Will civilization collapse in the coming decades?

Annual population percent change in the world....
Annual population percent change in the world. Source: CIA World Factbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, there is a NASA funded study which says so.

If history is any guide, our civilization will eventually collapse.  Every other society in human history has ultimately done so: Sumer, Egypt, Rome, etc.  There’s no good reason to think we’ve beaten the civilization life cycle, any more than there is to believe the assertions we always seem to hear in good economic times that recessions have been eliminated.  It’s only a matter of time.

That said, I’m profoundly skeptical of any predictions of it being imminent.  Another thing that appears to be a constant in history are assertions that disaster is upon us.  Someone is always accusing the current generation of going to hell in a hand basket, and unless it cleans up its act, it is doomed.  These assertions seem to happen all the time with little correlation to how close they are to any actual collapse.

I remember in my college world history class reading about all the Roman historians who, in every century of both the republic and empire’s existence, predicted disaster if they didn’t clean up their act.  It only became accurate in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Based on the linked article, I do think the study makes some good recommendations, such as for a more equitable allocation of resources, a wiser strategy of consumption of those resources, and putting a lid on population growth.  Actually, getting the first will usually lead to the last one.

Specifically, giving women equal rights has been shown to curtail population growth, as it allows them to have an identity other than as a mother.  Indeed I tend to think that the population explosion is the number one problem in the world.  Most of the other major problems are details of that problem.

It’s hard to see in day to day stories, but I think the broad sweep of history is moving in the right direction.  Women around the world have far more rights than they have historically, and it appears to be increasing.  The crucial question is whether it will happen fast enough to curtail population growth before any sort of ecological collapse.

A related danger is what we’re doing to the environment.  I doubt climate change will lead to our extinction, although that’s not something anyone can know for sure.  But it will possibly curtail the standard of living and economic vitality for several generations of our descendants.  Whether or not it leads to civilizational collapse is something I’m not confident anyone can predict.

11 thoughts on “Will civilization collapse in the coming decades?

  1. Thank you for posting this. I read it yesterday on an Independent news cite and was disheartened but not the least bit surprised.

    Specifically, giving women equal rights has been shown to curtail population growth, as it allows them to have an identity other than as a mother. Women around the world have far more rights than they have historically, and it appears to be increasing.”

    Sadly, it’s not increasing. Between 2011 and 2012 there was an unprecedented rise in the passage of provisions related to women’s health and reproductive rights from conservative legislation in America. In 2011 alone, State legislatures across the United States introduced approximately 1100 provisions. It is quite possible that the Supreme Court will determine soon that corporations are people of faith and will have the right to deny women access to contraceptives not only via insurance, but health care facilities and pharmacies.

    As it that’s not bad enough, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) on Tuesday ruled that Pakistani laws prohibiting marriage of underage children are un-Islamic Therefore, there is no age limit to children (mostly girls) being forced to marry. Child brides traditions have become an epidemic throughout the world.

    “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” ~Aldous Huxley


    1. Thanks. Those are definitely alarming setbacks. In this country at least, I hope people wake up to what is happening and vote accordingly.

      However, I was speaking in broader historical terms worldwide and across the span of generations and centuries where, despite setbacks, enormous progress has been made. It’s not inevitable that it will continue, and it won’t happen by itself, but the broad sweep of history is in the right direction.


      1. Thanks for your reply. I understood your initial comment and was focused on

        “and it appears to be increasing.”

        James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum in New York and a prominent thinker on the globalization of the Christian right stated:

        “We have a conservative period now in history — a substantial movement to the right around the world,”


  2. I’m skeptical of any broad theory of collapse, since the civilizations that have collapsed usually did for their own unique reasons. The Greenland Norse collapsed because of a changing climate (same for the Anasazi), the western Roman Empire collapsed because of an indefensible border and a political structure that led to frequent civil wars, and many of the rest were just conquered by other civilizations.

    For worldwide civilization to collapse, you’d need something akin to a super-plague killing 90% of the population, or a major asteroid impact. Otherwise the complexity of the system as well as the interconnection help to make it more resistant to local problems. Look at the major corn and soybean crop failure in the US in 2012 – it didn’t even seriously affect prices that much.


    1. I agree. Civilization collapsing usually means the dominant civilization collapsing, often replaced by another ascendant culture. Although the Roman collapse arguably was replaced by less developed societies.


  3. It will be some sort of pandemic that does Humans in. The pandemic will result from some sort of conflict. Like the Spanish flu during the latter stages of World War One.


  4. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t answer the question “What natural laws of reality contribute to civilisation collapse?”.


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