Reports of civilization’s death greatly exaggerated


The Internet is sort of like an ocean, with currents of information that drift across vast distances and time, eddies where the data swirls, and waves that finally crash ashore.

For some reason last week, a study partly funded by NASA and dated Nov. 13, 2012, has bobbed back into headlines, thanks to a post by a blogger hosted by the Guardian and no doubt because of the subject matter: the collapse of advanced civilization.

Nothing like a doomsday scenario to feed the imagination. No matter the language —  French, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Dutch, Czech — the headlines are the same: The apocalypse NASA study predicts the end of civilization. Modern society will fail.

Trouble is: The headlines are a wee bit premature, according to the study, whose lead author is Safa Motesharrei, a University of Maryland graduate student in mathematics and public policy.

The researchers used a predator-prey mathematical model for their formula, dubbed Handy (Human And Nature DYnamics). “We can think of the human population as the “predator”, while nature (the natural resources of the surrounding environment) can be taken as the “prey”, depleted by humans,” the study explains. The humans were divided into two groups: “Elites” and “Commoners.”

Yup. The study contains buzzwords to get people talking — the environment, income inequality, the end of the world as we know it.

Dire scenarios may be played out in the study — natural resources become depleted and the commoners die out, followed by the elites — but the end is not nigh.

The study concludes that: “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.”

You can read the study here.

h/t Carol Christian in the Houston Chronicle