NASA study: Inequality, ecological strain threatens civilisation collapse

Monday, March 24, 2014

“Ecological strain” and “economic stratification” could lead to the global fall of modern civilisation within decades, researchers warn in a disturbing new study sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

History shows that “complex, advanced civilizations” from the Roman to the Han empires are capable of collapse, note the authors, who hail from the Universities of Maryland and Minnesota.

Based on this premise, Nafeez Ahmed said in the March 14 Guardian, the researchers employ “a new cross-disciplinary 'Human And Nature DYnamical' (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists”.

Over the past 5000 years of human history, the study says “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity, and the division of society into Elites (rich) and Commoners (poor)” as a result of the previously mentioned factors have appeared “across societies that have collapsed”.

The report authors warn that these trends are present in modern civilisation. Modelling possible scenarios, the study concludes: “Given economic stratification, collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality ... Even in the absence of economic stratification, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high.

“However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The findings will appear in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Economics, said Ahmed.

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]

From GLW issue 1002