Can We Put the Breaks on The Great Acceleration?

I am a child of the Great Acceleration. This has been the name given the post-war surge in any number of consumption, trade and resource-use patterns that began in 1950 and whose progression (if not purely progress) has lead us to the brink of collapse.

A recent NASA-funded study suggests that, if we are going to rein in our runaway civilization, we cannot continue much longer doing business as usual. The greatest civilization ever created by man is NOT too advanced and complex to fail.

Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment |

This study (echoed by others) finds that according to the historical record, even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

[su_quote]”The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”[/su_quote]

The most salient interrelated factors which explain civilizational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today are  Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

Critical social phenomenon that characterize collapse across a wide historical swath of former civlizations:

[su_list icon=”icon: cloud-download”]

  • the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity
  • the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]


[su_note note_color=”#bad5eb”]The two key solutions are to
(1) reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and
(2) to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth.[/su_note]

The irony of our situation, well into the Anthropocene, is that we will be the first civilization to rush to the bottom that will have seen it coming, known what was necessary to prevent it, and damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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