question: why might civilization be on the verge of collapse?

“Business as usual is no longer a viable option. Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries collectively mobilize to stabilize population, stabilize climate, stabilize aquifers, conserve soils, protect cropland, and restrict the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.”

– Lester Brown

The end of the world is not necessarily upon us.  Our species still has time and hope for a better future.  However, there are some things upon which society is dependent in order to maintain functionality and prosperity.  Food is one of those basic necessities.  Accordingly, there are historical instances of many empires falling due to inadequate food supplies. Based on current agricultural trends, it is arguable that our civilization may be on the verge of collapse because of the ongoing and increasingly severe global food crisis. Furthermore, modern shortcomings in production are trend-driven [i.e. soil erosion], rather than event-based [i.e. hurricane], meaning that the problems are environmentally based and more difficult to overcome.

Although quite remarkable in nature, existing agricultural technologies are failing to deliver increasingly productive results and present efficiency barely reaches demands. This issue will be amplified by further depletion of resources, such as aquifers. There is also a competition for space for the production of food and for fossil fuel alternatives. These troubles are resulting in extreme price increases. From mid-2006 to mid-2008 historically high prices for wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans were realized and the economic effects have lingered.  This matter is further exacerbated by unchecked population growth.

Global warming also impacts the growth of food. It is reported that a 1 degree C will result in a 10% decrease in productivity in cereal crops, e.g. wheat and corn. Cropland is also negatively affected by higher sea levels in some areas and in other locations it is being replaced by deserts as a result of overgrazing, overplowing and deforestation, as well as industrial and suburban construction. Furthermore, as it is more lucrative to sell water initially designated to “thirsty” metropolises, farmland sits unused.

In undeveloped nations, land grabs by the most economically powerful nations are rampant and are likely to cause an increasing number of conflicts resulting in lost lives, as well as prevent positive development. This is a particular concern when unstable countries have nuclear technology. When all of these disturbing trends are put together, it is easy to see why there is concern regarding the future of our civilization (although there is always hope for the future – just think positive and act proactively!).

Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, puts it well:

“At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation.”