Category Archives: Collapse

Lessons From The Last Time Civilization Collapsed – NPR

“We should be aware that no society is invulnerable and that every society in the history of the world has ultimately collapsed.”

Consider this, if you would: a network of far-flung, powerful, high-tech civilizations closely tied by trade and diplomatic embassies; an accelerating threat of climate change and its pressure on food production; a rising wave of displaced populations ready to sweep across and overwhelm developed nations.

Sound familiar?

While that laundry list of impending doom could be aimed at our era, it’s actually a description of the world 3,000 years ago. It is humanity’s first “global” dark age as described by archaeologist and George Washington University professor in his recent book .

The question that haunts Eric Cline is why. What drove such a complex set of societies to all perish almost all at once? …

Thus complexity itself may have been the greatest threat to late Bronze Age civilization once the pressures began. And it is that fact, more than anything else, that speaks to the dangers we face today. As Cline wrote in the Huffington Post:

“We live in a world that has more similarities to that of the Late Bronze Age than one might suspect, including, as the British archaeologist Susan Sherratt has put it, an ‘increasingly homogeneous yet uncontrollable global economy and culture’ in which ‘political uncertainties on one side of the world can drastically affect the economies of regions thousands of miles away.’ “

So, what exactly is the lesson Cline thinks we should take away from 1177 B.C.? In an email to me, Cline wrote:

“We should be aware that no society is invulnerable and that every society in the history of the world has ultimately collapsed. We should also be thankful that we are advanced enough to understand what is happening.”

But are we advanced enough to do anything with our understanding?

Lessons From The Last Time Civilization Collapsed – NPR

This article adds to my accumulation of articles about collapse in the past and the similarities today. It suggests that we should be worried but there is no sense of timing. How much time do we have? It gives us little clue.

Below is a comment I wrote for another article that will give us a better sense of timing.

What China and America Are Wondering: Is “Major War” Obsolete?

There´s two ways to look at this problem: The inside view or the outside view. The inside view is probably used by 99.99% of the people, and it tends to produce weak forecasts. In this view we look at the merits of the case at hand – war between China and the US. In the outside view we just look at major wars in the past. When and how did they happen. The outside view tends to produce much better forecasts.

If you use the inside view then many people will conclude that a major war between China and the US is not likely to happen. If you use the outside view then you will likely conclude that a major war between China and the US IS likely to happen.

“In history the probability of war is high when a powerful rival approaches or passes a hegemonic leader. Depending on how you count one gets the following probabilities: 10/13 (77%), 11/15 (73%) or 6/7 (86%). With China approaching the US today, the real probability of war is higher. That’s because historical results are heavily weighted by the US passing Britain without a war. Two democracies with similar cultures passing without a war. That doesn’t exactly describe the US-China situation. Also, one could argue that the rivalry between the US and Soviet Union (Russia) continues today. That means we don’t know the true outcome.” – http://bit.ly/1AuyVGm

Adjusting the above data could bring up the probability of war to as high as 100%. The true answer is somewhere between 73% and 100%. Not good.

Another thing we know about war is that it follows the same crash distribution as forest fires. A feedback loop where the past heavily influences the future means that societies crash (financial or war) just like a forest. What happens to a forest after a very long time without a fire, or all the fires are put out? Does that mean a big fire will never happen, or we should be even more worried about one?

“In 1907, in the wake of an epochal financial crisis that almost brought a complete global collapse, several countries started to think of finance primarily as an instrument of raw power that could and should be turned to national advantage. That kind of thinking brought war in 1914. A century later, in 2007-2008, the world experienced an even greater financial shock, and nationalistic passions have flared up in its wake. Destructive strategies may not be far behind.” – http://bit.ly/1AuAcxc

There was a big financial crash in 1907 and 7 years later a big war occurred. In 1929 there was a big financial crash and 10 years later a big war occurred. In 2008 there was a big financial crash and a big war occurred in 2015-2018?

Based on the outside view and historical data, you should be out in your backyard digging a fallout shelter right now.

So we go from a general sense of danger, but not necessarily imminent, to an imminent sense of danger. Every society in history has collapsed. And the US is in fairly substantial danger of major war and collapse, right now.

Bees and Colony Collapse – NYTimes.com

But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.

Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. …

Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.

A variety of wild plants means a healthier, more diverse bee population, which will then move to the planted fields next door in larger and more active numbers. Indeed, farmers who planted their entire field would earn about $27,000 in profit per farm, whereas those who left a third unplanted for bees to nest and forage in would earn $65,000 on a farm of similar size.

Bees and Colony Collapse – NYTimes.com

This takes us back to my feedback loop collapse model. Suppressing smaller collapses brings on bigger and bigger collapses. There is no one cause. The problem is in the process that drives the future and the suppression of smaller collapses. The simple solution is to allow the land to rest one year in seven.

‘The [Vietnam] Regime Could Collapse Quickly’

“As anti-Chinese protests roil Vietnam, a domestic pro-democratic opposition is quietly gathering steam.”

HANOI, Vietnam — When journalist Pham Chi Dung quit Vietnam’s Communist Party in December,
he was so angry he published his letter of resignation on the Internet. One of the country’s leading dissidents, Pham accused the party of rampant corruption and monopolizing power against the wishes of a growing number of Vietnamese. “Never before have specific groups and political cronies benefited so profoundly from their cooperation [with the party],” he wrote. Plainclothes agents, he claims, have watched him ever since. “If I go anywhere, two of them follow me,” he said in a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s economic hub in the humid south of the country. It was too dangerous to meet at his office or home, Pham explained.

‘The Regime Could Collapse Quickly’

Why China’s Communist Party is headed for collapse – The Week

It might take years or even decades, but the cracks are already starting to show

Nothing lasts forever, not even the Chinese Communist Party. Whether it will perish in a few years, or last for decades to come, there are a series of worrying indicators. Beijing has been slow to implement reforms that will orient the economy on a sustainable path. President Xi Jinping is knee-deep in an anti-corruption campaign against senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members unprecedented in its reach and scope in modern China, raising concerns about the party’s ability to police itself. Meanwhile, outside the corridors of power, China’s increasingly sophisticated populace is concerned with pollution, freedom of speech, and the country’s relationship with its neighbors, especially Japan. It’s impossible to predict the future, of course, and the CCP overcame greater challenges following Mao’s death in 1976 and after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. But six months shy of the Communist Party’s 65th anniversary of ruling China, it’s worth emphasizing that the party and China are not the same thing — China predates the party, and will outlast it.

Why China’s Communist Party is headed for collapse – The Week

China on the Edge – at a Tipping Point

“And without prosperity, the only remaining basis of legitimacy is nationalism.”

There is something very wrong in China at the moment. China, I believe, has just passed an inflection point. Until recently, everything was going its way. Now, however, it seems all its problems are catching up with the Chinese state at the same time.

The country has entered an especially troubling phase, and we have to be concerned that Beijing—out of fundamental weakness and not out of strength—will lash out and shake the world.

So what happened in the past decade?

To understand China’s new belligerent external policies, we need to look inside the country, and we might well start with the motor of its rise: its economy.

Everyone knows China’s growth is slowing. Yet what is not obvious is that it is slowing so fast that the economy could fail.

The Chinese economy almost failed in June. There were extraordinary events that month including two waves of bank defaults. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s largest bank—the world’s largest bank—was obviously in distress: it even had to shut down its ATMs and online banking platforms to conserve cash. The Bank of China, the country’s third-largest lender, was also on the edge of default.

There was panic in China in June, but central government technocrats were able to rescue the economy by pouring even more state money into “ghost cities” and high-speed-rail-lines-to-nowhere.

Doing so created gross domestic product—economic output—but that was the last thing Beijing should have been doing at that—or this—moment. China, at every level of government, is funding all its construction with new debt. You think America has a debt problem; China’s is worse.

As one economist told us recently, every province in China is a Greece.

China, after the biggest boom in history, is heading into what could end up as the biggest debt crisis in history. This is not a coincidence.

Soon, there must be a reckoning because the flatlined economy is not able to produce sufficient growth to pay back debt. If we ignore official statistics and look at independent data—such as private surveys, corporate results, and job creation numbers—we see an economy that cannot be expanding in the high single digits as Beijing claims.

How fast is the country really growing? In 2012—the last year for which we have a full set of employment statistics—the number of jobs in China increased 0.37% over 2011. This indicates that China could not have grown by more than 2.0%

In 2013’s third quarter, preliminary surveys show the number of jobs decreased 2.5% from Q3 in 2012 and 4.0% from Q2 2013. That is an indication that China’s economy has already begun to contract both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter.

And why are China’s severe economic problems relevant to us? Because for more than three decades the Communist Party has primarily based its legitimacy on the continual delivery of prosperity. And without prosperity, the only remaining basis of legitimacy is nationalism.

We live in an era defined by the absence of major war, but this peace may not last. At this moment, we do not know whether a Chinese political system in turmoil will drive the country to become the aggressor of the 21st century, but we should be prepared.

We live in consequential times.

China on the Edge

The Coming Collapse of China

“… it is not success in the next election that keeps Chinese leaders awake at night but anxieties about social unrest that could potentially bring down the communist regime.”

The United States is supposed to be the world’s superpower not because it is dominating the entire world, but because of its complete domination of the western hemisphere. As of now, it has no political, military, or economic rival in its region. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue that China will not dominate the twenty first century. Nor will it become the hegemon – the political, military, and economic leader – of its region. I maintain that China, after the slow-down of its economic growth, will began to recede and thus play a much more diminished role on the global scene. China’s history demonstrates that the country is a regional hegemon when it is internally stable. When internally unstable, the country is in no position to project its power effectively abroad. One of the major problems the country is currently faced with is Uyghur nationalism and their independence movement.

China’s ability to maintain its economic growth is also in question, and the failure of China’s government to do so would be colossal. Social unrest and political chaos are already looming over China. Even a small political crisis will do serious damage to China’s economic growth. In a recent op-ed article in National Interest, Jonathan Levine raises a critical topic: “Why Reform Eludes China.” Levine’s response is revealing: “The importance of mature institutions in ensuring stable growth is nowhere more visibly on display now than in China, where their failings arguably pose the single greatest challenge for the ruling Communist Party.” China is a fragile power because it has challenges the communist leadership cannot overcome. Unlike western democracies, it is not success in the next election that keeps Chinese leaders awake at night but anxieties about social unrest that could potentially bring down the communist regime.

The Coming Collapse of China

The article also mentioned this: “Survival is a state’s most important goal, because a state cannot pursue any other goals if it does not survive.”

Well, survival might be the state’s most important goal but that doesn’t mean either the leaders or the people fully understand what that means. For example, in the US many people assume state survival is a given. Therefore, cutting the defense budget is no problem. Gutting its nuclear forces is no problem. There seems to be no worry about state survival. But what if the cuts have gone too far? Don’t worry, be happy!

Since few people in the US actually worry about state survival, the US could be in trouble. Right now the security of the US is hanging by a thread: No enemy leader would sacrifice most of his people to keep him in power. History tells us that is not a true statement. You should be worried.

If Chinese leaders and Russian leaders too are worried about a revolution, then a war with the US might be more likely given a good reason. The US has helped this process along by gutting its nuclear forces making a combine effort by China and Russia more likely. Now all we need is a good reason for war. Right now Japan is on our radar screen, but an even better cause would be Israel. Russia has already effectively threatened nuclear retaliation on the US for interference in the Middle East. Israel might serve as a catalyst in terms of starting a great-power war – involving both Russia and China.

 

Is World War Three about to start… by accident?

‘The risk of some local turf dispute exploding into a great power collision will remain alarmingly real.’

The Pacific rim is ever more densely strewn with the toys of war. The risk of some local turf dispute exploding into a great power collision will remain alarmingly real.

Indeed, there is a profound fear in Washington, in Tokyo, and maybe also in Beijing, that one day something unspeakably ghastly could happen by mistake. Remember that in 1914 before the outbreak of World War I, Britain and Germany were each other’s largest trading partners. China has an ever-growing fleet of missile-armed warships – thought to number around 80, as well as nearly 300 amphibious assault ships – including fast-attack craft specifically designed as ‘carrier-killers’, to engage the US Navy’s behemoths.

In response, the huge US Andersen air force base on the Pacific Ocean island of Guam has become host to a £10?billion reinforcement programme.

Is World War Three about to start… by accident?

The West has lost control of the world and disaster awaits – Telegraph

We’re going to need a great of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe – and this can be traced back to the First World War and the death of Frederick III in 1888

As we look forward to the First World War commemorations, three stark conclusions are hard to refute. First, that in the course of this century we will need a great deal of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Second, that the Enlightenment has failed. Third, that this can all be traced back to the Great War.

While the whole world was turned upside down in the 20th century, Islamic societies were not immune. Though it would be absurd to talk as if Islam was the same from Morocco to Malaysia, there are forces and fractures in the Muslim world, many of them related to religion; some of them producing young men who hate us and everything we stand for. The West has lost control, and it all started in 1888. We will need a lot of good fortune to steer through the next few decades. Happy New Year.

The West has lost control of the world and disaster awaits – Telegraph

What Does 1914 Have To Do With 2014? | The American Conservative

Here’s a long, must-read essay by Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan, who looks at the world of 1914 — the start of the Great War — in comparison to our own time. It’s annoyingly formatted, but well worth your time. Excerpts:

Though the era just before World War I, with its gas lighting and its horse-drawn carriages, seems very far off and quaint, it is similar in many ways—often unsettlingly so—to ours, as a look below the surface reveals. The decades leading up to 1914 were, like our own time, a period of dramatic shifts and upheavals, which those who experienced them thought of as unprecedented in speed and scale. The use of electricity to light streets and homes had become widespread; Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity; radical new ideas like psychoanalysis were finding a following; and the roots of the predatory ideologies of fascism and Soviet communism were taking hold.

MacMillan says that immense progress in economic globalization and technology lulled people into a false sense of optimism. More:

What Does 1914 Have To Do With 2014? | The American Conservative

A China-Japan conflict fits our scenario of global economic catastrophe

‘At Cambridge’s Centre for Risk Studies we model hypothetical chains of events that lead to global economic catastrophe, and a conflict over the barren rocks of the Senkaku Islands (or the Diaoyu Islands as the Chinese call them) closely fits one of our scenarios.’

When China recently declared a new “air defence identification zone” covering some small islands in the East China Sea claimed by Japan, it raised the possibility of an outbreak of hostilities between the two countries.

We are right to be concerned. At Cambridge’s Centre for Risk Studies we model hypothetical chains of events that lead to global economic catastrophe, and a conflict over the barren rocks of the Senkaku Islands (or the Diaoyu Islands as the Chinese call them) closely fits one of our scenarios.

This is not to say that war will break out any time soon, or even that it is especially likely to. But conflict is entirely plausible, and its impact would be felt in economies around the world. Global firms, most of whom rely on Southeast Asia at some point in their business model, should recognise the possibility.

A China-Japan conflict fits our scenario of global economic catastrophe