The utter collapse of human civilization will be ‘difficult to avoid,’ NASA study says

The utter collapse of human civilization will be ‘difficult to avoid,’ NASA study says

by Tristin Hopper

After running the numbers on a set of four equations representing human society, a team of NASA-funded mathematicians has come to the grim conclusion that the utter collapse of human civilization will be “difficult to avoid.”

The exact scenario may vary, but in the coming decades humanity is essentially doomed to some variant of “Elites” consuming too much, “resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

That is, unless civilization is ready for one of two “major policy changes”: inequality must be “greatly reduced” or population growth must be “strictly controlled.”

The apocalyptic pronouncements, set to be published in an upcoming edition of Ecological Economics, come courtesy of a U.S. team led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei and funded in part by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The otherwise obscure report was first made public in a recent column in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper in which environment writer Nafeez Ahmed warned that it constituted a “highly credible wake-up call” and declared that its menu of suggested policy changes were “required immediately.”

In the days since, environmentalists, socialists, hard-line U.S. Republicans and even survivalists have taken up the banner of the 32-page study.

Derrick O’Keefe, the Vancouver-based former editor of, wrote in a Tuesday Twitter post that “this NASA-funded study makes case that future is socialism or extinction.” At about the same time, an anonymous commenter on declared “this is why I keep buying ammo.”

The study starts by reducing human civilization into four easy-to-toggle factors: Elites, Commoners, nature and wealth. The paper explains that this was done because “ecological strain” and “economic stratification” are the only two things that consistently plague collapsing societies.

Each factor was then assigned a complex mathematical equation and gathered together in what researchers called the HANDY (Human And Nature Dynamical) model.

The model was then configured to calculate the fate of several types of societies, including the “unequal society,” a system of rich and poor that researchers dubbed the one most “closely reflecting the reality of our world today.”

In the first scenario the population of elites suddenly spikes after 750 years, causing a “scarcity of workers” that sounds the civilization’s death knell by year 1000.

The second, “full collapse” scenario has the elites and commoners irreparably eating up the Earth’s resources after 350 years, leading to a slow bleed that destroys both humans and the planet by year 500.

“It is important to note that in both of these scenarios, the Elites — due to their wealth — do not suffer the detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners,” reads the paper.

“We could posit that this buffer of wealth … allows Elites to continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe,” it continues, suggesting that these kind of “oblivious elites” destroyed the Mayans and the Romans.

The only two scenarios that do not kill everyone, in fact, are the ones in which birth rates are either strictly controlled or “resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The non-deadly scenarios “are designed to indicate the kinds of policies needed to avoid this catastrophic outcomes,” read the study.

The study is eerily reminiscent of the 19th century writings of English scholar Thomas Malthus, who concluded that without massive controls of the birth rate (preferably through abstinence), humanity was doomed to eat itself to famine and disaster.

Two hundred years of technological advances in agriculture, however, have made many of Malthus’ predictions somewhat moot.

But this time around, simply being modern and technologically advanced will not be enough, claims the Safa Motesharrei study, pointing to the likes of the Roman Empire as evidence that “advanced, sophisticated, complex and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

“Every civilization we know about has collapsed: the Maya, the Romans, Chinese dynasties, the Sumerians,” Debora MacKenzie, a Belgium-based Canadian journalist who has written about societal collapse for New Scientist, told the National Post by email.

“No one has simply made all the right choices and kept going, so it seems there’s something intrinsic to civilization itself.”

Among certain archaeological circles, though, the whole concept of a society collapsing is seen to be a tad dramatic.

Brendan Burke, Chair of Greek and Roman studies at the University of Victoria, told the National Post in an email that, regardless of the recent U.S. report, he remained “skeptical of the idea of total collapse.”

“I think that the periods in history that we call a ‘dark age’, meaning a period after a great ‘collapse’, is often just a period when little is known or has been investigated,” he wrote.


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