We already know that the way we have been living for the last century is not sustainable for our planet. Beyond climate ruin, however, is another threat to our society: Economic Collapse. Predicted back in 1970, experts have reviewed this information and our prospects are not looking good. This is what you need to know.
Experts Say Our Society Is On The Verge of Complete Economic Collapse
In 1972, a team of MIT scientists predicted that our industrial civilization would collapse in the future if corporations and governments kept pushing for continued economic growth no matter the consequences. They predicted 12 possible future scenarios, all of which predicted that natural resources would eventually become scarce, halting economic growth entirely. This would result in complete economic collapse and the breakdown of personal welfare. (1)
The most famous scenario in the report, known as the Business As Usual scenario, or BAU, forecasted that economic growth would peak in 2040. After that point, everything will start crashing: Availability of food and natural resources, as well as the global population. No, humans won’t be wiped off of the planet, but our standard of living will be. They predicted that this collapse will take decades to recover from.
Harvard grad student Gaya Herrington decided to look into this when she began her post-graduate studies last year. She discovered that currently, nearly half a century later, we are well aligned with two of the projected scenarios.
Herrington measured the current state of our world using 10 different variables. These included fertility rates, pollution levels, population, food production, and industry output. She found that we are aligned with two possible outcomes: The BAU and another known as Comprehensive Technology (CT). CT is a scenario in which technological advancements help improve pollution levels and food supplies in spite of natural resources dwindling away. This still leads us to a point of sudden economic collapse – it will just be a bit more drawn out.
“[The BAU] and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now,” Herrington wrote in her study. “Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible.”
An Alternative Scenario
There is an alternative that leads away from complete economic collapse and global crisis. Though the Stabilized World (SW) scenario begins the same way as the other two, the outcome is quite a lot more positive. In this scenario, humans – governments, corporations, the people – choose to slow economic growth on our own, rather than waiting to be forced via a lack of resources.
“The SW scenario assumes that in addition to the technological solutions, global societal priorities change,” Herrington wrote. “A change in values and policies translates into, amongst other things, low desired family size, perfect birth control availability, and a deliberate choice to limit industrial output and prioritize health and education services.”
Essentially, it is going to require a mindset shift from “more more more” and “me me me” to put in place resources that benefit people long-term, not just buff up bank accounts in the short-term. We proved during the COVID-19 pandemic vaccine roll-out that when we focus our efforts and globally work towards the same goal, we can achieve something faster and more efficiently than ever before. Herrington says, especially after the economic disaster that was the pandemic, we need to do this for the economy now, too.
“It’s not yet too late for humankind to purposefully change course to significantly alter the trajectory of [the] future,” Herrington stated at the end of her study. “Effectively, humanity can either choose its own limit or at some point reach an imposed limit, at which time a decline in human welfare will have become unavoidable.”
Will We Bounce Back From The Covid Economic Crisis?
What started out as a global health crisis quickly turned into a complete economic shutdown, as well. When policymakers first closed the economies, everyone thought it would only be a couple of weeks. Nearly two years later, however, we now know that this was not the case. (2)
Unfortunately, those that suffered the most were the small business owners as the big corporations got even bigger. As the rich got richer, middle and lower-class people lost their businesses, jobs, homes, and livelihoods. Despite the complete financial ruin that this put people in, many governments continued to keep tight restrictions on who could remain open and who couldn’t. Again, this meant that small businesses were shuttered while big box stores and giant tech companies flourished. (3)
There are many who say that the long-term health impacts of the stress and essential poverty that these shut-downs and closures forced people into will be far greater reaching than COVID-19 ever went. After all, one of the top determinants of health is socioeconomic status.
Now that vaccines and other public health measures have begun to help keep COVID cases down, the effects of those economic shutdowns are nowhere near being over. Restarting the economy isn’t like flipping a switch. We are now experiencing a labor shortage, supply chain issues, and so much more. Some say this will take years to overcome.
Knowing, however, that complete economic collapse could be on the horizon, perhaps this is a time to re-start in a better, more sustainable way. In a way that protects our future rather than puts our children and grandchildren at risk. There has never been a better time than now to start doing things right.
- “If the world fails to protect the economy, COVID-19 will damage health not just now but also in the future.” Nature. Martin McKee, David Stuckler. April 9, 2020.
- “The Next Global Depression Is Coming and Optimism Won’t Slow It Down.” Time. Ian Bremmer. August 6, 2020.
- “How Close Is Total Social and Economic Collapse?” Brownstone. Jeffrey A. Tucker. October 15, 2021.