Are we on the road to civilisation collapse?
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Looking at the rise and fall of historical civilizations, the forces that precipitate or delay a collapse can tell us about our own.
We can define collapse as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity, and socio-economic complexity. Public services fold, and chaos ensues as the government loses control.
Some past civilizations recovered, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent. Sometimes the epicenter is revived, such as Rome. In other cases, they are left abandoned, as was the case with the Mayan ruins.
Societies of the past and present are just complex systems comprising of people and technology.
Although we have better technologies, we are not immune to the threats that faced our ancestors. If anything, our technological abilities bring more challenges. Our globalized economic system may be more likely to cause a crisis to spread.
Although there is no conclusive explanation of why civilizations collapse, there are factors that can contribute.
Four possible metrics serve as indicators to see if our chance of collapse is falling or rising.
Temperature, complexity, and environmental degradation have been trending steeply upwards.
The collapse metrics are not the whole picture without also adding societal resilience, which may delay or prevent collapse.
In the past, collapse was within a region. Today the world is deeply interconnected and interdependent, making societal collapse more treacherous.
With all the advances, any collapse could result in an existential risk. But we will only collapse if we advance blindly and are unwilling to look at the past.
History suggests that a collapse of our civilization, although likely, is not inevitable.
We may slow the chance of a future collapse if we reduce emissions, level inequalities, reverse environmental degradation, innovate, and diversify our economies. We can also invest in recovery. Avoiding the creation of dangerous technologies is also critical.
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