Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

Anne and Paul Ehrlich have written a stark and sobering paper. It’s an assessment of the gathering storm we face — not just from climate change but from an interconnected group of problems. To get the paper, click here and then pick either Full Text or Full Text (PDF).

Virtually every past civilization has eventually undergone collapse, a loss of socio-political-economic complexity usually accompanied by a dramatic decline in population size.

All those previous collapses were local or regional; elsewhere, other societies and civilizations persisted unaffected. But today, for the first time, humanity’s entire global civilization—the worldwide, increasingly interconnected, highly technological society in which we all are to one degree or another, embedded—is threatened with collapse by an array of environmental problems.

The various problems are not separate; rather they interact in two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system.

This is not fun to read, though there is something satisfying about seeing all the problems laid out on the table, all at once. The authors talk a bit about the kinds of steps we need to take but they don’t try to predict the outcome. That, as Noam Chomsky often says, is not a question for analysis but for action. Let’s get busy.

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