These days, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has time on its hands. So until we resume sending people out to explore the cosmic frontier, the bureaucracy is, as Alex Brown of the National Journal writes, keeping busy by funding and circulating studies into the:
… collapses of previous societies.
Like, you know, the:
… Romans and Mesopotamians
Well, from time to time, you need a good scenario of civilizational collapse. If, that is, you want to alarm the peasants and persuade them to turn to the elites and the experts for their salvation. There was, back in the 70s, the Club of Rome report called, the Limits of Growth. We were doomed, we were told in scholarly language, by the forces of over-population, over-consumption, and … well, you get the picture. We had another 40 or 50 years to get things right and if we didn’t ... then collapse. A new dark age, at best. The implied solution, of course, was rational world government. Let the experts handle it.
So here we are, some four decades later, and the most likely (and empirically demonstrable) cause of civilizational collapse in some very important parts of the world is … under-population. This form of demographic doom is difficult, if not impossible, to correct. The best the experts can do is urge people to have more babies. But it isn’t working in, for instance, Russia. Or Japan. Or – with a nod to the Club of Rome – Italy. Among other western European nations.
Since the Club of Rome’s report, we have been warned of “Peak Oil.” That would have been just prior to the development of new technologies and the findings of new reserves which have made the U.S. a net petroleum exporter and led to a world awash in oil
The great climate change hypothesis is, of course, the quintessential scenario of doom for industrial, post-industrial, and just about any other kind of civilization. We can be saved, of course. Nobody wants to read a disaster scenario unless it has a happy ending. Which is always the same in the essentials. That is … let the experts handle it. Globally. Rationally. Disinterestedly. Consult Tom Friedman at the New York Times for the details.
So, now comes this report from NASA and to avoid being predictable and accused of recycling the same old stuff, it comes up with a new formulation for why we are cooked if we don’t take action. This new element is … (all together now) income inequality.
The way it shakes out (to use the scientific language) is that civilization 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."
And those elites, who are the cause of the impending disaster, will not do that which is necessary to avoid it. So:
"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.”
The only answer, of course, is to elect Elizabeth Warren president.