End of days: Is global civilization on the brink of collapse?

Great civilizations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives.

So concluded the historian leadership. But it was also brought to its knees when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in

Alfaz All Nazish

Arnold 455. Toynbee in his an exploration

of the rise and fall of 28 different civilizations

He was right in some respects civilizations are often responsible for their own decline. However, their self-media. In fact, many people seem their own decline. However, their self destruction is usually assisted.

The Roman Empire, for example, was the victim of many ills including overexpansion, climatic change, environmental degradation and poor

For the most part, though, people are carrying on as usual, shopping for their next holiday or posing on social blissfully unaware that collapse might be imminent. Are Westerners doing the modern equivalent of sitting around eating grapes while the barbarians hammer on the doors? And more importantly, does science have

any ideas about what is really going on, what might happen next and how people could turn things around?

The first way to look at past civilizations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilization, nor an overarching database of their births

12-volume magnum opus A Study of Collapse is often quick and great- ness provides no immunity. The Roman Empire covered 4.4 million sq km (1.9 million sq. miles) in 390. Five History. It was years later, it had plummeted to 2 and deaths. million sq. km (770,000 sq. miles). By 476, the empire’s reach was zero,

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilizations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilizations, but not all civilizations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd sourced survey of ancient civilizations (which I have amended) Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socioeconomic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Virtually all past civilizations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and The Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the i epicenter of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists

What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilization? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?

I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of normal accidents suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenome non for civilizations, regardless of their size and stage.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix

believe that greater size is armor against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalized economic system is if anything, more likely to make crisis spread. And while our scale may now be

global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to

If the fate of previous civilizations can be a roadmap to our future, what does it say? One method is to examine the trends that preceded historic collapses and see how they are unfolding today

While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations,


When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and decertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilization, the Akkadians the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts


Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, sail degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.

INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can

be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralization of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handi caps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems


Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to over- come new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue


In other words, the four horse- men: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly

epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic

Temperature is a dear metric for climate change, CDP is a proxy for complexity and the ecological foot print is an indicator for environmental degradation. Each of these has been trending steeply upwards.

Today, societal collapse is a more treacherous prospect. The weapons available to a state, and sometimes even groups, during a breakdown new range from biological agents to nuclear weapons. New instruments of violence, such as lethal autonomous weapons, may be available in the near future. People are increasingly specialized and disconnected from the i production of food and basic goods

Can a Collapse of Global Civilization be Avoided

And a changing climate may irreparably damage our ability to return to simple farming practices.

Think of civilization as a poorly built ladder. As you climb, each step that you used falls away. A fall from a height of just a few rungs is fine. Yet the higher you climb, the larger the fall. Eventually, once you reach a sufficient height, any drop from the ladder is fatal.

With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we may have already reached this point of civilizational “terminal velocity”. Any collapse any fall from the ladder risks being permanent. Nuclear war in itself could result in an existential risk: either the extinction of our species, or a permanent catapult back to the Stone Age.

We know what needs to be done: emissions can be reduced, inequalities levelled, environmental degradation reversed, innovation unleashed and economies diversified. The policy. proposals are there. Only the political will is lacking. We can also invest in recovery. There are already well developed ideas for improving the ability of food and knowledge systems to be recuperated after catastrophe. Avoiding the creation of dangerous and widely-accessible technologies is also critical. Such steps will lessen the chance of a future collapse becoming irreversible.

We will only march into collapse if we advance blindly. We are only loomed if we are unwilling to listen to the past.

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