Tag Archives: Colapso civilizacional

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule (Motherboard)

A 1972 MIT study predicted that rapid economic growth would lead to societal collapse in the mid 21st century. A new paper shows we’re unfortunately right on schedule.

By Nafeez Ahmed – July 14, 2021, 10:00am

A remarkable new study by a director at one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that a famous, decades-old warning from MIT about the risk of industrial civilization collapsing appears to be accurate based on new empirical data. 

As the world looks forward to a rebound in economic growth following the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the research raises urgent questions about the risks of attempting to simply return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’

In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources.

The controversial MIT analysis generated heated debate, and was widely derided at the time by pundits who misrepresented its findings and methods. But the analysis has now received stunning vindication from a study written by a senior director at professional services giant KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms as measured by global revenue.

Limits to growth

The study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.

The study represents the first time a top analyst working within a mainstream global corporate entity has taken the ‘limits to growth’ model seriously. Its author, Gaya Herrington, is Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at KPMG in the United States. However, she decided to undertake the research as a personal project to understand how well the MIT model stood the test of time.

The study itself is not affiliated or conducted on behalf of KPMG, and does not necessarily reflect the views of KPMG. Herrington performed the research as an extension of her Masters thesis at Harvard University in her capacity as an advisor to the Club of Rome. However, she is quoted explaining her project on the KPMG website as follows: 

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”

Titled ‘Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data’, the study attempts to assess how MIT’s ‘World3’ model stacks up against new empirical data. Previous studies that attempted to do this found that the model’s worst-case scenarios accurately reflected real-world developments. However, the last study of this nature was completed in 2014. 

The risk of collapse 

Herrington’s new analysis examines data across 10 key variables, namely population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. She found that the latest data most closely aligns with two particular scenarios, ‘BAU2’ (business-as-usual) and ‘CT’ (comprehensive technology). 

“BAU2 and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now,” the study concludes. “Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century.”

Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse “does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,” but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.”

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The ‘Business-as-Usual’ scenario (Source: Herrington, 2021)

The end of growth? 

In the comprehensive technology (CT) scenario, economic decline still sets in around this date with a range of possible negative consequences, but this does not lead to societal collapse.

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The ‘Comprehensive Technology’ scenario (Source: Herrington, 2021)

Unfortunately, the scenario which was the least closest fit to the latest empirical data happens to be the most optimistic pathway known as ‘SW’ (stabilized world), in which civilization follows a sustainable path and experiences the smallest declines in economic growth—based on a combination of technological innovation and widespread investment in public health and education.

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The ‘Stabilized World’ Scenario (Source: Herrington, 2021)

Although both the business-as-usual and comprehensive technology scenarios point to the coming end of economic growth in around 10 years, only the BAU2 scenario “shows a clear collapse pattern, whereas CT suggests the possibility of future declines being relatively soft landings, at least for humanity in general.” 

Both scenarios currently “seem to align quite closely not just with observed data,” Herrington concludes in her study, indicating that the future is open.   

A window of opportunity 

While focusing on the pursuit of continued economic growth for its own sake will be futile, the study finds that technological progress and increased investments in public services could not just avoid the risk of collapse, but lead to a new stable and prosperous civilization operating safely within planetary boundaries. But we really have only the next decade to change course. 

“At this point therefore, the data most aligns with the CT and BAU2 scenarios which indicate a slowdown and eventual halt in growth within the next decade or so, but World3 leaves open whether the subsequent decline will constitute a collapse,” the study concludes. Although the ‘stabilized world’ scenario “tracks least closely, a deliberate trajectory change brought about by society turning toward another goal than growth is still possible. The LtG work implies that this window of opportunity is closing fast.”

In a presentation at the World Economic Forum in 2020 delivered in her capacity as a KPMG director, Herrington argued for ‘agrowth’—an agnostic approach to growth which focuses on other economic goals and priorities.  

“Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity,” she said. “Human activity can be regenerative and our productive capacities can be transformed. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.” 

She noted how the rapid development and deployment of vaccines at unprecedented rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that we are capable of responding rapidly and constructively to global challenges if we choose to act. We need exactly such a determined approach to the environmental crisis.

“The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible,” said Herrington. 

The best available data suggests that what we decide over the next 10 years will determine the long-term fate of human civilization. Although the odds are on a knife-edge, Herrington pointed to a “rapid rise” in environmental, social and good governance priorities as a basis for optimism, signalling the change in thinking taking place in both governments and businesses. She told me that perhaps the most important implication of her research is that it’s not too late to create a truly sustainable civilization that works for all.

Philippe Descola: “Diante do monstruoso choque epidêmico das grandes conquistas, os povos ameríndios usaram a dispersão para sobreviver” (France Culture)

20 de abril de 2020 – traduzido por Google Translator; revisado por Renzo Taddei

Você pode ouvir a entrevista completa, em francês, no artigo original.

Enquanto o mundo está parado, observamos a primavera florescer da nossa janela. E se, paradoxalmente, ser separado da natureza nos aproximar dela? Como repensar a coabitação entre homens e não-humanos?

Philippe Descola, anthropologue, professeur émérite au Collège de France et chaire Anthropologie de la nature est l'invité exceptionnel des Matins ce lundi
Philippe Descola, antropólogo, professor emérito do Collège de France e titular da cadeira de antropologia da natureza, é o convidado especial nesta segunda-feira • Créditos: FREDERICK FLORIN – AFP

Embora o vínculo do homem com o meio ambiente esteja diretamente envolvido nessa crise de saúde, devemos repensar nosso relacionamento com a natureza? É o que propõe Philippe Descola, a quem estamos recebendo hoje. Em 1976, ele partiu como estudante para descobrir os Achuars, um povo Jivaro localizado no coração da Amazônia, entre o Equador e o Peru. A experiência gerou uma longa reflexão sobre o antropocentrismo que abre o caminho para uma nova relação entre os seres humanos e seu ambiente.

A epidemia é uma consequência da ação humana sobre a natureza? É uma doença do Antropoceno? O que podemos aprender com o vínculo que certas pessoas têm com o meio ambiente?

Philippe Descola é professor emérito do Collège France, titular da cadeira de antropologia da natureza de 2000 a 2019. Ele é o autor de Les natures en question (Ed. Odile Jacob, 2017).

Qual a resposta dos achuars às epidemias?

“Não há lembranças do desastre. Estima-se que cerca de 90% da população ameríndia desapareceu entre os séculos XVI e XIX. Existe uma espécie de imaginação implícita do contato com a doença dos “brancos”. Portanto, quando os “brancos” chegaram nos remotos ambientes ameríndios, o primeiro reflexo dos ameríndios foi a desconfiança e o distanciamento.”

A doença é apenas um elemento em uma procissão de abominações provocada pela colonização. Philippe Descola

“Cada povo reagiu às suas epidemias de acordo com sua concepção de contágio. A noção de contágio levou algum tempo para se espalhar na Europa, diferentemente dos povos ameríndios. Foi isso que lhes permitiu adotar as ações corretas.”

Falando em “natureza”: um erro?

“A natureza é um conceito ocidental que designa todos os não-humanos. E essa separação entre humanos e não-humanos resultou na introdução de uma distância social entre eles”.

Você pode pensar que o vírus é uma metáfora para a humanidade. Temos o mesmo relacionamento instrumental com a Terra que um vírus. De certa forma, os seres humanos são o patógeno do planeta. Philippe Descola

“Essa ideia muito humana de que a natureza é infinita resultou nesse sistema singular, baseado em produtividade e lucratividade, que causou uma catástrofe planetária”.

O ideal do “mundo depois”

“Espero que o próximo mundo seja diferente do anterior. A pandemia nos dá um marcador temporário. Essa transformação, eu vejo isso com interesse, está tomando forma e vínculos com seres não-humanos são tecidos novamente. Temos que viver com uma mentalidade que não destrua o meio ambiente “.

A idéia não é possuir a natureza, mas ser possuído por um ambiente. Philippe Descola

A Future as Clouded as Their Past (New York Times)

Credit: Carl Wiens

We won’t ever know what the Anasazi were thinking on the eve of the 13th century when they abandoned the cities they had worked so long to build on the Colorado Plateau. The reasons had something to do with climate — a great drought and, perhaps on top of that, a mini ice age. If that wasn’t enough to defeat a thriving culture, there was the turmoil that came from just not knowing. Why were the sky and earth behaving so strangely? Why wasn’t the old magic working anymore?

The rains were not just sparser. They were no longer coming when they were supposed to — when the seedlings were in the ground waiting for water. Cooler temperatures were putting an earlier end to the growing season. Fields had been overplanted, forests stripped of wood. Crops were failing as people reverted from agriculture to hunting and gathering and fighting violently over food.

Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde — these grand stone settlements fell silent, repurposed centuries later as national parks and monuments, memorials to the repercussions of ancient climate change.

There are many theories seeking to explain the abandonment, abstracted from faint clues in old rocks and bones and in the patterns of tree rings and pollen deposition. By some measures, there was enough water, just barely, for the Anasazi settlements to hang on. And there is evidence that they had survived drier times. A more complex story has emerged as archaeologists try to infer what they can from changes in architectural styles and pottery design — hints perhaps of a people trying out new rituals, new ways to entreat suddenly indifferent gods.

Something was happening — a slow horror, perhaps so slow that it didn’t feel like a horror, until the Anasazi’s culture began to unwind. Did their leaders engage at first in denial and then quiet deliberation? When that failed, did communities split into factions with the conservatives insisting on standing their ground — clinging to the old ways and waiting for the rains to return — and the liberals pushing for new approaches? Did a visionary arise? Some Moses leading a migration? Or three Moseses leading migrations in different directions?

One way or the other, the Anasazi disintegrated, the people moving southward. Their descendants are believed to live now in the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, perched on mesa tops and hugging the banks of the Rio Grande.

In modern times, many of these pueblos divide themselves, for reasons they keep from the anthropologists, into kinship groups called summer and winter people or squash and turquoise people. Could these divisions be imprints left from that 13th-century upheaval?

It is frustrating how little is known. Compared with the Byzantines, the Normans, or the Mongols, the Anasazi left such faint traces, like ripples from the radiation of their own Big Bang. They have an oral history but it is mostly secret. And there is only so much that can be derived from mythology. The closest we have to records are the crude rock etchings called petroglyphs. Were these symbols in a rudimentary language or just doodling?

Our own deliberations — imprinted onto electromagnetic waves — have been pulsing outward from Earth since the first radio news shows in the 1920s and 30s, interspersed with the “Grand Ole Opry” and the “Amos ’n’ Andy” show.

By now broadcasts about greenhouses gases, melting ice caps and rising sea levels are rippling far beyond Alpha Centauri, along with the carefully calculated outrage of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. As the waves travel farther, they converge asymptotically toward a vanishing point. Even at their strongest they might seem as esoteric to curious aliens as Anasazi rock art.

Our later emanations, if they are ever understood, might tell of great feats of geoengineering: swarms of orbiting mirrors to bounce back sunlight, oceans fertilized to create carbon-absorbing algae blooms.

The Anasazi had to make do with simpler technology — water catchment basins, irrigation channels. But when all else failed at least they had somewhere to go.

Stuck here on Earth, do we embrace the Anthropocene — this new geological epoch in which the human race has become its own force of nature? Or do we hunker down for the sixth extinction? Faced with the dilemma, we cleave as naturally as a crystal into factions, like the squash people and the pumpkin people.

Diane Ackerman is one of the latest to join the environmental optimists, who believe that the same kind of technological prowess that got us into this mess will help us adapt to it, in ways we can only begin to imagine. (Her new book, “The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us” is reviewed on Page 5.)

With her following, Ms. Ackerman may become the counterpart to Bill McKibben, the environmentalist whose book “Eaarth” (he changed the name of the planet since we have irremediably transformed the place) called for a return to simpler times with backyard farms instead of lawns and decentralized green energy. The Anasazi with solar panels on the roof.

Finally there is the 25 percent of Americans (“cool skeptics,” as a Gallup poll called them) who don’t believe the keepers of the models — the interpreters of the signs. As we flail we are generating so much data that future archaeologists, if they exist, may be overwhelmed — the opposite problem presented by the Anasazi.

More than 700 years after their fall, we have the knowledge to tell us what is going wrong this time with the atmosphere. But that has made it no easier to agree on a plan. Science can only lay the case out on the table. For all our supercomputers and climatological models, what happens next will come down to something unpredictable: the meteorology of the human mind.

Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades (Independent)

‘Business as usual’ approach of economic elite will lead society to disaster, scientists warn

ADAM WITHNALL

Sunday 16 March 2014

Modern civilisation is heading for collapse within a matter of decades because of growing economic instability and pressure on the planet’s resources, according to a scientific study funded by Nasa.

Using theoretical models to predict what will happen to the industrialised world over the course of the next century or so, mathematicians found that even with conservative estimates things started to go very badly, very quickly.

Referring to the past collapses of often very sophisticated civilisations – the Roman, Han and Gupta Empires for example – the study noted that the elite of society have often pushed for a “business as usual” approach to warnings of disaster until it is too late.

In the report based on his “Human And Nature Dynamical” (Handy) model, the applied mathematician Safa Motesharri wrote: “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history”.

His research, carried out with the help of a team of natural and social scientists and with funding from Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has been accepted for publication in the Ecological Economics journal, the Guardian reported.

Motesharri explored the factors which could lead to the collapse of civilisation, from population growth to climate change, and found that when these converge they can cause society to break down because of the “stretching of resources” and “the economic stratification of society into ‘Elites’ and ‘Masses’”.

Using his Handy model to assess a scenario closely resembling the current state of the world, Motesharri found that civilisation “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 the Masses that eventually causes the collapse of society”.

The report stressed, however, that the worst-case scenario of collapse is not inevitable, and called on action now from the so-called real world “Elites” to restore economic balance.

“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 scientists said.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to warn us of potentially impending global disaster. Last year it emerged that Stephen Hawking and a team of Britain’s finest minds are drawing up a “doomsday list” of the catastrophic low-risk (but high-impact) events that could devastate the world.