Collapse of Societies
The collapse of societies has happened time and time again throughout history. It has come from resource depletion, climate change, debasing the currency, natural disasters, political dysfunction, war, famine, disease, and varying combinations of these, and surely more. The inability to act before these problems caused a catastrophic failure of the social systems allows this to happen.
In the face of issues that lead to social collapse, the existing systems of power become paralyzed through their own control mechanisms, slow changes over time that are not taken seriously, as well as an array of nonsensical beliefs that leave out evidence or miss connections that would otherwise illuminate these issues importance.
(CC Image by Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com/photographers/102-mstyslav-chernov.html (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
The normalcy bias explains that we often think that our way of life will continue, because it has 'always' been this way, therefore it will continue to be this way. However, taking an objective view would reveal that this is not the case for human societies. Our continuous way of life depends on the life giving properties of the planet and our ability to sustainably harness and maintain them for our benefit.
With the example of Easter Island (see photo at bottom), a once lush and heavily forested island was slowly deforested and brought to social collapse over centuries of exploiting natural resources and ego based cognition that led warring factions to create ever larger statues as status symbols, even as this decimated the living systems that supported their population.
The example of Easter Island is often cited as a microcosm for the potential of the planet itself. Plainly scientific research has shown the multitude of unsustainable actions taking place around the world, and yet little has been altered to slow this decay. Much like the Easter Islanders of the last millennium, we are destroying the planet at a pace that is difficult for each new generation to comprehend. That is because there is a continuous "new normal" that does not recognize the slow but vital changes taking place in the world.
Deforestation has made deserts, near deserts, or treeless landscapes out of the once lush and heavily forested Middle East, North Africa, Britain, Greece, and countless others. Over fishing of the worlds oceans has led to drastic increases in fish farming to maintain supplies.
(CC Image (left) By USDA employee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) (Click to enlarge)
Biodiversity loss is at an estimated 100 to 150 species lost each day, with scientists now observing the highest extinction rates of human history and far surpassing background extinction rates. Some studies have suggested that 30% of all species could be extinct by 2050.
Besides extinction rates of today, classified as the anthropocene and the sixth great extinction, as well as deforestation and species overconsumption, we are entangled with a slew of even more abstract issues. These issues are discussed on various pages on this site in greater detail outlining the contributors to what can only be seen as our eventual global social collapse if actions are not taken to remediate the damage done.
The truth is that for billions of people today, social collapse is their normal lives. The social, and environmental factors that support our economies are dangerously out of control and exploiting the resources, the people, and degrading the systems that maintain stability throughout the world. Sustainability seeks to first recognize the issues, not from a purely scientific lens, but also using our sociological imagination and making conscientious choices to disengage from and obstruct the pervading worldview of exploitation and individualism for a more holistic and systems based interaction ideal that respects and loves people, the environment, and seeks to find a place working within nature, rather than against it.
While sustainability crosses all disciplines and usually challenges all of them as well, it can be easily dismissed or seen as hostile to current modes of thinking. While this may be true to an extent, sustainability seeks only to recognize the long-term viability of our societies. By integrating and aligning values, economics, policies, vision, and whole planetary systems into a new way of viewing our lives and our place in the world we can not only avoid planetary chaos and social collapse, but we can emerge from this crisis with new freedom, sovereignty, enlightenment, excitement, and a thriving life full of possibility if we choose to work towards it.
(CC Image courtesy of Arian Zwegers on Flickr)