Ours is a world with diminishing resources, inequality, a debt-fueled economy, climate chaos, mass migration, addiction, violence. Can we stop the collapse?
It all seems like it’s going downhill, doesn’t it? The shootings, the violence, the nationalism. The way it’s getting harder and harder to support a family. The pollution. The way it’s all spiraling out of control. It’s reflected in our politics, our economics, even our Facebook posts. It was in one such Facebook discussion recently that friends were trying to figure out what causes mass shootings, and how to stop them. Is it gun culture? Insufficient mental health resources? Toxic masculinity? What if the same underlying root cause is the source for most of these problems, and it’s all related to the slow, inexorable decline of, well, everything, and what could possibly be done about that? This is when someone said, in all earnestness, “Then stop the collapse.”
Stop the collapse.
Collapses have occurred many times before, and there’s no valid reason to believe that they won’t occur again. Astute observers of our culture have even seen the writing on the wall and put pen to paper (or pixel to web) to make their conclusions accessible for the rest of us. Here, one draws comparisons to the growth and decline of Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Here, another points out similarities between our situation and that of the Anasazi at Chaco Canyon. Civilizations which, like ours, had to have seen the end coming and who, like us, attempted to stop the collapse by doing more of the same thing they’ve always done, only harder, faster, and with more gusto. Carve bigger moai statues! Build more kivas! Construct more electric cars, pour research dollars into nuclear fusion, and don’t forget the big beautiful border wall!
Trying to maintain a white-knuckled death grip on the status quo as a society is falling apart requires increasing amounts of energy just as needed resources are becoming more scarce. Past civilizations could arguably have cushioned the blow for their inhabitants by investing their dwindling resources more wisely and planning for the hard road ahead, but such actions require foresight and a committed, unified response from people who are unable or unwilling to admit what’s happening.
To consider what it would take to stop the collapse, we must understand what’s happening to cause it. Unfortunately, the pile of problems we’re facing is daunting, and they all interconnect with each other. Climate change is kicking off a new migration age even as it causes chaos with agriculture and sea level rise, yet we’re closing our doors and killing environmental defenders. We’re living in a time of decline, where predicaments such as diminishing returns from technology, past-peak resources, and the debt-driven economy are converging just as our crumbling infrastructure, growing population, and social and technical challenges demand more, ever more, from a world that can only give less.
The destruction of the natural environment is taking a toll on our health, yet the administration in power is set on making it worse in order to feed the economic monster. People can’t afford to behave environmentally if they can’t take care of their day to day needs, but unless we suffer a severe population decline, we can only provide a meager subsistence living for each human if we’re doing it sustainably. Choosing to use more resources than can be renewed while disposing of more waste than than can be digested leads inevitably to collapse, even if advocates passionately believe in both environmental sustainability and the eradication of poverty.
Living in a world gone mad is bound to take a toll on each of civilization’s inmates. Many turn to drugs (of various legality) to ease the pain. People spend like there’s no tomorrow. Some may, for reasons of their own, shoot up theaters, schools, churches, crowds. Others prepare bunkers and bug-out bags. It’s impossible to stop the collapse when fixing one stream in the swirl of problems only makes the others worse. The technology that got us deeper into the problem will not get us out.
However, at the bottom of this Pandora’s box there is a drop of hope. Everything has a life cycle. People are born, grow, age, and die. The same happens to civilizations. We can’t stop the collapse from happening, but on the other side, whatever is left will be a seed, sprouting in the compost of what we’ve left behind, poisoned as it is. We might not recognize it, but it, too, will be born.
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