Report: Fall of civilization seems inevitable - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

Report: Fall of civilization seems inevitable

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The civilization at Easter Island is an example of a group that died out because natural resources were depleted. (Source: MGN photos) The civilization at Easter Island is an example of a group that died out because natural resources were depleted. (Source: MGN photos)
In a situation of inequality, such as what's found in modern society, "we find that collapse is difficult to avoid," the study stated. (Source: MGN photos) In a situation of inequality, such as what's found in modern society, "we find that collapse is difficult to avoid," the study stated. (Source: MGN photos)

(RNN) – Income inequality and unsustainable economic growth will precipitate the fall of modern civilization unless structural changes are made, according to a study.

It doesn't specify whether the world will end with a whimper or a bang.

Mathematician Safa Motesharri of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and scientists Eugenia Kalnay and Jorge Rivas drew on a mathematical model to study the phenomenon of societal collapse. Partially funded by a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center grant, their results were published in Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies.

The model consisted of four prediction equations: two for the population classes, one for natural resources and one for wealth. These factors were used to study a number of scenarios.

"It may seem reasonable to believe that modern civilization, armed with its greater technological capacity, scientific knowledge and energy resources, will be able to survive and endure whatever crises historical societies succumbed to," the paper stated. "But the brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse."

Some of the ancient societies listed include the Khmer Empire in southeast Asia, which "was depopulated and swallowed by the forest during the 15th century," the Maya civilization, which "evokes widespread fascination, both because of the advanced nature of Mayan society and because of the depth of the collapse," and the Roman Empire.

Even in situations where it seemed external factors such as natural disasters or military challenges led to downfalls, societies that were healthy enough tended to overcome such obstacles and rebuild.

"The Roman, Han, Assyrian and Mauryan empires were, for centuries, completely military hegemonic, successfully defeating the neighboring ‘barbarian' peoples who eventually did overrun them," the study noted. "So external military pressure alone hardly constitutes an explanation for their collapses."

The Minoan society was healthy enough to rebuild after several earthquakes.

Two factors play heavily in the collapse of civilizations: income inequality and overuse of natural resources, the study suggested.

In a situation of inequality, such as what's found in the modern world, "we find that collapse is difficult to avoid, which helps to explain why economic stratification is one of the elements consistently found in past collapsed societies," the study noted.

For its two-tier concept of modern society, the researchers cited Adrian A. Dragulescu and Victor M. Yakovenko's 2001 article, Exponential and power-law probability distributions of wealth and income in the United Kingdom and the United States, which appeared in Physica A; and Anad Banerjee and Yakovenko's 2010 article, Universal patterns of inequality, which appeared in the New Journal of Physics.

The poor were the typical first segment of society to collapse, even preceding the collapse of natural resources. The rich, termed "Elites" in the study, were only buffered from the effects of collapse for a time before they, too, fell.

Such insulation may have blinded the upper-crust to their impending doom.

"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing," the study explained.

Only by reducing inequality and maintaining population growth below critical levels can the unequal system avoid doom and reach equilibrium, the report noted.

However, even societies that were more equitable ran the risk of ruin if the population's hunger for resources outstripped the resources available.

The study is scheduled to be published in the journal Ecological Economics in April.

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