The BBC Looks At "How Western Civilization Could Collapse"

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Rachel Nuwer via,

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

A South African police van is set on fire following protests about inequality in 2016

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation.

Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour. The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities. For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined. Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day.  

For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term. If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable. That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

One of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities. “The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. “The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”  

While we are all in this together, the world’s poorest will feel the effects of collapse first. Indeed, some nations are already serving as canaries in the coal mine for the issues that may eventually pull apart more affluent ones. Syria, for example, enjoyed exceptionally high fertility rates for a time, which fueled rapid population growth. A severe drought in the late 2000s, likely made worse by human-induced climate change, combined with groundwater shortages to cripple agricultural production. That crisis left large numbers of people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate. Many flooded into urban centres, overwhelming limited resources and services there. Pre-existing ethnic tensions increased, creating fertile grounds for violence and conflict. On top of that, poor governance – including neoliberal policies that eliminated water subsidies in the middle of the drought – tipped the country into civil war in 2011 and sent it careening toward collapse.

In Syria’s case – as with so many other societal collapses throughout history – it was not one but a plethora of factors that contributed, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada, and author of The Upside of Down. Homer-Dixon calls these combined forces tectonic stresses for the way in which they quietly build up and then abruptly erupt, overloading any stabilising mechanisms that otherwise keep a society in check.

The Syrian case aside, another sign that we’re entering into a danger zone, Homer-Dixon says, is the increasing occurrence of what experts call nonlinearities, or sudden, unexpected changes in the world’s order, such as the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of ISIS, Brexit, or Donald Trump’s election.

Some civilisations simply fade out of existence - becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper

The past can also provide hints for how the future might play out. Take, for example, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. By the end of the 100BC the Romans had spread across the Mediterranean, to the places most easily accessed by sea. They should have stopped there, but things were going well and they felt empowered to expand to new frontiers by land. While transportation by sea was economical, however, transportation across land was slow and expensive. All the while, they were overextending themselves and running up costs. The Empire managed to remain stable in the ensuing centuries, but repercussions for spreading themselves too thin caught up with them in the 3rd Century, which was plagued by civil war and invasions. The Empire tried to maintain its core lands, even as the army ate up its budget and inflation climbed ever higher as the government debased its silver currency to try to cover its mounting expenses. While some scholars cite the beginning of collapse as the year 410, when the invading Visigoths sacked the capital, that dramatic event was made possible by a downward spiral spanning more than a century.

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices. Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says. Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse. That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

A protest group in Argentina demonstrates against United States interference in the crises in Syria and Venezuela

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands. As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states. Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing. “It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national. Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid.

Europe, with its close proximity to Africa, its land bridge to the Middle East and its neighbourly status with more politically volatile nations to the East, will feel these pressures first. The US will likely hold out longer, surrounded as it is by ocean buffers.

A severe drought in Syria left many people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate, which may have been a factor that led to civil war

On the other hand, Western societies may not meet with a violent, dramatic end. In some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper. The British Empire has been on this path since 1918, Randers says, and other Western nations might go this route as well. As time passes, they will become increasingly inconsequential and, in response to the problems driving their slow fade-out, will also starkly depart from the values they hold dear today. “Western nations are not going to collapse, but the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western society will disappear, because inequity is going to explode,” Randers argues. “Democratic, liberal society will fail, while stronger governments like China will be the winners.” 

Some of these forecasts and early warning signs should sound familiar, precisely because they are already underway. While Homer-Dixon is not surprised at the world’s recent turn of events – he predicted some of them in his 2006 book – he didn’t expect these developments to occur before the mid-2020s.

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says. Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them. But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason. “The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

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Swamp Yankee's picture

"Could"?  Look out the window, Smithers.

Winston Churchill's picture

Peshawar has never looked better Carruthers, old boy.

RagaMuffin's picture

These asshole experts have probably never gotten a forecast right except for the odds that they would get their last grant which was skewed in their favor to begin with.

Felix da Kat's picture

The West will collapse under the weight of invading cultures who want nothing to do with assimilation; unless they are stopped at the border. Shutting down illegal entry into the US must begin now to save the US. Europe cannot be saved. Within 50 years, all of Europe will be under Sharia law. It's ironic that the left; the leadership who instigated Islamic immigration, will be the first to be destroyed by them. Ultra-liberals are always ultra-self destructive. It is some consolation that it is they who go first. 

NoPension's picture

A functioning Muzzie society is like a clean safe neighborhood.

Show me one.

Without western ideals.....they collapse.

Dave Whiteman's picture

without White genetics they collapse

Dave Whiteman's picture

it takes a lot to piss me off


we are not being "invaded" in any way shape or form


non-whites are being invited on a "red" carpet by the jew establishment and associates

CRM114's picture

Civilisations always collapse, or rendered so fragile they collapse at the slightest outside attack, from the inside. 

The causes are obvious.

1. The BBC and their ilk are lying their asses off, disguising the problems from the populus, to further their own bullshit agendas.

2. The rich dodge taxes and won't serve in the military.

3. The politicians are weak, incompetant, and corrupt.

All of these would be fixable if it wasn't for the fact that There Is No Justice.

Whether one is convicted depends on your wallet and your influence, not the facts.

And these have been the causes of every civilisation's fall. It's not hard. I mean, the fall's bloody hard, but working out why isn't ;)

aloha_snakbar's picture

Western civilization will be killed by Facebook...

Extremehedger's picture
Extremehedger (not verified) Apr 18, 2017 6:15 PM

 The rich dodge taxes and won't serve in the military.

Dave Whiteman's picture

the rich dodge ovens and serve in the israhell military

dark fiber's picture

May I remind you that nature abhors a vacuum.  If the West begins to fade guess who is getting ready to fill the void.  It will inevitably turn violent. It is already getting violent and all we are thinking about is appeasement instead of setting things straight.  We have already lost.

Librarian's picture

Even the best vacuum really sucks.

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

/got a million more where those came from.

Winston Churchill's picture

Sorry to hear that, but at least you still have your day job.

So there is that.

Librarian's picture

They promised to double my salary as volunteer librarian.

So there is that.

I can't complain.  I do appreciate having the ability to summon any book that I have an interest to read.

Dickweed Wang's picture

Yeah, and I hate the wind . . . it really blows.

IranContra's picture

Iran will collapse. Western Civilization will be renewed in collaboration with Arabs.

If you don't read Arabic websites, you won't know what is happening. Arabs are celebrating relief. Trump is the exact opposite of Obama. And it's not about Israel.

Iran: We like to kill Arabs and take their countries.
Obama: Sure, buddy, they're your niggers.
Iran: Stop selling them arms.
Obama: No problem, maybe just a few old bombs.

Trump to Iran: You racist animals and butchers. Arabs are human. You can't kill them. I am arming them with the best weapons, and I'm helping them kick you out of their countries, because that is the right thing to do. Arabs are my friends and allies, and you are my enemies.

New documentary about Iran

Brazen Heist's picture

What special interest group are you shilling for? AIPAC, the Saudi Lobby or the Muslim Brotherhood? Or all 3.

Iran gave the world one of the greatest civilisations ever known. You probably haven't heard of Cyrus the Great have you?

And it was Arabs that forced Islam upon Iran.

Persians are a great people, I would argue that they have contributed per capita more than Arabs.

IntTheLight's picture

You are correct. But Iran now half Arab.

rphb's picture

Perhaps that professor should get his head out of his ass and stop preaching about the "climate problem".

There are actual, non imaginary, problems related to debt and migration, that are more immidiate and imminent.


Dave Whiteman's picture

there is but one problem


two parts above all else

1) information, including government schools [brainwash centers]

2)  "money"

and we all know the one and only source of monopoly

people start to act like shitbirds due to THE "STATE" BEING INVOLVED IN THE ECONOMY



Dickweed Wang's picture

I see this piece is really big on the anthropomorphic global warming/"climate change" meme (which by any name is utter bullshit).  What are clowns like this going to do when indisputable evidence starts rolling in over the next few years that we are actually headed into a mini-ice age?  Concerned proles want to know . . .

Dave Whiteman's picture

they can prepare by wearing nothing but mini-skirts

Teja's picture

See, there are doom porn writers who don't believe in the "it is all the fault of Jxxxish capitalists, immigrants and cultural marxists" meme. Sad.

hooligan2009's picture


halve the defence, education and welfare budgets and reduce taxes by a third to produce fiscal surpluses of 3% of GDP for 20 years and reduce debt to gdp to 40%.

the longer this solution is delayed, the longer the time to recover from debt saturation and the risk of economic collapse.

no amount of robots, driverless cars or 3d printing can alter those facts, unless of course the robots, driverless cars and 3d printers process and deliver all the food, health, housing and utilities that people need.

if that were ever to be the case, the elites would not be able to make any money because people would have all they need - and require nothing the elites organizations could produce.

talking about collpase is orwellian and very dark. there is always a bright side. rome lasted for 700 years (200 bc to 500 ad) - saying it collpased under its own complexity is to ignore seven centuries of global dominance and elitist luxury (based on slavery).


CRM114's picture

The devil is in the detail. Exactly how do you propose to cut those budgets?

Bear in mind that all these areas are already haemorrhaging the real talent - no fighter pilots, no real physics teachers, etc.

hooligan2009's picture

in defence - keep all the active, non-desk people necessary to provide back-up/supplement drone weaponry - get rid of as many non-desk as automation allows, in other words switch to cost effective tech (bang for buck - sic) weaponry instead of boots on the ground for attack - use boots on the ground to secure bridgeheads/invaded territory

switch all mental education to desk/web based training and only retain phys ed for two-three hours a day - that will get rid of all teachers but those that write D/wBT programs. assessments are done on line, reading material is supplied on line and tested as course progreses line by line.

health - refocus to three opinions by unaffiliated doctors - you don't buy the first car you see or take the first share price - insurance companies can block buy the likely patient costs per doctor and hospitals can do triage for terrorist attacks, accidents and other emergencies.

these are ideas that can be improved on and there will be a bunch of others in all areas.

scrapping all overseas bases and overseas aid would help - until such a time as debt is at sustainable levels of 40%.

i am surprised that more haven't claimed that cutting spending would lower GDP and make debt repayment even more difficult - hence the 50% spending cuts and one third taxation cuts to provide some assymetry towards fiscal surplus (rather than deficits)


CRM114's picture

I appreciate the detail, and I think I disagree completely with almost every point (except the overseas aid bit).

Probably just as well I've retired from defense and teaching then ;)

hooligan2009's picture

haha.. fixing a problem starts with examining optiions - yours are going to be as valid as mine.

it is very hard to defend the efficacy of ordinance post those 59 tomahawks launched v 21 landed for so little damage or that MOAB for little verifiable casualties OR deaths of active service staff for overseas policies of dubious moral rectitude.

it troubles me that the same "damage" could be inflicted on politically nominated enemies using cheaper and more accurate drones.

halving the pentagon budget to fit out cities/suburbs/rural areas with some useful tech (pick any tech) would represent a swutch of a quarter of a trillion dollars. perhaps the armed forces are better deployed doing civil engineering in times of peace, maintaining readiness but doing something visibly good.

DarthVader101's picture

The author of this article seems to be very naive when it comes to geopolitics. The war in Syria had absolutely nothing to do with the weather. Live and learn.

moorewasthebestbond's picture

For cying out loud and for everyone's sake... BRING BACK APARTHEID!

justdues's picture

BBC - Boy Buggering Criminals

justdues's picture

BBC - Bolshevic Brainwashing Cult ...ah , we could have endless fun with those 3 letters

veritas semper vinces's picture

BBC= Bolshevick Bullshit Coorporation(they should add a P for pedophile)

Dave Whiteman's picture

bullshevik bullshit


heBe Bullshit Cartel

Rudow's picture

BBC has been instrumental in the decay of Western Civilization.

Twee Surgeon's picture

Absolutely ! You Tube an Episode of 'meet the Kumars', Affirmative action crap on the Licence Payers shoulders for Retarded Crap.

There are no Ethnic British at the BBC except for Eye Candy and Maoist infiltrators.

Brazen Heist's picture

It's amazing to think just how much humanity is driven by faith. Take religion and the debt-based economy as examples.

Religion - all the epic shit done for unsubstantiated claims for some invisible space daddy.

Debt-based economy - exponentially growing future claims on limited real assets.

Both driven by nothing but faith. And faith is correlated to the level of leadership at hand, which has been sliding relentlessly.

The Western system is based on limitless fiat currency and increasingly worthless debt. The system is already insolvent. At some point the system will reach default, when the ability to meet obligations will be severely hampered and promises will be broken. Perhaps a few decades more of the central banks buying time with their chicanery. Or perhaps much less. Who really knows. They could get creative like banning cash to trap people in the system where money can no longer leave and cause bank runs. My gut tells me that's what they are doing with the cash ban - its not to crack down on crime, that's the pretext. The real reason is to gear up in preventing future bank runs.

One thing we have never ever had in history is the internet, it could be a real game changer in the way the next mass default evolves, meaning it could cushion it somehow (with cryptocurrencies). The information age truly is revolutionary, like the agrarian and industrial revolution. Much is converging into the Matrix.

Teja's picture

Civilisation and technology are also both based on faith. Civilisation - basically a belief that people from families not related to you will not kill and eat you. Most of the time, it works. Sometimes it breaks down.

Technology - putting your faith in facts discovered by people you don't know personally, facts which you cannot really check yourself. There is technology usage without this faith, people using computers and smartphones, but not "believing" in accepted scientific knowledge. That could be called Cargo Cult. In that sense, believing might be better and more honest than not believing in it but still using it.

Same with money and debt. It works as long as people believe, independently of the level of debt. But the higher the level of debt is, the more probable it will be that people stop believing in it.

Check out John Wyndham's short story "Confidence Trick" from the collection "Jizzle", on what might happen to people stopping to believe...

Xando's picture

Pick the two major lefty bugaboos, climate change and economic inequality. Tell a story about how they will lead to global destruction. Profit.

Goldilocks's picture

Norman Dodd On Tax Exempt Foundations
(The Hidden Agenda for World Government) (52:23)

"Two and a half years later I felt that it was possible to report back to those who had given me this assignment. And so I rendered such a report. And a result of the report I rendered I was told the following... Norm what your saying is we should return to sound banking. And I said yes in essence that's exactly what I'm saying, where upon I got my first shock which was a statement from them to this effect... we will never see sound banking in the United States again. And they cited chapter and verse to support that statement. And what they cited was as follows... since the end of WWI, we have been responsible for the what they call the institutionalizing of conflicting interests and they are so prevalent inside this country that they can never be resolved. This came to me as an extraordinary shock because the men who made this statement were men who were deemed as the most prominent bankers in the country. ..."

"Was their objection because of what you were doing or because of the fact that you were doing it outside the official auspices of the committee? No their objection was as they put it, my devotion to what they call anti-Semitism..."

MaxThrust's picture

Collapse of western civilization, aided and abetted by the BBC

Centerist's picture

This BBC article is typical of its other pieces (of crap).  Evil rich people changed the weather and made poor people earn less, while making it harder for poor farmers to grow their crops, so the answer, of course, is socialism and carbon taxes.

What a crock.  Central bank manipulation of fiat currency supply erodes the purchasing power of the average person's earnings, while ensuring that their savings won't grow at interest rates exceeding the inflation rate.  Meanwhile, nonsensical tax codes and regulatory burdens prevent businesses from expanding and creating more and better-paying jobs.

The declines in living standards didn't just happen of their own accord.  They were brought into being by the very governmental interference that the author wants to further apply to the system.  So-called climate change is just another avenue to further centralized control over the economy.

Hey, BBC.  Take your socialism and carbon taxes, and shove'em where the sun don't shine.

TGF Texas's picture

God he's so right and makes so much fucking sense.  I mean who the fuck doesn't know the Syrian war was the result of drought, and really traveling at sea at 4 miles per hour on a Roman ship, was much faster than walking down a dirt road at the same speed. God why is everyone so dumb and I am so smart. I must be an elitist globalist prick. (((SARC off)))

Deep Snorkeler's picture

Human natural selection,

has failed at purging bad mutations.

Our genetic decline, in irreversible gradations.

Crowds suffering waves, of gender fluidity.

A national trance of obesity.

Spiritual crisis without spirit,

Private lives do not exist.


Fiscal Smegma's picture

stupid article. Oh Noo's the british empire is dead.. LMFAO Who cares, are the brits suffering? Nope, life goes on, The UK is not a subject state of China, nor is Germany nor will the US or Canada. 

Enough with the stupid talk..


TheOpposition.'s picture

The problem solver is this.....end immigration on all fronts until the ppl on welfare are employed and there are more jobs than there are ppl, then extreme vet the ppl coming in and only accept them as needed and take them for 6 months at a time then send them packing back home for 6 months etc.
• Next every country in the world should be Nationalist, only then can we get along properly with one another and make the world a better place for all.
• These 2 will help end globalism which is the real problem that plagues nations cuz it drives down wages while increasing the demand for social services cuz of the immigration and shit jobs while inturn the gov't increases taxes to further ones fall into economic and social struggles, which create chaos.
* Ppl need to remind themselves that if u look at whats happening economically in the world thru a 3rd person point of view u will see that the elites & the left wingers are actually trying to create a market for slave labour....and it will boom!!! Only then will the prospects of just making it by, owning a home & the 'middle class' will actually be no more.
If u dont believe me, look at Germany and the EU corporate machine that now subsidizes companies to pay immigrants & refugees 0.81€ an hour.

any_mouse's picture

Author lost me when she quoted a "political economist" (double gag) and the quote refers to the wheels on the bicycle of society as "a growing economy". (More bile rises.)

I am shocked that an economist would think the economy is the most vital part of society. I did not see that coming.

How come "economists" do not understand limits of growth?

And how does the economy run by economists (no doubt many are political to boot) actually grow? Increasing DEBT. Facepalm meme.

I skimmed the rest of the article and saw nothing news worthy.

IS the author a Spring break intern at BBC? With a double major in Poli Sci and Econ?

All things must come to an end to be reborn anew in the next turn around the wheel.

Nothing lasts forever, not even the earth and sky.