NASA-Backed Study Says Humanity is Pretty Much Screwed

By Robert Sorokanich on at

Hope you've enjoyed civilised life, folks. Because a new study sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center says the world's industrial societies are poised to collapse under the weight of their own unsustainable appetites for resources. There goes the weekend...and everything after it.

The research article appears in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Ecological Economics, but Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, has a more understandable (but no less harrowing) summary over at the Guardian. Either way, the news isn't good—as the researchers point out, history doesn't seem to hold out any favour for advanced societies.

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 civilisations can be both fragile and impermanent.

Who's to blame? You. Me. Everyone walking around outside your window. Even the technology we invented to save us from ourselves is contributing to our decline.

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.

Is there a way out? Of course. But you're probably not gonna like it. Dr. Ahmed sums up the researchers' suggestions:

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.

Which is just as difficult and improbable as it sounds. Seriously, you should read the whole rundown of what the research says. It's eye-opening, and a serious call to action. [Guardian]