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Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?


Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system

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Posted by Nafeez Ahmed Friday 14 March 2014 14.28 EDT theguardian.com Jump to comments (1220)

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Most viewed Last 24 hours 1. Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'? 2. Does Paris have worse air pollution than Beijing? 3. 'I tried to save a patch of the Amazon but I'd bought an illegal cocaine plantation' 4. Floodwaters recede but life is still on hold for villagers of Somerset Levels 5. Arctic 30 protesters seek damages from Russia More most viewed Latest

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. 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
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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
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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.
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Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?

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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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Open for comments. Sign in or create your Guardian account to join the discussion. 1220 comments. Showing Prev 50 conversations, threads 1 2 3 10 collapsed , sorted oldest first Next
30 PEOPLE, 38 COMMENTS

semyorka
14 March 2014 6:54pm

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121

"Convergent catastrophies." First domino was the US housing market.


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Mikes005

semyorka

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279

14 March 2014 8:34pm

It started well before that. Tax having and an under regulated international finance market saw wealth that would never be redistributed funneled into the hands of the already too wealthy.
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CitizenWolf

Mikes005

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793

14 March 2014 8:52pm

The current economic model of needing growth to sustain itself is utterly flawed. And yet do we ever hear anything from our 'leaders'? Does Mr Cameron ever say on the 6 O'Clock new, 'I think we need to look into more sustainable ways of living and alternative indices of wellbeing aside from GDP and stock market prices'. My arse he does. Time (well past time actually) for policies to be formed by experts and not idiots who managed to garner 'likes' at an election. Sure, let's have oversight of policies by democratically elected persons (of limited tenure) but these people should not get to make up idiot policies that are based on ideologies (of whatever ilk) instead of reality. Fisheries policy, economic models, TB control and badger culling, global climate change, infrastructure planning, education, and more, are all examples that have been mucked about with with little more than gut response and ideology.
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Christ, we're all doomed, doomed I say.


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DerpyDerper

semyorka

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24

14 March 2014 8:54pm

This idea of "income inequality" needs a bit of refining. Show 35 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 12:14pm

20 PEOPLE, 26 COMMENTS

StHelena
14 March 2014 7:02pm

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58

industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'? No.


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OPatrick

StHelena

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362

14 March 2014 8:20pm

I'm not clear that you understand the article you have linked to. It doesn't appear to justify your 'no', unless you equate 'capitalism' with 'civilisation'.
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BECKG32

StHelena

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85

14 March 2014 8:54pm

not a safe attitude


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Matthew Carr Shh Shh Shh... Show 23 more replies

OPatrick

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64

14 March 2014 9:02pm

Last reply: 17 March 2014 10:20am

26 PEOPLE, 37 COMMENTS

paulrudolph
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90

14 March 2014 7:12pm

"NASA-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?" It's probably for the best.
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DannyHeim

paulrudolph

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299

14 March 2014 7:40pm

Don't take this personally, your opinion is most likely the dominant one. NO, it is not for the best. That is a thinking that has caught on, it is a thinking that a suicidal person thinks, "I'm no good, the world'd be better off without me." It is a clear sign that this person is ready to pop their brains. Collectively, we humans form a personality and that personality is sick and quite suicidal, don't encourage it.
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Johnboy1945

DannyHeim

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243

14 March 2014 7:56pm

Collectively, we humans are just a virus on the earth.


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semyorka

Johnboy1945

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157

14 March 2014 8:11pm

Collectively, we humans are just a virus on the earth. Show 34 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 1:41pm

12 PEOPLE, 13 COMMENTS

Clive West
14 March 2014 7:12pm

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65

The scary thing here is the maths of exponential growth, here is a good video to explain http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8x98KFcMJeo The facts around it apply to everything, use of resources, energy, food, water. The key thing for me is that it becomes to late at about 5 minutes past the hour when the test tube is barely full and then BAM, you double again and its full or all used up.
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RInglis

Clive West

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64

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14 March 2014 9:48pm

Here's a link to another mainstream intellectually and methodologically robust study, this one by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) that indicates a 21st century 'collapse' unless we change our consumptive ways. http://www.csiro.au/Outcomes/Environment/PopulationSustainability/SEEDPaper19.aspx This one was reported in 'fringe' (meaning scientifically objective and accurate) media like "New Scientist" and Australia's ABC "Science Show" and ignored by mainstream media. I expect internationally, mainstream media ignored it too.
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Matthew Carr

Clive West

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14 March 2014 10:07pm

Ultimately, there are so many variables associated with population growth, that every good mathematician knows that creating a viable differential equation that models population growth will be unsolvable in closed form or incomplete (not enough variables). We know that there is a limit for how fast things can grow (bacterial cultures cannot grow faster than the speed of light!). Similarly, there is a leveling off point for humans, where the population will become more or less stable. Then the problem is that the population of earth with 'grey' and there will be less working humans to support the old and nonworking humans. So question there would be how to sustain that.
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Nick Pharazyn

Clive West

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19

14 March 2014 10:11pm

You're right, the outlook is not 'dark skies' but more 'comprehensive system Show 10 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 10:37am

24 PEOPLE, 32 COMMENTS

quinlanmicheal
14 March 2014 7:12pm

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234

I believe collapse is coming. It has happened to all civilisations so it will happen to ours. It is evident we are living beyond what cn sustain us.
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OPatrick

quinlanmicheal

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97

14 March 2014 8:18pm

We are so far removed from any previous civilisation that I don't believe any meaningful lessons can be learnt from looking at past collapses of civilisation. That doesn't mean I don't believe that a collapse is impossible. But nor is it inevitable. We are capable of transcending our supposed natures.
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Alleagra

quinlanmicheal

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24

14 March 2014 8:34pm

Well Britain is, for sure.


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LibertineUSA

OPatrick

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86

14 March 2014 8:42pm

Ahhhh, the old "The laws of nature don't apply to us anymore" argument. Show 29 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 1:45pm

17 PEOPLE, 19 COMMENTS

alanww
14 March 2014 7:12pm

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40

So, the organisation that was set up to send man to the moon mutates into a Malthusian mouthpiece. When did the US taxpayers vote for that ?
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quinlanmicheal

alanww

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213

14 March 2014 7:18pm

Nasa has long been involved in climate science. Since the 1980s actually.
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alanww

quinlanmicheal

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41

14 March 2014 7:26pm

This goes beyond climate science into cod economics and social science
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(i.e. non-science). It's pure speculation. But to what end ?


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emmagoldmann
14 March 2014 8:25pm

alanww

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26

It's the end of the world as we know it (REM) Show 16 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 12:09am

13 PEOPLE, 15 COMMENTS

quinlanmicheal
14 March 2014 7:16pm

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20

I wonder what post collapse will look like. Little pockets of humans dotted about. Wars over resource no doubt will wipe out many as people will basicallu kill each other for resources more so than they do now.
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RightSaid Let's see:

quinlanmicheal

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14 March 2014 8:10pm

Maybe: A Boy and His Dog Le Dernier Combat Six-String Samurai Probably not: Road Warrior Silent Running Omega Man
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Hotspringer Soylent Green


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RightSaid

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25

14 March 2014 8:44pm

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Karmik

RightSaid

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21

14 March 2014 8:44pm

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If I'm not running around like Mad Max post this collapse, I'll be very pissed Show 12 more replies
Last reply: 16 March 2014 1:29pm

12 PEOPLE, 14 COMMENTS

Pip Clark
14 March 2014 7:20pm

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48

With a bit of luck maybe it would come to pass. Lord only knows how much change is required in priorities. The world is run by idiots these days...
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iamnotwise

Pip Clark

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262

14 March 2014 7:26pm

The world is run by idiots these days... Money and power have insulated them from reason, empathy and imagination. Whilst these people are in the driving seat, the vehicle is heading for a cliff.
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ItMakesPerfectSense
14 March 2014 7:28pm

Pip Clark

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Nice One! Run by idiots ... as if ;-)


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twiggers

Pip Clark

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11

14 March 2014 7:28pm

Why do you think it is run by idiots 'these days'? More idiotic than the Show 11 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 1:21pm

15 PEOPLE, 20 COMMENTS

twiggers
14 March 2014 7:26pm

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21

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Few people seem to consider the alternative possibility, namely that our current civilisation may be immortal, or at least colossally long-lived compared to earlier civilisations such as that of Rome. The fragilities built in to our global networks are also, paradoxically, its strengths. The fact that we are so dependent on power networks, a degree of political stability, continuing food supplies and so on has not been ignored. Lots of people is a weakness and also a strength. Economic inequality is inevitable in a globally prospering world. Indeed it is a good thing insofar is it is a general sign that things are moving in the right direction. The fact that the gap between rich and poor is growing only matters if the poor are becoming, in absolute terms, poorer. They are not.
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ratherbeinOz

twiggers

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290

14 March 2014 7:35pm

The fact that the gap between rich and poor is growing only matters if the poor are becoming, in absolute terms, poorer. Oh yes they are, I know plenty of people who work long hours and can barely afford to feed themselves now, never mind accumulate anything worth more than a few hours labour (e.g. property), this is a new development and one that gets worse all the time as an out of touch elite use weasel words (and statistical manipulation) to attempt convince the population at large that it is 'business as usual'.
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ledmatt

twiggers

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60

14 March 2014 8:04pm

The fact that the gap between rich and poor is growing only matters if the poor are becoming, in absolute terms, poorer. Not according to the research referred to here, or that in "The Spirit Level".
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BigScottishAl

ratherbeinOz

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14 March 2014 9:26pm

So you are saying that the idea of people working hard but struggling to Show 17 more replies
Last reply: 16 March 2014 11:08pm

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3 PEOPLE, 3 COMMENTS

DannyHeim
14 March 2014 7:28pm

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64

Damn, that's quite a deal you're talking about there Nafeez. However, it is actually quite elementary. This is a study already concluded by half the world, especially the lower half of the economic spectrum and particularly so here in the present. Not knocking the study by no means and I'm damn sure glad you did the report. But you know this reality is just sitting there, like a big rancid doughnut on the counter, we see it there, but nobody wants to look at it let alone touch it. "Collapse", it's an ugly word fraught with negativity and a reputation for radicalism, but yet, there it is, right in front of us and plain as day. And yeah I can see those Mayans sitting up there smiling with all the fruit, corn and potatoes they'd ever want to eat, just sitting there smiling, never worrying, never looking. But it seems we'd know better by now...you'd think.
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seaspan

DannyHeim

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14 March 2014 11:33pm

The popular collapse scenario is extinction, that end leaves us defenseless our only hope that there is an afterlife. With an economic collapse we, on the whole, live to see the folly repeat itself...
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AnEmptyHourglass
15 March 2014 6:41am

DannyHeim

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15

The evolution of human wisdom and social ability has lagged far beyond our technological prowess. Cavemen who once threw stones at each other now have atomic bombs. Why would you think we would collectively know better? We aren't so different from our ancestors. That said - mass mortality is a driver of rapid evolution through simple elimination of less well suited genetic traits and environmental stresses can drive rapid changes through epigenetics. Our species will change - the only question is how? And can we find a change for the better in the end?
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7 PEOPLE, 8 COMMENTS

AndrewDobson
14 March 2014 7:48pm

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16

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This isn't exactly news - seems very similar to the conclusions of the Limits to Growth report of 1972. Anyway, check out this for a considered view of what life on the other side of growth could look like. It doesn't have to be catastrophe. http://www.greenhousethinktank.org/page.php?pageid=postgrowth
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MrCake

AndrewDobson

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14

14 March 2014 9:43pm

The have been several updates to the LtG since 72. The most recent claimed that overshoot of the carrying capacity followed by catastrophic collapse of the global economy is now unavoidable and will happen before mid century. Grim stuff.
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PetesMalaise

MrCake

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12

14 March 2014 11:00pm

The more we are in denial the worse things will be. Like ignoring a lump because "it can't be cancer, can't happen to me." It mightn't be that hard to treat at first, leave it long enough and it will kill you.
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wycliffe

AndrewDobson

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10

14 March 2014 11:08pm

In periods of national crisis, the government's first duty is to take control of Show 5 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 4:47am

4 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

onu labu
14 March 2014 7:51pm

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all very well, but how will they explain to those still catching up that 'business as usual' is not in their best interest? until Asia, Africa et al reach the same level of consumerist bliss, they won't listen.
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seaspan

onu labu

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14 March 2014 11:35pm

Until their per capita consumption surpasses your own, you might worry less about them...
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Mamatoto

onu labu

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15 March 2014 8:51am

I don't think they will be as hard to convince as you imagine. They live the reality of inequality and are increasingly aware that the cost of us all having schools, water, healthcare etc is us all NOT having a load of plastic crap we don't need and I imagine the wisdom of that is easier for them to grasp than a lot of us.
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TransReformation
15 March 2014 11:25am

onu labu

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all very well, but how will they explain to those still catching up that 'business as usual' is not in their best interest? until Asia, Africa et al reach the same level of consumerist bliss, they won't listen. Those aspiring to materially 'catch up' are not the fundamental problem - it's those 'ahead' (i.e. us ) unwilling to accept what we materially have to sacrifice.
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15 PEOPLE, 16 COMMENTS

libbymc
14 March 2014 7:53pm

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31

There is no doubt in my eyes that this will be the case. Global economic collapse, environmental collapse and resource scarcity are inevitable. It's all about the timing. I guess resource scarcity will result in economic instability resulting in global civil unrest. The climate crisis will add to the ferocity of the collapse. As Darwin said 'only the fittest shall survive.'
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Hotspringer

libbymc

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20

14 March 2014 8:48pm

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Darwin was wrong. Only the richest will survive.


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Sickofpoliticians
14 March 2014 9:14pm

Hotspringer

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22

They better be well hidden when the time comes, we no longer do forelock tugging.
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OurPlanet

Hotspringer

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12

14 March 2014 9:16pm

Not without the poorer people, who maintain the rich. Then reality will dawn Show 13 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 1:41pm

7 PEOPLE, 7 COMMENTS

gottliebvera
14 March 2014 7:59pm

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15

And I am starting to believe more and more, that the Maya Prophecies are correct. No, the world didn't end on Dec. 21. 2012, but we are working on it. After Homo Sapien's demise, the Earth will be at peace.
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seriouslyfedup

gottliebvera

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45

14 March 2014 9:48pm

The earth is at peace now though. It's a lump of rock that couldn't give a shit what goes on on it's surface
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jonbeat

gottliebvera

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14 March 2014 9:53pm

But then what?! We've had Dinosaurs and Apes. Oh to be a fly on the wall in a few million years!
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Tailspin

jonbeat

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14 March 2014 10:21pm

This glimpse of the future always stuck in my mind when I was a child: Show 4 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 9:57am

5 PEOPLE, 6 COMMENTS

climatefan
14 March 2014 8:00pm

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90

Unfortunately irreversible collapse is a very likely outcome, due to our consistent ability to do nothing significant to stop it. But at the very least, we cannot continue to grow economies at 20% and population at exponential rates without drastic consequences. No politician, of course, dares say this in public. Remember, nature bats last.
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seaspan

climatefan

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14 March 2014 11:44pm

Politicians wont touch day to day economics, but they-ll gladly say climate change will lead to our extinction by 2100.
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Mamatoto

climatefan

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15

15 March 2014 8:59am

Unfortunately irreversible collapse is a very likely outcome, due to our consistent ability to do nothing But it really pisses me off how many people on here appear resigned to the inevitability of it alI. At least two thirds? Did it occur to them that if they changed their minds and collectively pulled their fingers out it would make a huge difference globally? Seriously, those at the root of this problem are only 1% of us. Come on folks!
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DisasterCapitalist
16 March 2014 2:42am

Mamatoto

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"those at the root of this problem are only 1% of us. " If Only! Show 3 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 7:21am

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4 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

Bluecloud
14 March 2014 8:07pm

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47

Of the many challenges facing us, we are currently facing an energy crisis as fossil Guardian fuels become contributor depleted and the impacts of burning all that fuel resullt in a rapidly changing climate. Add to this the declining availability of other resources like water and phosphorous and we can forsee a perfect storm in the making. Then we have the problems posed by economic growth and the impact of automation on society. How can we provide for an increasing number of people at a time when many jobs are becoming automated? China provides us with a case study of economic growth which has to be brought under control. The terrible smog affecting most citites in China are a visual reminder of the need to account for the environment and society, and not just focusing on economic growth at all costs.
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axiomparadigm

Bluecloud

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14 March 2014 9:08pm

The monsters in charge, forgot the words, conservation, preservation, reuse, recycle, repair, ... and some of the worse culprit called themselves sustainable business...and formed a NGO to peddle their "type" of sustainability... Got love bullshit.
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Tailspin

Bluecloud

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14 March 2014 10:16pm

Capitalism has never guaranteed jobs. I could easily imagine in a few decades that most people live like animals in a zoo, stuck in front of a TV / computer, consuming little energy, never physically travelling anywhere and fed on a diet of synthetic nutrients of some sort. It's been heading in this direction for decades. There is little need to travel anywhere any more because all information exchange can be achieved electronically in various ways. Not much fun, but a vast population could be kept alive and subdued in this way.
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TransReformation
15 March 2014 11:43am

Bluecloud

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11

How can we provide for an increasing number of people at a time


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when many jobs are becoming automated? The way things are going at the moment the 'jobs issue' will meld with the resources issue will meld with the maintenance of political control by the elite issue, and within 20-30 years time could lead to genocide as a matter of state policy. I wish people would realise that although the collapse of existing modern civilisation and society is nigh on inevitable within decades, the form it takes and what supersedes it for better or worse is up to us. In order to do that however we the relatively affluent 'commoners' in the developed world have to be prepared to sacrifice our present lifestyles and wrest power away from the elite minority and set up self-governing local communities, societies and global communities.
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3 PEOPLE, 3 COMMENTS

UnderminingOrthodoxy
14 March 2014 8:11pm

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22

Global suicide pact, sign here.


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rockyrex

UnderminingOrthodoxy

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15

14 March 2014 8:37pm

Time to find that Stargate, I think.


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antipodean1

UnderminingOrthodoxy

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14 March 2014 10:46pm

Yes. Of course those of us who retain hope in the face of despair can only grab fragments of succour from studies such as these which will undoubtedly become increasingly mainstream as disaster becomes more innocent. Technological innovation is inevitably enabling renewable energy to become universally accessible and also means that information can be ever more widely shared and it is just that developing continuum of enlightened consciousness which is necessary to learn sustainable methodologies in agriculture and recycling of resources together with responsible lifestyle habits.
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MarkMK
14 March 2014 8:13pm

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33

Depends really on what you mean by "irreversible collapse". Using the examples given ()Roman Empire, various Han Chinese empires etc.), the collapse was extremely serious for the elite who lost their positions and doubtless in many cases their lives. But for many of the "ordinary" people, the change was less wide-ranging. Someone in a territory a thousand miles away from Rome doubtless carried on much as before, living in the same house, doing the same job which met the same needs for the same customers. Such people probably had some changes in customs and law, and almost certainly paid taxes to different authorities, but they clearly didn't just die and disappear - the evidence of their buildings, art, coins, pottery and other artefacts shows this. Arguably the greatest advance in the last couple of hundred years has been knowledge, and that will certainly survive in the heads of educated people, in books and other media, and in the physical things such as cars, planes, televisions, computers and much more which surround us.
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rockyrex

MarkMK

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49

14 March 2014 8:36pm

There were fewer people, and their lives did not rely on complex interconnected systems - electricity, just-in-time food via megacompanies, fuel distribution, etc etc. The changes in Britain when the legions left were profound, with a centralised government replaced by local warlords setting up shop in bits of the country - some may have been stay-behind officials who saw an opportunity to become local royalty. One such, perhaps, was Coel Hen: http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/coelhnt.html
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Delaware

MarkMK

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14 March 2014 10:10pm

Yes, all those 'irreversible collapses' in the past, and bugger me, we're still here and in greater numbers than ever...
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praetorian79

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14 March 2014 10:30pm

The Roman Empire as many before and after fell because they run out of Show 5 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 6:24am

NCunniffe20
14 March 2014 8:17pm

This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

6 PEOPLE, 7 COMMENTS

AnEmptyHourglass
14 March 2014 8:21pm

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89

Not only do I think collapse is virtually inevitable, but I think it's going to happen considerably sooner than most commentators seem to think. Given the inability of most people to even recognise the potential for collapse (on any timescale), it seems very likely very few people will have given any meaningful thought or preparation to this - making the results ultimately considerably more catastrophic.
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tshw1973

AnEmptyHourglass

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14 March 2014 8:56pm

That depends if you are prepared or unprepared. Darwinism in action.


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axiomparadigm

AnEmptyHourglass

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14 March 2014 9:09pm

The commentators, of what is considered, fringe, are claiming that will happen this year with the collapse of the dollar (thank god for it).
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waywardwind

AnEmptyHourglass

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14 March 2014 9:57pm

Who wants to live in a post-Apocalyptic world? I know I don't. Show 4 more replies
Last reply: 16 March 2014 2:47am

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4 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

GrafSchweik
14 March 2014 8:25pm

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118

For anyone with a decent Humanities education this is very old news. But better late than never. In 1988, the year before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, former Communist Wolfgang Leonhardt told an unbelieving BBC journalist that the countries in the Soviet Bloc were not nearly as stable and secure as they appeared to be; that they could easily topple. I was equally dubious, but had the good fortune to live in Germany from 1987 to 1990 and got to see how for decades our fears had made mountains full of bears out of molehills. Unfortunately, I've been living in the NeoCon-NeoLiberal dominated America of Bush and Obama since. A term not mentioned in the NASA report, imperial overreach, has been constantly on my mind since the curtain of Obama's rhetoric has been pulled aside to reveal the Bankster-Drone-NSA reality of his administration. Best to keep our heads down, our powder dry and begin cultivating gardens...
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frighteningtimes
14 March 2014 9:03pm

GrafSchweik

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Security-fenced-off owner-occupied gardens I fear you mean rather than those of the old digger movement. People pull together in times of acute shared peril e.g. war so why not?.
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praetorian79

GrafSchweik

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14 March 2014 10:36pm

History grad here. You are absolutely spot on. History tells us that civilizations will rise and fall for many reasons yet one of the pivotal ones being money. It's inevitable that this civilization will fall eventually yet we can't know the devastation that it will create. When the Roman civilization fell it created such a catastrophe and left such a vacuum that the period immediate to it was called the Dark Ages and Renaissance(rebirth) because of it. The world is caught in a loop.
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wycliffe

praetorian79

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11

14 March 2014 11:22pm

I live in northern France, where many of the small villages have names ending in "court". There is one up the road called "Happencourt". This came from the Latin word "cohort", used here to mean the farmyard. Most old farmhouses in this area are built in a protective square with high walls protecting the yard. This area has been in the invasion path of soldiers coming from the north for centuries. So this looks like the best way to prepare for the future. Invest in land and get an old farmhouse with high walls so that your little group can hold out as long as possible. The basics are that, after all, shelter, heat and food. There is some very good advice along these lines in the Day of the Triffids.
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11 PEOPLE, 14 COMMENTS

HeavenlySpark
14 March 2014 8:31pm

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18

But I don't see that civilization has ever really collapsed. On the contrary, if we consider civilization as a single entity, it has consistently developed in complexity and capability. It's misleading to talk about the collapse of the Roman civilization for so many reasons - not least that it didn't really collapse at all, but went on developing - and more importantly it's misleading because to consider civilization as whole is the only way it's ever going to make sense. I don't see civilization collapsing, but I think future historians might well see the stage we're at as the beginning of change of similar in magnitude to the first change from immemorial nomadic life. Anybody see those Zeitgeist films? I think there's every reason to be optimistic about the future for humanity on Earth.
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bbmatt

HeavenlySpark

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37

14 March 2014 8:46pm

Roman civilisation most certainly *didn't* continue developing under Roman rule. It was *adopted* after a very long period of decline. The convenient name for this is "The dark ages" The collapse of civilisation doesn't necessarily mean mankind *forget* the many facets of civilisation, but rather that the binding forces that enable it are no longer strong enough. Collapse of governance, financial institutions, social institutions, defence etc. over a period of decades is the hallmark of
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a collapsed civilisation. We've seen it happen in our lifetimes on a smaller scale in many global localities.
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HeavenlySpark

bbmatt

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25

14 March 2014 8:51pm

But in a very important way 'Roman' civilization did continue - it turned into Byzantium - and then into the modern world...
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rockyrex

HeavenlySpark

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14 March 2014 8:51pm

Worth looking at this: Show 11 more replies


Last reply: 15 March 2014 11:55pm

2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

Exodus20
14 March 2014 8:38pm

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Does it mean everyone is going to get it, regardless of status, wealth, power and where thy may be hiding from disaster? The, yes please.
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doesnotexist

Exodus20

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14 March 2014 10:18pm

No it doesn't, as the article makes clear: Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners"
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3 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

ElAurens
14 March 2014 8:39pm

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18

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I think Marx said something of this sort long ago.


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rockyrex

ElAurens

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28

14 March 2014 8:59pm

You may be thinking of this: "Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?" Groucho Marx
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dialledin

rockyrex

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15 March 2014 10:53am

Karl Marx showed us how the dispossessed would finally take possession . But I think the brothers Marx do it better (JB Priestley)
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rockyrex

dialledin

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15 March 2014 2:30pm

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." also Groucho
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5 PEOPLE, 7 COMMENTS

NoneTooClever
14 March 2014 8:39pm

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13

Global industrial civilisation will certainly collapse, probably within the next few decades. But there won't be an 'apocalypse moment' - instead we'll just see a steady erosion of what we have come to see as a meddle class lifestyle. One by one, people will find that the modern industrial society fails to meet their needs and discover that 'progress' is not living up to its promises. This is not new, some of us have been writing about it for years.
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greven

NoneTooClever

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14 March 2014 8:56pm

Are you sure about that? The collapse of communism the crash of 2007 all happened in days. Society now is more vulnerable then ever just imagine if the internet stopped functioning even for a few days.
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olderbutwiser

NoneTooClever

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11

14 March 2014 9:01pm

The meddle class. Love that. True, too


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NoneTooClever

greven

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14 March 2014 9:05pm

The internet is not 'society'. We lived without it before ... Show 4 more replies
Last reply: 14 March 2014 9:59pm

3 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

Iconoclasm
14 March 2014 8:39pm

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16

A timely warning I think. In democracies, at least, the commoners have the wherewithal - to some extent - to control the (so-called) elites, if only they would get off their bums and vote. It seems to me that we will all have to become a good deal more modest in our material expectations of life if we want to construct a viable future. Despite the short-termism of politicians and the greed of the 'elites', there is some hope. It's interesting how articles of this nature always elicit accusations of Malthusianism - as if Malthus had somehow been conclusively and irreversibly been proved wrong (the assumption presumably being that ingenuity and resource substitution would always find a way out of every restraint we face on a planet of finite size).
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greven

Iconoclasm

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32

14 March 2014 8:52pm

That would imply that there is an alternative to vote for. There is very little difference between the 2 parties in either the US UK or OZ.
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seaspan

Iconoclasm

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14 March 2014 11:56pm

more modest in our material expectations They-ve figured that one out: just produce un-fixable, throw-away crap. Even the most austere will need to consume regularly..
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Iconoclasm

greven

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15 March 2014 1:37am

The alternatives (if you take this issue seriously) are to complain/despair or DO something. If the mainstream parties are hopeless, vote green; or join Greenpeace or Avaaz, write to the papers... find something positive to do. Work for proportional representation maybe. I agree the odds against positive reform are depressing, but merely complaining is the refuge of the already defeated.
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2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

Hotspringer
14 March 2014 8:40pm

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10

What a load of bollocks, Our Beloved Leader knows climate change is crap and NASA is a communist front. Why do you think he is dismantling all environment protection programs?
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seaspan

Hotspringer

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15 March 2014 12:00am

They are dismantling envornmental oversight because it increases profits, and they dont care for our health. But they do love to debate climate change over brandy, watching us
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commoners call each other deniers and idiots -- such cooperative minions we are,.
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2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

opticus
14 March 2014 8:42pm

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66

The new dark age is upon us. It sort of kicked in big in the early 80s when Thatcher decided that socialism was the enemy and this has continued ever since. The real enemy is of course high capitalism which seems to function as a separate entity with the bankers etc merely servicing the machine.
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PaulDavisTheFirst
15 March 2014 1:35pm

opticus

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The real enemy are human motivations and weaknesses, which require a culture, an economy and a political system to shape, control and mitigate.
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5 PEOPLE, 8 COMMENTS

Celtiberico
14 March 2014 8:44pm

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80

Roman, Hittite, Maya, or Indian elites, could they speak in their own defence, might argue that they weren't in possession of the necessary information to have averted the crises which engulfed them. But there's no excuse for us - it's not exactly as if we haven't been warned.
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ThinkerX55 Agreed
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Celtiberico

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14 March 2014 9:22pm

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praetorian79

Celtiberico

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14 March 2014 10:52pm

The crisis that they faced had to do with money and economy as it's the case here. Exchange is the reason that we all have a coherent workable
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system of people or societies that we call civilisation. This exchange nowadays is to do with money! No money no funny. Every historian could tell you that is a basic in History. Well I'm telling you, think again!
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rimski

Celtiberico

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14 March 2014 10:56pm

Or is it that the signs were there but ignoring them brought greater short Show 5 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 12:27am

3 PEOPLE, 3 COMMENTS

noalternative
14 March 2014 8:45pm

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21

If countries like ours have no intention of halting it's population growth how can we expect others to take it seriously?
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LochnessMunster
14 March 2014 10:17pm

noalternative

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20

If countries like ours have no intention of halting it's population growth how can we expect others to take it seriously ? Almost every country on Earth has radicaly reduced it's birth rate already. with around 140 of them with negative brith rates.
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fanofzapffe

LochnessMunster

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10

15 March 2014 6:30am

It may be the end of the world but can we please learn to use its properly, instead if it's?
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4 PEOPLE, 5 COMMENTS

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crydda
14 March 2014 8:45pm

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As Sherlock would have said; "No shit!".


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Paul Boretski

crydda

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14

14 March 2014 8:54pm

He never said that.


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olderbutwiser

Paul Boretski

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11

14 March 2014 9:00pm

Well obviously not because the saying is 'No shit, Sherlock'. So unless he talked to himself (which he may well have done as Watson was such a dumbo), he couldnt have said it
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norfolk1810

olderbutwiser

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10

14 March 2014 9:58pm

Well obviously you have never read any of the Holmes stories. Arthur Show 2 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 7:08am

AlanPartridgeNorfolk
14 March 2014 8:45pm

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11

Ruddy hell
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garetko
14 March 2014 8:46pm

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38

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad" - take a look around people, it's a mad, mad world.
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2 PEOPLE, 3 COMMENTS

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lupal
14 March 2014 8:46pm

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20

NO SHIT. Humanity in Orgy of Unsustainable Mass Overconsumption Shocker. Is this really news?
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peccadillo

lupal

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12

14 March 2014 8:55pm

When anyone posts a comment along the lines of "nothing to see here, move along now", my shill alert sounds.
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lupal

peccadillo

14 March 2014 9:30pm

Your shill alert is in need of re-calibration. Me shouting at the screen when NASA states the bleedin obvious is not the same as telling you to move on...
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4 PEOPLE, 5 COMMENTS

DrBuckingham
14 March 2014 8:49pm

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It's time to go off the grid and become self sufficient. Good thing I bought that plot of land in Sweden a few years back.
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underbussen

DrBuckingham

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25

14 March 2014 9:24pm

growing season is too short, better head to a temperate climate, I live here in Sweden already, we're heading for NZ, and theres really no such thing as being self sufficient - you need a community or a very large family or group of families etc, it's just too hard on your own (and risky), tight community is dead in Sweden, people are very insular and only thinking of themselves, trust me, been here more than a decade.
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Sickofpoliticians
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DrBuckingham

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14 March 2014 9:25pm

good luck with those GM seeds and whatever will grow you'll need defend with your life.
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kawaiikiora

underbussen

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11

14 March 2014 10:03pm

Good luck in NZ mate !!! Show 2 more replies


Last reply: 14 March 2014 11:30pm

3 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

LossinLips
14 March 2014 8:50pm

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26

' Collapse' by Jared Diamond is worth a read - uses examples of civilizations that have collapsed and why.
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NoneTooClever

LossinLips

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16

14 March 2014 9:10pm

As I commented above - it's a good book but there are better books than that, in trend of looking forward. Have a look at 'The Long Descent' by John Michael Greer, for example.
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PetesMalaise

NoneTooClever

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14 March 2014 11:16pm

I would also recommend "Immoderate Greatness: Why Civlizations Fail" by William Ophuls, a very short book but very interesting.
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LossinLips

NoneTooClever

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15 March 2014 8:18am

sorry, missed your previous; thanks for your suggestion, I'll seek it out.
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2 PEOPLE, 3 COMMENTS

purpleswimmingtigers
14 March 2014 8:50pm

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10

Time for a paradigm shift.


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olderbutwiser

purpleswimmingtigers

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14 March 2014 8:58pm

Is that one of those new fangled cocktails?


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purpleswimmingtigers
14 March 2014 9:00pm

olderbutwiser

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17

Yes. It's vegan and organic.


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5 PEOPLE, 12 COMMENTS

shanye
14 March 2014 8:51pm

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40

We have to remove the elites. Now.


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sebastiaankoning
14 March 2014 9:05pm

shanye

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LS! Dear shanye, Will I survive these ideas of you? I am not in power. To me it seems rather obvious, that researcher Stephen Emmott is right, did you read his book? Say 50% of the workforce is sitting behind a computer screen, soon there will be no more potatoes to eat, growing potatoes is not a well-paid job. Mao caused 30.000.000 people to die, by forcing the intellectuals to try to grow food. Organising the world in a better way, is a great idea, everybody should live long and be happy? Warm wishes!
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Learfreud

shanye

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11

14 March 2014 10:20pm

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I would hazard a guess that you, and 100%, or almost 100%, of all the rest of those who read this article, count as "elite" for this purpose. 1.3bn people live on under 1USD a day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17312819
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shanye

Learfreud

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16

14 March 2014 10:59pm

No. The article says very clearly who the elites are... Show 9 more replies
Last reply: 16 March 2014 8:32am

2 PEOPLE, 4 COMMENTS

thesnufkin
14 March 2014 8:52pm

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18

I think the only question left to ask is what sort of landing are we going to have? I'm not sure I'm going to like the answer though.
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AnEmptyHourglass
15 March 2014 6:45am

thesnufkin

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I doubt you will. For me though the question isn't what sort of landing we will have (this much is disappointingly increasingly obvious) but how to walk away from the crash and start something ultimately better.
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thesnufkin

AnEmptyHourglass

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15 March 2014 9:13am

If you can walk away. Thinking of the First World War commemorations, here was a global disaster nobody could do anything about. The pacifists may have been morally right, but they could neither stop the war nor walk away from it. Worrying.
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AnEmptyHourglass
15 March 2014 3:31pm

thesnufkin

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Well, in this context one is not going to escape the effects - that's virtually assured in an even more fundamental way than with the war. However, problems won't be the same in all areas - just as in the war some places had worse fighting than others. Too many people are too fast to think of collapse as "the end", rather than to try to ask questions like how one could try to navigate it, recover from it and how one should do so.
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highthere
14 March 2014 8:54pm

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30

we have ipads now and google glass so surely we're well equipped for whatever nature can throw at us
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2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

rolloffdebunk
14 March 2014 8:55pm

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23

Who will write about the Royal family then? and those celebrities. What will happen to them?
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Fozter

rolloffdebunk

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16 March 2014 9:44pm

Rupert Murdoch? You see, for all the years that he has been questioning (via his tabloids) the reality of climate change, he's been quietly building a survival machine in which he (and his media empire) plans to weather the looming climatic armageddon. Murdoch will never die...and people always need to be distracted by royal/celebrity news.
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strangetown
14 March 2014 8:55pm

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16

A wake up call. But will the people with their hands on the levers of power and influence pay any heed? Will they fuck.
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2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

PariahCarefree
14 March 2014 8:56pm

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Are we too polite to do anything about this? We could at least not vote for them!
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homard

PariahCarefree

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15 March 2014 3:17pm

Morning Russell .
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5 PEOPLE, 5 COMMENTS

olderbutwiser
14 March 2014 8:57pm

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Make it 20 years, that'll see me out


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noalternative

olderbutwiser

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14 March 2014 9:07pm

Any children?, grandchildren? What about Kylie, surely she deserves a future at least!
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frighteningtimes
14 March 2014 9:08pm

olderbutwiser

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10

I fear our "leaders" have done the same sum.


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wycliffe

olderbutwiser

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14 March 2014 11:31pm

Me too. I feel teribly sorry for my young daughter and her generation, Show 2 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 3:18pm

TheSailor99
14 March 2014 8:58pm

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I would like to think that the model for the future would be the French revolution and we could shout 'off with their heads' but its more likely that the poor in foreign lands will suffer first.
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2 PEOPLE, 2 COMMENTS

mike65ie
14 March 2014 8:58pm

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14

catnip for guardian readers.


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pinkrobbo

mike65ie

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16 March 2014 6:17pm

Is NASA entirely comprised of Guardian readers, then?


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Coolhandluke77
14 March 2014 8:59pm

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Although the study is largely theoretical Who'd have thought..?


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6 PEOPLE, 9 COMMENTS

dodgydave
14 March 2014 9:00pm

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63

As a young worker I decided a while ago not to invest in a pension, and here are my
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reasons: 1) It is quite possible retirement will be obsolete or abolished when I'm older. 2) It's quite possible society could have collapsed by that point. 3) It's quite possible any retirement savings will be confiscated or frittered away by the power-that-be. The study hits the nail on the head with this comment: "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." Like with private pensions funds (which have only been around for the masses of the population for a very short period of time), everyone assumes business as usual - it has always worked in their own experience, and so will continue to always work. It's a mind-set that entirely lacks objectivity. Perhaps society won't collapse. There was a very high probability of nuclear apocalypse during the Cold War, but it never happened. Does that mean the experts were wrong, or we just got lucky? My own position has always been a 50-50 one either we'll all end up in a technological utopia with robots doing our bidding, or we'll all end up chasing each other around ruined cities with sharpened sticks. The point being, I don't think the current way we do business is at all sustainable, and it needs to change before it implodes.
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greyridge

dodgydave

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14 March 2014 9:08pm

sorry to break it to you, but if you are an average sort of guy, you will live to your late 80s, and it'll be on the equivalent of 155 pw, assuming you've paid your stamp. and no, society won't collapse.
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rockyrex

dodgydave

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14 March 2014 9:16pm

"There was a very high probability of nuclear apocalypse during the Cold War, but it never happened. Does that mean the experts were wrong, or we just got lucky?" There were some close calls.
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Yes - the Cuban Missile crisis in 1963. In 1973 - during the Yom Kippur Middle East War - US B-52s were flying holding patterns over the UK (I watched them over the Midlands - long straight runs then 180 deg turns, then parallel run back .... over and over) In 1983 http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/1/newsid_24930 00/2493469.stm The evening of the above event, the BBC News switched momentarily to show 'BBC Evesham'. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/tv-radio/the-bbc-bunker-theydont-want-you-to-know-about-2121187.html That must have been close.
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dodgydave

greyridge

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14 March 2014 9:48pm

Also assuming I'm still alive, and there is still a state pension, and yes, Show 6 more replies
Last reply: 15 March 2014 1:12pm

everchanging
14 March 2014 9:00pm

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Just recall something general along the lines of...if something has only lasted a short time, by observation, it could die out quickly in that the age of the thing you see is of the order of it's future lifetime. Not ten times. So we see the pyramids and infer they will last another 5000 years but I see a twenty year old house and guess it may not last 500 years and definitely not 5000. So this highly specific "industrial civilization" with it's precarious overloaded interconnections may not last 500 years and definitely not 5000 years.
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6 PEOPLE, 6 COMMENTS

IsraelAlvarez
14 March 2014 9:01pm

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25

Perhaps I missed it somehow, but is there a link to - or even the title of - the study which is the subject of the article? I've found this happening rather often in media outlets of late. Studies and/or papers are described and even quoted, but no link or
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identifying information about the source is provided. I would expect that the source material be provided so we could evaluate the material ourselves and even educate ourselves further. I'd appreciate it if someone could provide the actual study described here. If it is not yet publicly available, it seems odd to be reporting on it in this venue.
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olderbutwiser

IsraelAlvarez

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14

14 March 2014 9:13pm

Yes I thought the same. Guardian, wakey wakey! Links! (rechts!)


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everchanging

IsraelAlvarez

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14 March 2014 10:20pm

If you Google...."as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires" from above you get it...maybe Nafeez hasn't linked it as it hasn't been published yet?
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Danabanana

everchanging

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15 March 2014 8:46am

Could Google and this guy be the kick starter of the collapse? Show 3 more replies
Last reply: 17 March 2014 6:08am

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