A model based study was published by a group of NASA mathematicians in 2012. However, for some reason, is now, a few days ago, when the study has been spreaded, for example in The Guardian. Here is the original work: Human-Nature Interaction in World Modelling with Modelica (pdf).
|picture by maggmagg – creative commons|
The conclusion, summarizing, is what you have read in the title of this post.
The first sentence of the study is so obvious that (almost) no one would deny it.
It is our predicament that we live in a finite world, and yet we behave as if it were infinite.
It is another way of saying the old quote: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” (Kenneth Boulding, economist, 1910-1993).
But let return to our study. The work studies three different models: a growth without limitations model, a predator-prey model, and a human-nature model.
1- Growth without Limitations. Dinamycs of human populations in an idealized ecological system without limitations.
The result is an exponentialy increasing population. Obviously, it’s totally impossible that a exponential growth persists indefinitely in a closed system like the planet Earth. But for some reason this is the model that economics learn in their universities, and the only one acepted by the elites (that explains the first part of this sentence).
2- A Predator-Prey Model with Limitations in Animal Population. Interacting populations of predators (foxes) and preys (rabbits).
The result in this model is an oscilatory equilibrium or cyclic changes, that corresponds well to experimental population studies of animals.
3- Human and Nature Dynamical Model (HANDY). The model has four differential equations describing the evolution of its state variables: commoner population, elite population, natural resources and accumulated wealth.
In this model, human population plays a role analogous to predators, and nature resources plays the role of preys. But the model differs from the second model because introduces a new variable, the economic wealth, and divides the human population into rich and poor according to their unequal acces to available wealth.
This new variable (inequality) causes that the result isn’t an oscilatory equilibrium (or reversible collapses) like in the predator-prey model, but an irreversible collapse of human population. According to their equations, the collapse would happen soon, in some decades. However, the authors explain that model assumptions may not be completely valid during a stressful period transition, and political decisions may lead to a slower contraction instead of a quick collapse. It means, maybe not in 30 years but a century.
Currently that isn’t the case, political decisions aren’t trying to decrease the inequality but on the contrary, are increasing the process, using the known Shock Doctrine to enrich more and more the elite at the expense of impoverishing more and more the rest of human population. The system might be saved if elite do changes to build a sustainable society and resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion, but that seems impossible, because greedy immobilise our head honchos.
It isn’t the first time this happens, the authors mention other known civilizations, like the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Gupta, Mesopotamian Empires… all of them show how advanced civilizations can be fragile. The difference is this time the world is globalised, and the fall will not be limited to a part of the world.
|photo by Stefano Constanzo|
The study ends with this paragraph, suggesting two alternatives:
In the long run, not so far into the future, humanity must change to living sustainably on planet Earth. This change can occur either as a planned gradual transition, preserving well-functioning societies, or as a more disruptive, unplanned transition resulting in a less pleasant society with a reduced ecological capacity.
If I had to bet, I would not play 1 cent for the first option. Try to explain to any of the richest people in the Forbes list that he/she should earn a bit less of money to make a sustainable and equitable civilization, and you’ll see; you’ll be lucky if he/she doesn’t order to arrest you for communist.