It's not that the study was intended to have policy ramifications or even a policy based perspective, it was merely an attempt to look back historically at how and why previously complex civilizations have been unable to sustain themselves and how that might apply in the future and present.

It may not be as Stephen Colbert once proclaimed that facts and science have a "Liberal Bias", it may be that Liberals and the policy suggestions they endorse have a Fact and Science Bias.


A new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Still it does feel good when literal Rocket Scientists are saying what you already believed, and have been saying for decades, may have been exactly right all along.

To wit.

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 ”; 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.”

So it seems that all of our talk about "Sustainability" and "Income Inequity" is more than simply a bunch of "jealous and envious whining by the losers and the takers" as many on the Right side of the political spectrum would claim.  "Class Warfare" is what we've been hearing for years now isn't it?


The presidential State of the Union address had some tawdry political theater with Warren Buffett's secretary who pays a higher tax rate than her boss sitting with the First Lady. There's little doubt the re-election campaign of this anti-capitalist president will feature class warfare and the politics of envy. When they urge fairness in tax matters it inevitably translates into envy.

The American political process has a destructive spending addiction… not a revenue problem. They arrogantly believe they can solve any problem by throwing money at it. More troubling is the blatant disregard for honesty when citing convenient "facts."

Speaking of "facts" the largest single contributor (30%) of the $1.4 Trillion deficit that greeted President Obama as he entered Office, were lost revenues from the Millions of people who had lost their jobs in the great recession and therefore were no longer contributing to the tax base, not a "destructive spending addiction".

Here's a chart of Federal tax revenues (as a percentage of GDP) going all the way back to the Clinton era - notice to two giant dips in it?  Those are the Bush Tax Cuts and the Great Recession.

And what's my source for the 30% figure? The 2008-2009 OMB Report as I wrote about in 2009

First of all, the primary complaint coming from the Tea Parties was the issue of Government Spending, particularly in the wake of the 2008-2009 Deficit.  That would be shown in the following chart from OMB in Billions of Dollars (I've added a column showing the difference between these years, item by item, and the percent of increase to the deficit for each item so we can all see exactly where it came from)                                                                                                                                           
Spending 2008 2009 Difference % of Deficit
Discretionary Spending
Defense 612 726 114 9.84%
Non-Defense 508 586 78 6.73%
Mandatory Spending
Social Security 612 675 63 5.44%
Medicare 386 425 39 3.36%
Medicaid 201 262 61 5.26%
Other 411 429 18 1.55%
TARP 260 260 22.43%
Recovery Act 267 267 23.04%
Interest 253 167 -86 -8.85%
Disasters 4 4 0.41%
Total Outlays 2983 3801 818 70.58%
Individual 1146 953 -193 -16.65%
Corporate 304 175 -129 -11.13%
Social Security 658 655 -3 -0.26%
Medicare 194 192 -2 -0.17%
Unemployment 40 44 4 0.35%
Retirement 9 9 0 0.00%
Excise 67 66 -1 -0.09%
Estate Tax 29 26 -3 -0.26%
Customs 28 24 -4 -0.35%
Fed Reserve 34 25 -9 -0.78%
Other 17 16 -1 -0.09%
Total Taxes 2526 2185 -341 -29.42%
Deficit -457 -1616 1159
It might seem like a legitimate grievance to point out the U.S. Deficit jumped from $400 Billion to $1.6 Trillion in one year, but the truth clearly shows the primary reason why was - Tax Revenues Went DOWN ALMOST 30%!!!  There are two reasons for that, one could be the Tax Cuts Implemented by President Obama in the Recovery Act (except the real impact of this change won't show up until Fiscal Year 2010) and the other is the fact that people lost their jobs (and homes) during the economic down turn - which came to full-blown fruition under President Bush's "starve the people/feed the corporations policy" - that they weren't able to pay taxes the way they did the previous year. They were Broke!
Just for the record, no one truly believes that you can solve any problem by just "throwing money at it", because that's just asinine in the same way that the Republican plan of doing nothing will make all the problems just go away on their own.


We even heard this from our last Republican Presidential Candidate.


LAUER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word ‘envy.’ Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

LAUER: Yeah but envy? Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as ‘envy,’ though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

And we can all see how correct he was in that analysis, yes?  As it turns out, it's Not All about You, Mitt. Not even slightly.

The fact is that an engine can not function if it does not have the correct balance of parts and fuel.  As we've now - by all reasonable accounts - passed beyond the Rubicon of peak oil, forcing the use of more and more dangerous and deadly extraction methods - while the financial stratification of those who provide the demand that fuels the economic engine become more and more encrusted in the exhaust pipes and valves - the less efficiently that engine functions, striving harder and hard to produce more while using less.

At a certain point - the engine breaks down and seizes. This, according to the study, can be shown in the fall of "the Roman Empire, ... the advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires."

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.”


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.”

So the next time someone shoots back at you that you're just practicing "Class Warfare Envy" when you rail against the danger of growing economic inequality and stagnating wages for the middle class - just tell them it's not "Envy" - It's Science, then point them towards NASA. We don't want to go out like Rome did.

And this isn't the only study to say, others by KPMG and UK Office of Sciences (pdf) suggest similarly that on our current trajectory we could be looking at a civilizational collapse in the next 15 years.


Originally posted to Vyan on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 05:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

Your Email has been sent.