I’m turning 50 this year, which means I have 15-20 years to retirement age -- if all goes well.
Let’s look at the news and see if things are going well. Lost airplane, Crimea, oh wait, what’s this? Nasa-funded study: industrial civilization headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? That might impact my retirement. You have my attention.
The article says collapses are a normal part of the cycle of civilization. Rome, for example. OK, we knew that. Nothing new there.
Scientists have developed a new model that looks at population, climate, water, agriculture and energy, and how these things contribute to the risk of a collapse of a civilization. The report says when resources are stretched, and society is stratified into “economic Elites (rich) and Masses (or commoners)” a collapse usually happens.
Hmm. We have those things. Resources are stretched, and we do have a growing divide between rich and poor. We certainly have time, and technology to solve this, right?
Technology can make things more efficient, but raises the per capita consumption, says their research.
In their modelled scenarios, commoners typically fade faster than elites, but neither avoids collapse.
We're doomed! Oh, wait, it is not inevitable. All we have to do is follow this simple advice: "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."
Ok. Well, that’s unlikely. We're doomed.
How much time do we have?
“Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies - by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance - have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years. But these 'business as usual' forecasts could be very conservative.”
Ah, 15 years, conservatively, before a perfect storm for a collapse of civilization. Right about when I get to retire. Wonderful.
I knew we were heading this way but was somewhat consoled by the handy “I’ll be dead by then” justification. Fifteen years goes by quickly. Most of us are likely to be here in 15 years if civilization collapses.
Assuming these scientists are right, and assuming we do the usual and don’t do much at all, should we go to work tomorrow? Do we need to repave roads? Why bother paying to educate anyone anymore? Do we need any structures that last more than, say, 20 years? Should we all go off and see the world one last time?
It makes retirement planning very unusual. Will I get Social Security during a civilization collapse? Will I have my own cave, or will I have to share?
I'll have to go read the full submitted paper.