Civilizations – Part 3

File:Pripyat CentralSquare.jpg

(…continued).

If a civilization outstrips the available resources and does not manage to stop growing, it will use up its reserves (raw materials, ecosystems, biodiversity, land, water, the ability of the environment (including the atmosphere) to take up its waste products, sources of energy) and then it will be too big for the resources that could be available in a sustainable way. It will then collapse, i.e. it will be destroyed by the entropy accumulating inside it, and fall apart. This can be compared to the starvation of an organism. For our industrial, technical civilization, this end is gradually appearing above the horizon. I don’t know when the final collapse is going to happen; I think it is a matter of a few decades, maybe even a hundred years but hardly more. I may not experience it myself (I am in my 50s now) but it will probably happen during the lifetime of the generation of our children or grandchildren, during the lifetime of people who are now young.

File:Destruction in Homs (4).jpg

This collapse will not only cause the death of billions of people, part of it is the mass extinction of other life forms as well that we are causing by using these life forms as resources, by polluting them and by competing with them for resources like land and water. This is happening already and we will continue witnessing the accelerating destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity in our lifetime.

I don not know exactly how the final collaps is going to happen. I would expect an increase in “natural” disasters like droughts, storms and floods over the next decades (this is happening already, but we haven’t seen anything yet). I would expect deforestation, soil desctruction, desertification, land erosion, destruction of groundwater reserves and the destruction of aquatic ecosystems. I would expect increasing numbers of cases of unrest and of wars and large and ever increasing numbers of refugees. I would expect deepening economic crises and turmoil. Eventually, in more and more places, technical civilization is going to break down. When the electricity systems collapse, supplies of water, fuel and food will also collapse. Those of us who depend on these systems are going to die except for a few. Those of us living in poorer areas might survive this collapse, but many on these areas are hardest hit by environmental degradation. There are estimates that the population of the world will peak at about 12 billion people in a few decades. After the collapse, I would expect less than a billion to remain, on a devastated planet.

Our system of living is doomed. It is not sustainable. If something is not sustainable, it will not be sustained. That is the simple meaning of the word. There are only two possibilities then: either, the system will be transformed into a sustainable one or it will collapse. As long as most people are only trying to become as rich as possible, i.e. to increase their consumption of resources as much as they can (because that is the actual meaning of the word “rich”), and as long as politicians still think or proclaim that growth is the solution of problems, instead of the problem, everything points towards collapse.

Civilizations are inherently unstable. For example, while the societies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors seem to have been relatively stable and existed for tens of thousands of years, there was a slow growth leading to crises. They spread all over the world and the destruction began already back then, with the extinction of a number of large animals probably caused by our ancestors. Once the climatic conditions became stable enough, agriculture was independently invented about a dozen times. Writing was invented at least 5 times. And had the industrial revolution not taken place in 18th century Britain, it would have happened somewhere else. This course of events was, it seems, almost inevitable.

It is likely that wherever in the universe civilizations, i.e. creative dissipative systems, occur, they will start growing. The question is: will this always lead to a catastrophic collapse in the end, destroying the civilization and leading to a mass extinction of other life forms? Is the destructive development we are witnessing at the moment inevitable?

(to be continued).

(The first picture, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pripyat_CentralSquare.jpg, showing a view of the abandoned city of Prypat, gives an impression how cities might look after the collapse. In some places, we have to expect violent events to take place during the collapse. This kind of events is exemplified here by the second picture, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Destruction_in_Homs_(4).jpg, showing a view of the destroyed city of Homs.)

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15 comments

  1. Reblogged this on The Asifoscope and commented:

    Part 3, concentrating on the likely future of our civilization.

  2. Unpleasant, but likely. The usual responses include, ‘let our children worry about that,’ or ‘science will find a way,’ failing to address the larger issues, e.g., where will find the political will to address problems some don’t even admit exist? The longer this goes on, the less likely we will make corrective changes.

    1. The ‘science will find a way’ response is what has been done all the time: creativity has been used to find new resources and to find new ways of using resources. But this does not solve the problem. If we find technologies that increase our available resources by a factor n and our economy is growing exponentially with some growth rate x, simple math is showing that this would buy us some time, but would not solve the problem. The “limits of growth” model in the 1970s already showed that if you have more resources, you get more pollution in the end and the system still collapses. Increasing efficiency also only stretches the resources. What we would need is to shrink to a sustainable level, do a complete recycling of all materials, stop driving species into extinction and use only renewable resources. In order to become sustainable, our world economy would have to stop growing.
      “Let our children worry about that” is the attitude of an exploiter. We are practically exploiting all future generations. That is worse than slavery. And the younger and youngest generation alife today is probably the generation it will hit.
      These responses are, of couse, part of the growth-inducing attitude. The sub-civilization that has attitudes producing the fastest growth will outgrow the others and become dominant. So the “winner” is a consumerist, superficial, unreflected, ruthless capitalist “culture” adhering to a belief that unlimited growth is possible, that economic growth is the solution to all political problems and with an economic “science” that treats resources as external to the system and as unlimited (something that has worked well for over 200 years), a culture in which the right to enrich yourself and to own as much as you can is treated as a basic human right. Denialism is, of course, also part of this growth-inducing “DNA” of our civilization, as is the emergence of large military and political power systems.

  3. The stunning images add so much to your words. I’m glad you posted their locations. I’ve never heard of Prypat!

    1. I think it is possible now to go to Pripyat as a tourist. You will get a dosimeter and you can go there for day trips and take pictures. It was the city where the people working at Chernobyl used to live.
      Since I am not a photographer myslef, I usually take my pictures from Wikimedia Commons.
      You can find some memories of the Chernobyl accident that I have posted before here: http://asifoscope.org/2013/10/06/the-playground/ (the pictures there are also from Wikimedia Commons).

      1. Thank you for your detailed reply!

  4. Christine Keller · · Reply

    We have seen the movie Collapse from 2009 yesterday. exactly on this subject. It is good to see I guess but he says pretty much similar things as you say… I recommend…

    1. From what I read about him on the web, some people think Ruppert was a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know him and I don’t make any judgement about him since I don’t have the information needed for that.,
      The important point is that all I am doing here is to start with an abstract concept of civilization and derive arguments why civilizations are unstable.
      The particular prediction I am making is that our civilization is likely to collapse within the next 50 to 100 years or so. I do not referr to any state’s particular politics or whatever.
      The particular information about the state of the biosphere, the state of the available mineral reserves, and the state of global warming etc. that I use to estimate that we probably have a few decades left is from public media, for example New Scientist magazin (things like http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26290-worlds-wildlife-population-halved-in-just-40-years.html#.VQ-1vvmG-So, reporting on a report from WWF, (just one example)).

      1. Christine Keller · · Reply

        I think you can see that movie online. It is obvious to me why this guy is called conspiracy theorist. I think hesounded quite down to earth,.He calls himself an investigaive journalist. I find his film quite good… see if you find it on youtube. I think we could have watched it on yutube.. It is called COLLAPSE

  5. Christine Keller · · Reply
  6. Richard · · Reply

    This is excellent nannus. You certainly are addressing the big picture here. As you know, this subject has become nearly an obsession with me and it’s quite rewarding to find someone whose opinions and abilities I respect thinking so much along the same lines.

    I take issue only with paragraph five that begins; “Civilizations are inherently unstable“. With that first sentence I agree absolutely. Other parts, however are open to debate.

    They spread all over the world and the destruction began already back then, with the extinction of a number of large animals probably caused by our ancestors.

    Although the overkill hypothesis (or variations thereof) applied to oceanic islands extinctions is generally accepted today, whether overkill explains extinctions on continents remains highly controversial. The most serious obstacle to overkill is that in most regions archaeological evidence for human exploitation of extinct taxa is scarce. In North America, for example, although 33 genera of large-bodied mammals suffered extinction during the Late Pleistocene, fewer than five can be shown to have been utilized by humans. If humans caused the extinction of North
    American species by over-hunting, then they must have killed thousands if not millions of animals, which begs the question, ‘Where is the archaeological evidence?’ Martin has argued that if blitzkrieg-type overkill happened very quickly, little archaeological evidence would be expected. For others, however, this lack of direct evidence has meant that perhaps we should be seeking explanations for extinctions elsewhere, such as in the dramatic swings in global climate that have occurred during the Quaternary.

    http://www.uwyo.edu/surovell/pdfs/extinction%20encyclopedia.pdf

    While the climate change model is equally controversial, it is at least as plausible as the overkill. There are also theories that lay the blame on disease. Ultimately it is far more likely that a combination of factors were responsible.

    …neither theory has managed to dominate the debate over the cause of the megafaunal extinctions. Instead, the possibility exists that both explanations are simultaneously plausible. Therefore, it follows that studies should move beyond these individual arguments and start formulating multi-causal models that incorporate both climate and overkill into their reasoning.
    http://web.stanford.edu/group/journal/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Gibbons_NatSci_2004.pdf

    Once the climatic conditions became stable enough, agriculture was independently invented about a dozen times.

    I have strong reason to conclude there was a good deal more than climate conditions leading to the “invention” of agriculture, which was, in my opinion, one of the worst mistakes humanity ever made.

    Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies. Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it.

    Logically, it would have been contrived; a purposed belief system, consciously fabricated by self-worshiping humans, which created conditions ultimately leading to permanent, fixed settlements. Sedentary agriculture and the keeping of livestock would then have developed out of necessity, in response to the needs of growing, non-nomadic populations.

    As the quantity of game, wild grains and other foraged food sources in the immediate area became inadequate, a new means of providing sustenance would have been required. This then led to villages, towns, cities, nations, empires and, ultimately, the global cancer of unrestrained growth by which we and our Life Support System are being destroyed today.
    http://wp.me/p5dUI4-RX

    This will definitely be reblogged!

  7. yes, it’s time to start questioning all established ways from ye olde world, industrial/capitalism since mercantilism, social norms all…what is useful now
    is only sustainable practice, my opinion.

  8. […] (continued…) The standard view on resources is to treat them as being external to the system. So we perceive the extension of the system of our civilization as growth. But while this system is growing, the resources are shrinking. If growth happens at a constant rate (measured in percent), it is actually exponential, so the system actually grows faster and faster. We are used to perceiving this as something positive, as prosperity. If, however, we treat the resources as being part of the system, a totally different picture emerges: the system is shrinking, and it does so at an ever increasing rate. Collectively, we are getting poorer and poorer. […]

  9. […] (continued…) The standard view on resources is to treat them as being external to the system. So we perceive the extension of the system of our civilization as growth. But while this system is growing, the resources are shrinking. If growth happens at a constant rate (measured in percent), it is actually exponential, so the system actually grows faster and faster. We are used to perceiving this as something positive, as prosperity. If, however, we treat the resources as being part of the system, a totally different picture emerges: the system is shrinking, and it does so at an ever increasing rate. Collectively, we are getting poorer and poorer. […]

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