Here’s How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse

Too much inequality and too few natural resources could leave the West vulnerable to a Roman Empire-style fall.

National Journal
Alex Brown
March 18, 2014, 11:47 a.m.

Few think West­ern civil­iz­a­tion is on the brink of col­lapse — but it’s also doubt­ful the Ro­mans and Meso­pot­ami­ans saw their own de­mise com­ing either.

If we’re to avoid their fate, we’ll need policies to re­duce eco­nom­ic in­equal­ity and pre­serve nat­ur­al re­sources, ac­cord­ing to a NASA-fun­ded study that looked at the col­lapses of pre­vi­ous so­ci­et­ies.

“Two im­port­ant fea­tures seem to ap­pear across so­ci­et­ies that have col­lapsed,” reads the study. “The stretch­ing of re­sources due to the strain placed on the eco­lo­gic­al car­ry­ing ca­pa­city and the eco­nom­ic strat­i­fic­a­tion of so­ci­ety in­to Elites and Masses.”

In un­equal so­ci­et­ies, re­search­ers said, “col­lapse is dif­fi­cult to avoid…. Elites grow and con­sume too much, res­ult­ing in a fam­ine among Com­mon­ers that even­tu­ally causes the col­lapse of so­ci­ety.”

As lim­ited re­sources plague the work­ing class, the wealthy, in­su­lated from the prob­lem, “con­tin­ue con­sum­ing un­equally” and ex­acer­bate the is­sue, the study said.

Mean­while, re­sources con­tin­ue to be used up, even by the tech­no­lo­gies de­signed to pre­serve them. For in­stance, “an in­crease in vehicle fuel ef­fi­ciency tech­no­logy tends to en­able in­creased per cap­ita vehicle miles driv­en, heav­ier cars, and high­er av­er­age speeds, which then neg­ate the gains from the in­creased fuel-ef­fi­ciency,” the study said.

The re­search­ers used what they termed a Hu­man And Nature DY­nam­ic­al (HANDY) for­mula to reach their con­clu­sions. The for­mula uses factors such as birth rates, re­sources, and in­come classes to cre­ate a math­em­at­ic­al equa­tion to pro­ject out­comes.

The study was sponsored by NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter and headed by the Na­tion­al Sci­ence Found­a­tion’s Safa Mote­shar­rei.

For those who think mod­ern so­ci­ety is im­mune from the prob­lems that brought down an­cient civil­iz­a­tions, a “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,” the study said.

So how do we save ourselves? “Col­lapse can be avoided, and pop­u­la­tion can reach a steady state at the max­im­um car­ry­ing ca­pa­city, if the rate of de­ple­tion of nature is re­duced to a sus­tain­able level, and if re­sources are dis­trib­uted equit­ably,” reads the re­port.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4769) }}

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
3 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.