A Look at Climate History

In the early 1800’s the industrial revolution replaced animal and human muscle power with chemical-fueled mechanical power. The fuel; coal and oil, was captured solar power converted into animal and plant hydrocarbons over 4.5 billion years and sequestered underground by natural geological forces.

The new energy created wealth, progress, a growth of agriculture and a doubling and redoubling of the population. The exhausts from carbon fuel consumption, vented into the air changed the atmosphere by adding CO2 and particulate matter. This change was noted by scientists. The CO2 heated the atmosphere slightly, resulting in the start of sea level rise which was also measured and archived. Air pollution created killing smogs in London and other European cities.

In 1903 the British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, converted the British fleet from coal to oil. Oil could be pumped into ships rather than shoveled into boilers. Ships became faster and more efficient. The Germans and other navies were forced to convert to oil as well.

This was complicated by the fact that although Britain had plentiful coal in Welsh mines, it had no oil. Germany also had no oil and sought colonies in Africa, near to a source of oil and also looked toward the Middle East and Russia.

There are three great British Arabists, Sir Richard Burton (not the actor); T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”; and St.John Philby, father of the famous British traitor and Russian spy, Kim Philby. As a diplomat and colonial bureaucrat, Philby senior explored the Middle East. He and others found a source of petroleum in the largely unexplored Arab Empty Quarter. Philby also found a wandering tribe of Arabs. He made an arrangement: Britain would create and protect a modern state in Arabia, ruled by this tribe in return for rights to the black substance, petroleum, which was seeping from the ground. In return, the tribe could name their new state after themselves and call it Saudi Arabia. Britain started the British Arabian Petroleum company.

As the world converted energy use from wind, hydro, wood-burning, animal and human muscle power to coal, oil and gas, the carbon load in the atmosphere continued to rise, as did sea level, and this was noted and continually graphed and archived by scientists.

Eventually, appalled at what he had seen of the Empire, St.John Philby became disillusioned with his country and his class. He sold Saudi oil rights to the Americans. British Arabian became Aramco.1

In World War I, T.E. Lawrence rallied Saudi tribes and saved the region and its oil for the Allies, who then drew new national boundaries without much regard for tribal factions.

During the thirties, rampant, unfettered Capitalism resulted in the Great Depression, and the disinterested inaction of the Republican President Herbert Hoover created great anger in the American public. A new president from the ruling class, but a populist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, saved the economic system, modifying capitalism with social security, banking rules, unemployment insurance and other reforms.

At the start of World War II, Japan, fearful of being cut off from its oil supply in Indonesia, attacked the United States. Germany attacked in North Africa, in Russia, and in Rumania to gain oil. The US and Britain retained control of oil and, used vast quantities in the American industrial base, it was critical to winning the war.2 When the fuel-starved Japanese military found out that the American’s were pouring oil on dirt roads in the Pacific to cut down on dust, they knew the end was near.

Under Nazi threat of atomic weapons, the US spent 30 billion dollars and three years in a crash program, The Manhattan Project, to create the atomic bomb and as an afterthought, the civilian nuclear power industry.

Petroleum companies, since they powered the modern economies, rapidly became the most profitable and powerful corporations in the world. To encourage production they were given tax breaks and subsidies by all countries of the world.

With the rise of the Cold War, oil gained even more strategic value. In 1953 Kermit Roosevelt of the US CIA, arranged for the disposal of the Iranian president Mosaddegh
and his replacement by the puppet, Shah of Iran, in order to secure Iranian Oil and prevent Russian co-option. The Iranian people did not take kindly to this.

By 1960 the US was divided between Eastern Liberals and Western and Southern Conservatives. President John Kennedy was elected with a Texan, Lyndon Johnson, as Vice President. LBJ was tied closely to and supported by oil interests. When the Kennedy’s angered and threatened the Military Industrial Complex and CIA by preventing a Cuban invasion in the Missile Crisis, by bailing out at the Bay of Pigs, and by deciding to withdraw military advisors from Vietnam, these government agencies started plotting against them.

Kennedy, severely frightened by the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis and and the hair-trigger Mutual Assured Destruction of the Cold War devised a brilliant strategy to defuse the nuclear threat; instead of a war, a race. To the Moon.

But Bobby Kennedy, the President’s Attorney General, threatened the FBI head J. Edgar Hoover by attacking organized crime and possibly revealing Hoover’s connection to the Mafia. The Kennedy’s also threatened Big Oil by planning to eliminate the Oil Depletion Allowance, a source of great wealth and power. With, the addition of civil rights action the administration threatened nearly every Right Wing interest, and a cabal of the above actors had both Kennedys assassinated.

Under Johnson, America entered the civil war in Vietnam as the main combatant, and as part of a Cold War strategy to prevent Communist movement into and takeover of the oil fields of South East Asia. Johnson retained the Oil Depletion Allowance, which pays oil companies for every barrel they pump, so they are paid twice, once for selling the oil and once by the government for….what? Nobody really knows. They also receive tax breaks for the expense of discovering new oil fields and in order to provide subsidized oil to the public. Under these programs and similar ones in foreign countries, the world was encouraged to burn fossil fuels as fast and as dirtily as possible. The Carbon Load continued to rise.

When the US won the Moon race by landing men on the surface, Russian prestige started a long decline. Johnson diminished space exploration funding to support his Great Society social programs and the growing US involvement in the war in Indochina.

When Johnson was forced from office by the stalemate in Vietnam, the Right Wing gained the White House with the election of Richard Nixon.

In 1973 our Saudi allies, through OPEC, the association of oil states that controlled the world price of oil, punished the west with an oil embargo for its support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The oil embargo created a world financial crisis and Nixon ended the costly Apollo program. Scientists and engineers who had committed their lives to Space Colonization, were left with diminished pork-funded space initiatives.

When Nixon was deposed for high crimes, they substituted a Republican bag man, Gerald Ford, who made the deal to pardon Nixon to contain the knowledge of his misdeeds and the political fall out from Republican rule.

In the next election, when their frontrunner, Nelson Rockefeller, suddenly died screwing an intern it became evident that the American public wanted a change from political insiders. They wanted a Jimmy Stewart / Mr. Smith type populist non-politician as president. An obscure “Democrat” peanut farmer was promoted into the Presidency through secret funds guaranteed by the Republican Rockefellers’ Chase Manhattan Bank.

Jimmy Carter, a former naval officer acolyte of Nuclear Submarine Admiral Hyman Rickover and also a member of the Trilateral Commission, a semi-secret Rockefeller Republican think tank, was the feckless placeholder until a suitable Republican stooge could be groomed and vetted.

Ronald Reagan, a failed contract actor, union sell-out and big business frontman was escorted into office with the help of a secret deal with Iranian mullahs to free American hostages captured during the Carter Administration. Carter had tried to create an energy program emphasizing conservation in a new era of scarce and high-priced oil, with taxes to encourage conservation. He wanted to reduce driving, insulate buildings, shift to coal, nuclear power, and solar energy. But conservation called upon Americans to change their lifestyle and people did not believe the problem was serious. “Special interests” fought back. Republicans and southern Democrats opposed the taxes and claimed that freeing the industry from regulation would solve the problem.

Reagan’s first executive order eliminated price controls on oil and natural gas. Production soared, and the price of oil declined by more than 50 percent. The result was a glut. Had Reagan taken advantage of this to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by imposing an oil import fee, or had he encouraged conservation through a tax, he would have left his successors less a prisoner of events in the Middle East. But Reagan abhorred taxes, and he did not accept the necessity of conservation. His trust was in the marketplace.3… and, of course, his wealthy right wing puppet masters.

Reagan also thanked his sponsors by immediately removing solar panels installed by Carter on the White House roof, and attacking unions such as that of the air traffic controllers. He pitched the idea of a “trickle-down” economy, where, by making his rich backers even richer, some of that wealth would trickle down to the poor and middle class. It was a lie. The rich became richer as the American middle class started to wither away. “A rising tide floated all”…yachts.

Under Reagan the Right Wing stepped up their efforts to repeal social programs started by FDR and LBJ that helped create the middle class and the economic boom of the post WW II era , and which had modified and saved Capitalism from a left wing or socialist attack.

In or about 1988 scientists started to get alarmed at the amount of CO2 in the air and determined that it was changing the climate. Yearly data, represented in the “saw-toothed curve”, revealed a steady slope upward for atmospheric CO2. Wealthy Republican Oiligarchs and Coal Barons including the Koch Brothers4 were successful in intimidating and silencing the scientists and promoting the idea that there was a scientific controversy over their findings. In doing this, they created numerous “think tanks”, including the Cato Institute, which hired the same public relations specialists that had successfully promoted cigarettes, denied the causes of lung cancer for years and caused the suffering and death of uncounted millions. These operators were tasked with creating the same kind of doubt and disinformation in the cause of continued climate pollution by their sponsors.5

During Reagan’s last term, he was afflicted with advanced Alzheimer’s but under news control, nobody noticed. When Reagan was termed out, his Vice President, the ex-CIA director and second generation oil man, George Bush was elected.

In the Middle East, source of much of the world’s oil, our main regional ally, Saudi Arabia, was secretly funding the Wahabists, a fundamental Islamic cult dedicated to the removal of western influence in the region and the return to ancient Islamic law and culture. The cynical Saudi deal secured the rule of the princes, their wealth and their control of OPEC. But it also used oil revenues to fund and support fundamentalist mullahs and madrasas. Western oil consumers’ oil consumption grew the very same radical terrorist forces that now threaten them and the region.

Although Reagan had supported the CIA’s man, Saddam Hussein, the tyrannical ruler of Iraq, during a murderous war with Iran, the Bush administration now saw Iraqi oil, the second largest proven reserves in the world, with a covetous eye. It was felt, that, as with Mosaddegh, forty years before, the US could engineer a coup that would replace Hussein with someone more amenable to American desires to corner the market on Iraqi oil for profit and as a weapon against OPEC price gouging.

Bush’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, with ties to the oil production facilities company, Halliburton, knew oil operations. With American expertise, a contiguous state, Kuwait, began horizontal drilling operations from Kuwaiti fields under the border into Iraqi oil. A justifiably irate Hussein called in the American Ambassador April Glaspie to discover the American attitude. When Hussein expressed the idea that he would invade Kuwait to stop the oil theft, Glaspie responded that the US “[has] no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”6 Since it was a Cheney/CIA plot all along, that was not the case. Saddam invaded, the CIA put out stories of murdered Kuwaiti babies, and the US had a Casus Bell; a cause for war.

The first Iraqi oil war ended as usual for Americans whereby we sold out our allies and left them to be murdered. Refusing to accept the casualties involved in taking Baghdad, and expecting indigenous groups to take out Saddam for him, Bush ended the war early, leaving Saddam to eliminate the Swamp Arabs of the lower Euphrates, as well as Kurds in a chemical weapon attack, and any others opposing him.

The US had used the war to establish forward military bases across the region to support oil extraction, including bases in Saudi Arabia which further inflamed muslim fundamentalists, including a wealthy Saudi black sheep extremist, Osama Bin Laden.

In the next election a clueless Bush was defeated by a great natural politician Bill Clinton, who moved to the center and stole a march on the Republicans. Cheney and Poppy Bush left office with Saddam still in charge and smuggling rivers of oil.

Reacting to their loss of power and the bully pulpit for the first time in four decades the Right Wing initiated an all-out attack on Clinton, charging him (and wife, Hillary) with corruption (Whitewater) murder (Vince Foster) and finally finding and exploiting his weakness, (sex).

In crippling Clinton’s second term and distracting the President with non-stop attacks on the usual private sexual practices common and endemic in Washington, the Right Wing undercut America’s defense against growing terrorist threats caused by their oil war.

With Clinton’s election, the Right Wing determined that they must gain control of the narrative by control of the media. In alliance with a Right Wing foreign Press Baron, Rupert Murdock, they funded a political media specialist gun for hire, Roger Ailes7 and created Fox News, a propaganda organ in the guise of a news operation. They attached an echo chamber of talk radio, and played to the angry and uninformed with a tidal flow of self-reinforcing big lies and half-truths repeated constantly and available in every market and through corporate fellow travelers, every hotel room, bar, waiting room, cable operator, radio channel and right wing internet chatroom in America.

Using their economic power and the ownership of media outlets by Corporate America8 they intimidated network news operations, newspapers and reporters, controlled the flow of news, marginalized and eliminated troublesome correspondents like Dan Rather.

Among the prime objectives was the mission to obfuscate the question of climate change. By 1997, more than 97 percent of all scientists in the world and the United Nations and most countries in the world agreed in the Kyoto Protocol that climate change was a direct threat to human habitation and the planet. Of all the nations and factions on the planet, only the American Right Wing under the control of the fossil fuel industry, was still in denial and aggressively promoting and selling that denial.

The canard was that scientists would fake climate change to obtain grants, academic status, and research appointments. Scientists go into science to learn the truth about reality and the physical operation of the universe. They do that by rigorous experimentation and collection and analysis of data; exactly the opposite of right wing beliefs determined by religious “faith”; another term for wishful magical thinking.

Scientist’s findings are subject to peer review and any scientist faking data or proposing falsehoods would quickly be an ex-scientist. So they don’t do it. This is the fundamental difference between scientists and Fox News pundits. To sell this canard year after year requires a level of willful ignorance and disengaged stupidity on the part of the target audience, which, combined with the anger at losing an Ozzie and Harriet, Donna Reed Show, Mom and Dad, Junior and Sis, white America that never was, feeds the rage just under the surface against those smarter and more educated, and that propels the Republican base into the societal nihilism that permits them to vote and act against their own interests and unknowingly support the richest .01% that exploit and demean them.

It was also canon that accepting climate change would cost jobs, and that also, was not the case. New technologies and new industries create jobs. An example is the internet which created a world economic boom. Whatever jobs lost in mining, one of the worst jobs imaginable, for example, would be replaced many times over by new jobs; good jobs building solar panels, a smart grid, electric cars, wind turbines, etc.

In fact, in arguing and working against climate change, fossil fuel companies are eating their own children, or at least, killing them, by playing out the end game of a non-renewable resource, when they could be developing renewable and therefore continuously growing profitable technologies of the future. But the C (managerial) Class9 of executives, and the one per centers do not see long term profits in their interests, only the bonuses and low-taxed stock profits from immediate revenues in the next quarter, their 90 day window of opportunity.

With the Right Wing / Supreme Court coup that “elected” George Bush the Junior to office in 2000, the stage was set for action in the Middle East. The first meeting in the White House was a secret meeting of (Vice) President Cheney and fellow Oiligarchs. The President was not invited. He was busy refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol insuring that climate change would accelerate, and giving more subsidies to the oil companies that got him “elected”.

In the Oval Office it was discussed how the American oil companies would split oil tracts after the fall of Hussein. And all they needed was another Casus Belli. The US has a long and interesting history in this respect, going back to the Indian wars, “Remember the Maine”, the illusionary Tonkin Gulf Attack, and the secret plan by Lyman Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs, to fill a commercial airliner with Americans and shoot it down over Cuba to start a nuclear war during the Missile Crisis.

Now, it was simplicity itself. Unlike some conspiracy theories, they didn’t have to plan 9/11, all they had to do was wait. They knew Osama Bin Laden was planning an attack, they had plenty of warning. They knew it would be on American soil and would vault the nation into war. They just didn’t know how effective it would be. The destruction of the towers and the deaths of 3000 people was a bonus. Few would have the nerve to vote against a war in Iraq after that. The attackers were Saudis, our allies, but no matter. The propaganda machine would obfuscate that. They could scare Americans with the vision of a nuclear attack and that would suffice. The NeoCon war would secure our ownership of Iraqi oil and it wouldn’t cost a cent. It would bring American democracy to the Middle East. To seal the deal telegenetically, George Bush and Saudi Prince Bandar strolled hand-in-hand through the bluebonnets at Bush’s Texas Ranch.

Nearly two trillion dollars and over a decade later we are still enmeshed in their Middle East oil wars with no clear way out.10

In 2004 thirty top scientists, academics and engineers made a study of potential energy sources without regard for politics, considering only technological issues. They concluded that as population grows we will need over 3 to 4 times the present primary energy and it will have to be 3 times as clean. They further stated that There are no earthly primary fuel sources capable of replacing fossil fuels and providing this amount of energy. Hydro is maxed out, wind and solar are intermittent, nuclear fission is dangerous, expensive and also must be heavily subsidized. The scientists called for a Manhattan Project, a Marshall Plan, a full-out crash effort funded by at least 30 billion dollars a year to research, discover, develop and build out new primary power technology. But where would that money come from?

Today, weather leads the news. Floods, drought, fires, tornados, hurricanes
batter our lands. Crops are failing, people are dying, property is being destroyed. The UN estimates the yearly world damage as approaching 5% of world GNP or 4.5 trillion dollars, with the promise of growing to 20% …$20,000,000,000,000 per year.

Scientists tell us that 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is the absolute maximum we can live with. We are at 400 ppm and accelerating. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)11 scientists tell us that to hope to have a viable climate we must keep 3/4ths of fossil fuel in the ground and not burn it, but we give nearly a trillion dollars a year in tax breaks and subsidies to fossil fuel companies to develop new wells, mines and drilling techniques that we cannot use.

Even some Republicans can see the climate change and some admit it but say its a natural phenomenon, a cycle which we cannot change. Therefore there’s nothing to do. One, bizarrely, has stated that the CO2 in the air, “is good for cactus.”

The Department of Defense sees Climate Change as the greatest threat to America, mankind and the planet. It will cause famine, pestilence, pandemics, loss of habitation, loss of territory, sea level rise and mass migration of lowland populations into bordering countries, which will lead to a nuclear event; a pulse nuclear war which could kill most of the world population and make the earth uninhabitable for thousands of years…

7 billion people live on the planet. We add a billion people every 11 years, …to 10 billion by 2050, 15 billion by 2100. The events noted above and the collapse of civilization will bring that number down, in one NASA scientist’s estimate, to around 2 billion, max. We are speaking casually of the possible deaths of as many as 13 billion people.

Congress, which receives over 6 million dollars a year in campaign contributions and $350 million in lobbying dollars from fossil fuel companies, will not take action.12 CEO’s of fossil fuel companies will not turn down the spigot. One wonders if any of them have kids or grandkids… or are capable of imagining the future.

Some say Jesus will save us, or we will come up with a technology to permit continual use of fossil fuel; earth sunshades, seeding the clouds, sequestration, iron dust blown into the sea… As if, having screwed up the planet by ignorance, greed and inaction, we should now double down on our bet for survival by further untested mega projects…”/>

81% of primary power is fossil, 12% fission, leaving 7% or less for hydro, which is maxed, geothermal, wind and earth solar. And we have to reverse those numbers and quickly. Every few years we delay, doubles the amount of CO2 that we have to reduce. Scientists say the next 10-20 years is the limit of our opportunity.

In 200 years we have changed the planet. We now live in a new age; the anthropocene; the human-changed world. We know we’re in trouble but what can we do?

We give nearly a trillion dollars a year in tax breaks and subsidies to fossil fuel companies, the richest and most powerful corporations in human history, in order for them to produce fossil fuel that we cannot possibly use. Most of that money is invisible to the public; it goes to corporate profits, enjoyed by the top 1% of citizens as it has been doing for a hundred years.

The problem is that nearly all energy – over 90% – is produced from oil, coal and gas. Change will be disruptive, like a world war. But it is a war to avoid the worst future for humanity imaginable…loss of the viability of the planet.

The “Orphans of Apollo”, the brilliant scientists and engineers, left for fifty years without a mission to Colonize Space, now have a new mission; to save humanity from itself. There are two technologies that could save us. They both come from space.

Space Solar Power – Solar panels in space to beam power to earth by microwave or laser is composed of technologies and engineering principles clearly understood. Nothing need be invented. It captures 8 times the energy available on the cloudy, atmospherically shrouded, spinning earth. It could direct that energy where needed, on time, on target, without the need for storage or transmission lines. It needs to be funded and deployed on a crash basis.13

Nuclear Fusion could replace fossil fuel. But since it wouldn’t result in new bombs, it hasn’t been funded on a crash basis or with nearly the funding of fission. We need a Manhattan 2.0 Project to develop it. Fusion fuel, (Helium3), is present in abundance on the Moon. A shuttle load of He3 could power the US for a year. A helium mining colony, along with Space Solar Power will open up a New Frontier along with hope for a future. Human kind would be on the way to Solar System colonies.

And, by eliminating fossil fuel subsidies we have a trillion dollars a year to play with…

And what would we do with it?

Economics tells us that a healthy economy must grow at 3% a year. But the earth is a closed system. How can we have continual growth? World population grows at 1% or 90+ million new people a year. 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. Adding more poor people to a closed system creates more suffering and chaos. Unemployed, hopeless youth provides the cannon fodder for jihad and terrorism, but there are no new jobs in the world economy. There are no industries that require more millions of unskilled workers. There are no lands, no infrastructures to support them. As the anger grows, the only growth industry will be death; jihad, war, terrorism, nihilism, and attempts to revert to a 7th Century world of prophets and mullahs and angry gods.

We need new industries, both high and low tech, distributed all over the world…;
a mobilization of the world population toward a new, singular goal…

So what must we do…?

We declare war; World War III – The War Against Carbon

And start new race, a Race to Space

Enlist all nations in the challenge: a mass movement to new homes.

Vote for people who will take action. The Obama Administration, in every proposed budget, has eliminated fossil fuel subsides. Fossil-funded Republicans refuse to pass it. Congressman Bernie Sanders and others have proposed cutting subsidies, Republicans refuse to bring it to a vote.

Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks ($1,000,000,000,000/year)

Put that money into a Crash Task Force, a “New Manhattan Project” to save ourselves by funding research and implementation of renewables.

Fund, develop and deploy Space Solar Power, the only technology presently capable of replacing much of fossil fuel.

Fund a crash program to research develop and deploy Nuclear Fusion power.

Create factories in all regions to build and distribute earth solar panels locally.

Create and connect a smart grid capable of distributed local power generation.

Distribute wind turbines to all regions, connected to the smart grid.

Use Space Solar Power to produce hydrogen to replace gasoline in all internal combustion engines during transition to fuel cells.

Replace Internal Combustion Engine autos and trucks with electric vehicles.

Create a Civilian Conservation Corps of young people, working off their college loans by working to replant forests, protect species, refit houses to conserve energy and water, and to rebuild our infrastructure focussing on public transportation.

Create a Public Medical Corp to prepare for pandemics and treat the presently sick, malnourished, and poverty-stricken.

Create a plan with China, Russia, Europe, India, Japan and others for a Lunar Colony to harvest He3 for fusion fuel and to build Lunar Solar Power on the surface.15

Make corporations financially responsible for any and all pollution they release into the atmosphere, waterways and/or environment.

Distribute contraception world-wide to slow population growth.

Bring corporations up on criminal charges for criminal acts and restrict them to making license plates for the length of their sentence.

Try obstructionists in the World Court for the damage they do to the future.

Fund humankind’s move off the planet, into the solar system; the moon, Mars, space colonies, asteroids and further…

Don’t Pray. Think.

C. Proser
Copyright c – All Rights Reserved
Hollywood, CA 2/17/2015

Nasa-Funded Study: Industrial Civilisation Headed for ‘Irreversible Collapse’?

Friday 14 March 2014 
Nasa-Funded Study: Industrial Civilisation
Headed for ‘Irreversible Collapse’?
A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”
The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics. It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy. These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.” Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period. Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, 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 Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.” In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).” Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation. The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“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 NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately. Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative. Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter@nafeezahmed



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