And it appears to not be a crack pot study either: The research was conducted by an applied mathematician with a team of natural and social scientists, and will be published in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
What could possibly lead to the collapse of civilization the world-over? The one-two punch of unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution, that's what. Supposedly the combination will cause commoners’ lives to collapse and eventually enough commoners will bite the dust that the elite will go under, too. Researchers cite historical examples of societies going belly-up from these factors: the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Gupta and various Mesopotamian Empires. All their complexity and sophistication couldn’t save them from their own greed.
But what about all our advanced technology? The researchers assert that all that ingenunity will also work against us: though technology can increase efficiency of resource usage, it also raises resource demand to produce all those gadgets and gizmos.
Reversing these trends requires a pretty clear cut action plan: increase economic equality and distribution of resources and dramatically reduce resource consumption. (OK, sure.) Wading even further into controversial territory, the study specifically cites reducing population growth. Upon hearing this, Congress did a total about-face and decreed free contraception for all! (Ha—just kidding.) It’s essentially guaranteed that none of that is going to happen.
There will surely be push back on the study's findings. For one, the fact that the civilizations used as comparisons are all from so long ago (all the civilizations the paper cited collapsed between 2100 BCE and the 5th century AD) makes me wonder if the researchers might be overstating their case a bit. There have always been plenty of naysayers throughout the ages predicting the demise of the world, both among academics and religious fanatics. They all have a real bad track record.
Further, as previously-alluded, this story has been all over the news, with NASA’s name plastered on every headline. Were the researchers fishing for the answer their sponsor wanted in order to grab attention?
But hey, even if they’re right maybe it’s not so bad. Humanity has had a pretty good run. Maybe we should take a cue from the self-reflective hipster characters in Cabin in the Woods and (spoiler alert) just embrace that this is the end. Nero may have played a fiddle as Rome fell, but we get to rock out to our iphones.