The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) warns global industrial civilization could collapse in the next few decades if the reasons for the decline remain unaddressed.
A study by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shows the rise and fall of civilizations is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history. Cases of severe disruption of a civilization due to "precipitous collapse, often lasting centuries, have been quite common," said the study.
It found that even advanced, complex civilizations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilization. The study also challenges the theory that technology will resolve the great challenges faced by civilization.
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of past cases of collapse, the project identified the most salient interrelated factors that might help determine the risk of collapse today: population, climate, water, agriculture and energy. These social phenomena have played a central role in the process of collapse over the last five thousand years.
Scientists, however, point out that worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable. They suggest that appropriate policies and structural changes could avoid collapse, and could also pave the way for a more stable civilization.
Key solutions are to reduce economic inequality to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth.
"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion," according to the study.