A number of readers have asked me for an “elevator speech” that describes how I think our civilization will collapse by the end of this century. Being more of a “picture” person I decided to try to answer that question graphically. The result is shown above.
There seems to be a growing consensus among those who have studied the history of civilizations, past and present, and who are informed about the current state of our economic, political, social and ecological systems, that we are headed for a wall — a series of cascading crises that we will not be able to prevent, mitigate, or adapt ourselves to. These crises will be principally of three types (listed in the order in which the systems underlying them will collapse):
Underlying all of these crises are the industrial growth society, economy, and civilization we have built up, over the past thirty millennia but especially over the past three centuries. This civilization was both enabled and required by the discovery of tools (arrowheads, fire, and catastrophic monoculture agriculture) that in turn enabled us to expand outside our natural rainforest habitat, become carnivores, become settlers, eliminate natural predators, and hence expand exponentially our species’ numbers and consumption of resources. To try to sustain this, we created a fragile economic and political system that depended on the exhaustion of natural ecosystems, the extermination of alternative cultures and all species not required for human food, and the ruthless repression of all forms of diversity and dissent. The discovery of fossil fuels allowed us to replace human labour with that created mechanically by the burning of these hydrocarbons — hundreds of millennia worth of stored energy consumed in just a century or two. This allowed us to completely pillage the planet, just as quickly, to the point that we now have nothing left for other species or for future generations, and this has precipitated the sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and the destruction, in the blink of an eye, of an ecological balance that was co-created and sustained collectively by all-life-on-Earth for millions of years.
Reg Morrison, in Spirit of the Gene, tells us what to expect after that:
If the human plague is really as normal as it looks, then the collapse curve should mirror the growth curve. This means the bulk of the collapse will not take much longer than 100 years, and by 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its preplague population of Homo Sapiens — somewhere between a half and one billion.
Category: Why Our Civilization is Unsustainable