalry, the number of provinces grew, and with it grew the bureaucracy.
All this was necessary to maintain the status quo. In the end the Empire had not the strength and resources to continue to do so. To the collapse of the Empire led, not war, and budgetary problems.
We will save the new oil?
Modern Western society from time to time was able to suppress all signs of a possible collapse with the help of fossil fuels and industrial technologies. Example: when oil prices began to grow uncontrollably, they invented the technology of hydraulic fracturing.
The Tainter, however, suspects that the West will not be able to get out to infinity. “Just imagine what the cost would be if we want to build a wall around Manhattan to save it from high tides and storms,” he says.
Sooner or later, investment in complexity as a strategy to address the challenges facing society, reached the point where the profit disappears. This will lead to budgetary problems and the vulnerability of society to such a degree that it will simply collapse.
So be it, he said, if only we can find a way to pay for our ever increasing difficulty – roughly the same as our ancestors built their prosperity on oil and gas.
Homer-Dixon suggests that the collapse of Western civilization will be preceded by the growth of isolationism. As the poorer States are sinking deeper in conflicts and other disasters, waves of migrants will flood in more stable regions of the world.
The Western countries limit or even prohibit immigration along the borders will be constructed of expensive walls, they will be patrolled by drones and border troops, the government will become more authoritarian and populist.
Meanwhile, the deepening gap between rich and poor will encourage Western companies to internal instability.
“By 2050, the US and Britain will turn into a two-class society in which a small-sized elite will enjoy all the benefits, but for the majority the standard of living will steadily fall, predicts Randers. And will disappear before civilization disappears equality”.
According to Homer-Dixon, people will become more and more isolated in their religious, ethnic, and national communities, rejecting outsiders.
Denial of proven facts and their own guilt in the problems (a phenomenon now very common) will become a popular mindset. All will be to blame outsiders, “not like us”. General discontent will grow, creating prerequisites for mass violence.
And when this abscess of violence will break – or a neighboring state deems it necessary to restore order, as it understands it, and civilizational collapse is difficult to avoid.
The first in this case, it affected Western Europe – due to its proximity to Africa, the Middle East and because of its proximity with the more unstable Eastern European States. USA will last longer as they are separated by ocean.
Is that bad?
On the other hand, Western society does not necessarily waiting for a dramatic end to the violence.
In some cases, civilization became more and more relegated to the role over time quietly disappeared and become history without fanfare.
The British Empire went this way since 1918, says Randers, and other Western States, too, can go the same route, in the process, renouncing many of the values to which they adhere today.
“Western Nations are not waiting for the collapse – says Randers. – Just the state will no longer operate so quietly and efficiently, as it is now, because in the foreground there will be inequality. Democracy and liberalism will be defeated, and the winners will be such authoritarian governments, as in China”.
All these forecasts we should not be too surprising – after all, much of what they say sociologists, political scientists and economists, we are already familiar. For example, Homer-Dixon predicted part of the current events in 2006. However, he did not expect some of their dramatic development before the mid-2020s.
However, for Western civilization, all is not lost. If the key decisions be guided by reason and advice of scientists, if politicians will demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities and good will, then human society will go forward further and further, said Homer-Dixon.
Even if we consider that humanity will have to live under the stress of climate change, growing congestion and decreasing energy efficiency, we can support sustainable development and even make our society better.
But you need to step on the throat of their desires and instincts, which seem to push us: Hey, enough already operate, enough of this bounty, enough to listen to the voice of reason…
“The question is: will we be able to keep our world a humane, going through all these changes?” – emphasizes Homer-Dixon.
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