A new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center confirmed the prospect that worldwide industrial civilization could collapse in the coming decades under “unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution,” Dr. Nafeez Ahmed reports at The Guardian.

The study dismissed the notion that warnings of “collapse” should remain fringe or controversial, citing the history of the fall of previous civilizations to show that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.”

Nafeez states the project is based on a new model that integrates data from multiple fields of study and was developed by the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. It finds that history shows advanced, complex civilizations are susceptible to collapse:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

The most relevant interrelated factors, the study concluded, were population, climate, water, agriculture and energy. Nafeez writes:

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

The study claims that “elites” in industrialized countries are largely responsible for inequality and overconsumption, and challenges the idea that technology can resolve these problems by simply increasing industrial and economic efficiency:

Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.

The researchers, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri, concluded that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… collapse is difficult to avoid.” One scenario is described as follows:

[Civilization] appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.

Read more of the bad news here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface.  We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig