We’ve all seen enough doomsday reports to shrug them off. After all, there’s always someone proclaiming the end to the world. A recently released report funded by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is raising eyebrows, however, with its bold prediction that civilization will collapse within the coming decades.

NASA

The report, written by a team of mathematicians, social scientists, and natural scientists argues that modern civilization is doomed. The report focused on examining five different factors: population, climate, agriculture, water, and energy.

NASA: Ecological carry capacity is one factor

The report claims that all collapses of civilization in the last 5,000 years have been caused by two factors. The first factor is the over stretching of ecological systems. Simply put, the ecological systems created by and supporting nature are highly delicate. The rapid development of human civilization and the explosion of the global population, however, is straining our natural ecosystems.

Yet despite what you might think, the report doesn’t point to the collapse of the environment as the catalyst that causes the collapse of a civilization. Indeed, ancient civilizations, while they had to deal with environmental and ecological issues, generally did not cause the collapse of global or regional ecosystems.

Instead, the collapsing ecosystems created dangerous conditions within society and when the second factor occurred, society itself unraveled.

NASA: Social inequality a second factor

The second factor of the NASA report is the massive growth of inequality between the rich and the poor. Essentially, resources would become massively concentrated into the hands of the rich while at the same time resources themselves were becoming scare. Over time, the poor would begin to lose access to resources.

Slowly, their situation would grow more dire, but at the same time the rich would be able to buffer themselves and stockpile resources for their own use. At least for a time, this will allow the elite class to carry on as usual. As the elite restrict the flow of resources to the poor, tensions will rise and society will begin to destabilize.

The report predicts that the continued concentration of resources into the hands of the few will result in one of two things. First a catastrophic event, such as a famine, could cause a sudden collapse. Second, the breakdown of society could be drawn out over the long haul as inequality rises and tensions also continue to rise.

NASA: Not all doom and gloom

The NASA report gives our global society only a few decades before it collapses, at least if we continue on our present trajectory. It does not claim, however, that the potential collapse of society is inevitable. Indeed, the report instead calls for action, stating that two things must be done in order to prevent a collapse of society.

First, renewable resources must be used and the strain on our ecological system must be reduced. Indeed, humanity is already consuming more resources than the world can replenish. Fossil fuel reserves are being quickly depleted, fishery stocks across the globe are being strained, fresh water is becoming scare, and on and on the list goes.

Second, what resources we have must be distributed more evenly. There does appear to be evidence that our global society is indeed growing more stratified. In many countries, such as the United States, wealth distribution is at or near all time highs. Further, conditions suggest that while the rich are growing richer, the poor are struggling with high unemployment and paying their bills, such as health care.

Of course, these issues have been raised before, and the doomsday scenario has been previously painted. While previous cases may not have been as eloquent, the basic argument has remained the same. And thus far, such reports have done little to stir up action.