5 min read

Should We Tell People It’s Too Late To Save Civilization?

Civilization is definitely going to collapse in the near future, but will telling people only make the problem worse?
Apocalyptic City Overgrown With Vegetation

One of the most fascinating things about humans is their endless ability to deny the obvious. Our civilization is clearly headed for collapse, yet most people — even those who know that climate change is real — think the economy can keep growing forever, just so long as it’s a “green economy.”

First of all, there is no such thing as a green economy. To create renewables and electric vehicles, we have to destroy ecosystems so we can mine rare-earth metals. And to produce the plastic, steel, cement, and other components that go into solar panels and wind turbines, we need oil. There’s nothing green about any of this.

Secondly, even if we found an infinite source of clean energy, endless growth would still be impossible. If energy usage were to keep growing at 2.3% per year — as it has for many decades — in 400 years, the oceans would be boiling just from the waste heat. The laws of physics are a bitch.

So obviously, infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible, yet most people deny this basic fact. The idea of modern civilization coming to an end is so unthinkable that they simply refuse to believe it.

There are some who agree that in the long run, civilization is unsustainable, but they still believe it can survive the 21st century if we convince every major government to enact climate-friendly policies. I have some bad news for those people.

Even if there were no climate change, civilization would still collapse due to the dwindling supply of fossil fuels. We get about 84% of our energy from fossil fuels, and we need them to create thousands of everyday items, not to mention synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, without which half the world would starve. But it gets worse…

Even if there were no climate change and we had an endless supply of fossil fuels, civilization would still collapse due to biodiversity loss. We are at the beginning of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, and it looks like it’s going to be the fastest one ever.

Pollution and habitat destruction are mutilating the tree of life. Once the insects are mostly gone and the topsoil is mostly dead, we will no longer have the ability to grow food on a mass scale, and it will be game over for modern civilization. But it gets even worse…

Even if there were no climate change, we had infinite fossil fuels, and there was no mass extinction, civilization would still collapse due to a lack of critical resources. We are rapidly running out copper and other metals, and even crucial resources like sand and phosphorous are running low. But believe it or not, it gets even worse than that…

Even if there were no climate change or biodiversity loss and we had an endless supply of fossil fuels and natural resources, civilization would still collapse due to pollution, which is slowly killing us. PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as “forever chemicals” are everywhere. Even if you move off the grid and collect rainwater, you’ll still be consuming PFAS at a level far above the safety limits set by the EPA.

Microplastics are also everywhere, from the bottom of the Mariana trench to the pristine snowscapes of Antarctica. They’re in the food we eat and the air we breathe, and mothers pass them to their children through breast milk.

We still don’t know the long-term consequences of coating the world with microplastics, but we do know that they’re harming wildlife, and the problem is getting worse exponentially. Microplastics often carry carcinogens around with them, which could explain rising cancer rates and ever-lower sperm counts.

That’s why pollution alone would cause a healthcare and demographic crisis so severe they would eventually bring down modern civilization. But of course, the combination of climate change, peak oil, biodiversity loss, and resource scarcity will do it first.

What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s hopeless. We cannot save modern civilization.

Some people get angry when I say things like that. They accuse me of taking away people’s hope and making them apathetic. And recently, there have been a lot of articles complaining about climate doomers and saying they’re replacing climate deniers.

Here’s why that’s bullshit.

Imagine a doctor learns that her patient has terminal cancer. She’s about to go tell him the bad news when another doctor stops her and says, “You can’t tell him he’s going to die! If you do, he’ll become apathetic. You should tell him there’s still hope.”

Of course, that would be ridiculous. He needs to know he’s dying so he can warn his loved ones, get his affairs in order, decide how to spend his final days, and figure out how to manage the pain.

In the same way, people need to know that civilization is dying so they can warn one another, get their affairs in order, decide how to spend their final days, and figure out how to minimize the damage.

Imagine the doctor tells him about the cancer but also assures him that there is still hope. Instead of spending his time with loved ones and making peace with his death, he spends his time searching for miracle cures and wasting money on phony medicine. By doing this, he causes his family more grief and leaves them less money when he’s gone.

This is why doctors don’t give people false hope. It’s cruel and unethical. Telling people we can save civilization is also cruel and unethical.

As long as people believe we can save this civilization, they’ll continue with business-as-usual while looking for solutions that only make the problem worse. Sure, it’s possible that wind and solar power could extend the life of our civilization by a few years, but that means we’ll do even more damage to the biosphere, making the inevitable collapse that much more painful.

However, if people accept that modern civilization is unsustainable, they’ll start learning how to fix things, how to grow their own food, how to use less energy, or how to repurpose and upcycle garbage.

Meanwhile, governments could start reinforcing infrastructure, insulating homes and buildings, moving people away from the coasts, and incentivizing farmers to switch from monoculture to permaculture farming.

Of course, none of these things would stop the collapse, but instead of being sudden and dramatic, it would would be slower and less painful.

That’s why the idea that climate doomers are just as bad as climate deniers makes me angry. Climate deniers want to go full speed ahead with business-as-usual, which will destroy the biosphere and cause unimaginable suffering. Climate doomers want to stop growing the economy and save as much of the natural world as possible.

Deniers and doomers aren’t the same at all, and to say they are is both ignorant and insulting.

So to answer the question in the title of this article… Yes, we should tell as many people as possible that it’s too late to save civilization. Once we accept this reality, we can stop wasting time on so-called solutions that only make the problem worse and start preparing for a future without all the modern conveniences we take for granted.

Above all, we can learn to cherish our loved ones, appreciate the beauty of nature, and enjoy the time we have left.