Address the Role of Resource Depletion and Poverty in Societal Collapse

Giovanni Panini roman ruins

Target: Safa Motesharrei, applied mathematician with the National Environmental Synthesis Center and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland

Goal: Praise researchers’ work exploring the link between environmental destruction, widespread poverty, and societal collapse

Even the mightiest civilizations are capable of collapse. Debate rages as to the key contributors to a great society’s decline and what might herald the end of modern superpowers. According to a new study, entitled “A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction,” two key factors have been at play in major collapses throughout history: ecological strain, and economic stratification.

The researchers, hailing from the Universities of Minnesota and Maryland, will publish their study in the peer-reviewed Ecological Economics. Their findings should raise a red flag for policymakers worldwide. Depletion of natural resources faster then they can be replenished is unsustainable—a truth any system built on infinite consumption must eventually come to terms with. Add to this a society starkly divided into haves and have-nots and collapse becomes almost inevitable. The study’s authors warn that these conditions are prevalent in modern times and advocate policy changes to reduce inequality, population growth rates, and the per person use of natural resources.

Ignoring this warning could bring about the collapse of global civilizations within decades, according to the study. Praise researchers for addressing this crucial issue, and for acknowledging the truly devastating cost of widespread poverty and resource destruction.


Dear Mr. Motesharrei,

Modern societies will almost certainly face collapse when based on unsustainable use, and an unequal distribution, of natural resources. This fact should surprise no one, yet many national and international leaders seem content to ignore it. The scientific study of societal collapse and its causes can inspire societies to address these issues while there is still time.  And so I am indebted to you and your colleagues, Jorge Rivas of the University of Minnesota and Eugenia Kalany of the University of Maryland, for your commitment to this crucial research.

Journalist Nafeez Ahmed explained the significance of your work. “By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse,” he wrote in The Guardian, “the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilizational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today.”

Politicians and other policymakers should take heed of “A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction” and its implications. Ours is not a hopeless situation, but rather one which demands worldwide commitment and cooperation. Thank you for your investigation into societal decline and its causes and your advocacy for much-needed policy reforms. If population and consumption levels can stabilize, and if resources can be more equitably shared, there is hope for our species yet.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Giovanni Panini via the National Museum in Warsaw

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