What Factors Can Trigger A Societal Collapse?

The exhaustion of resources can lead to the collapse of a society in many instances.
The exhaustion of resources can lead to the collapse of a society in many instances.

A societal collapse is a decline and subsequent collapse of society. Ancient civilizations that were once global superpowers collapsed and faded away, giving rise to new superpowers. The common denominator seen in many ancient empires such as the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Vikings, the Byzantine Empire, and the Aztecs is that these were all global superpowers during their prime, but all faced the same fate. Several factors cause a societal collapse, but the primary factors are resource depletion, foreign invasion, and natural calamities.

Exhaustion Of Resources

Resources get exhausted when the rate of consumption of resources far exceed the rate at which the resources are replenished. Resource depletion is particularly profound on non-renewable resources such as rock minerals, oil, and gas. Exhaustion of resources is a prime cause of the collapse of numerous civilizations in the past. The Norse Settlement in Greenland came to an unceremonious end around 1450 AD. The exact reason behind the disappearance of the Norsemen from Greenland is not conclusively known, but historians see resource depletion as a likely cause. While these Norsemen (also known as Vikings) were famed for their naval exploits as well as military prowess, they had little understanding of the effects of the deforestation as they cut logs to build houses, temples and other unnecessary structures. The increased deforestation on the limited forest cover in Greenland ultimately led to the exhaustion of logs, leaving the Norsemen with no charcoal necessary in iron smelting. With no iron, the fate of the Vikings in Greenland was sealed and must have been a probable cause behind their disappearance.

Resource Depletion In The Modern Era

In the modern setting, resource depletion is seen as the most likely cause of the collapse of modern civilization. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century in England, global economies have been reliant on non-renewable resources from the earth to fuel the industrial growth. These minerals which took millions of years to form are consumed in millions of tons each year with advances in technology allowing people to exploit more of the resources. Many scientists now believe that the earth is about to experience production decline of most of these resources, with peak production in some minerals being witnessed as soon as the mid-21st century. For instance, natural gas is expected to reach peak production in 2023 while peak production in copper is expected to be as soon as 2024. One of the most important natural resources necessary for industrialization is oil, a non-renewable resource. While technological advancements are making it possible for countries to make oil discoveries both on land and offshore, the global consumption of the resource is at its all-time high, with oil consumption expected to continue to rise as economies consume more oil.

Peak oil production is a certainly accepted by many scholars that it will soon decline, and when oil depletion occurs, economies that are reliant on it are expected to collapse. Deforestation was not an issue exclusive to the Greenland Vikings but is witnessed in the modern era with deforestation occurring at an unprecedented rate. Deforestation is linked to landslides which lead to the loss of life and property and ultimately to the collapse of society. Another non-renewable resource which is usually overlooked is groundwater. Groundwater is estimated to be the source of as much as 98% of the freshwater used globally. However, groundwater is currently used at a higher rate than it is replenished through irrigation, cooling of nuclear power plants. The depletion of such a crucial natural resource as fresh water will certainly lead to the societal collapse on a global scale. Despite the available modern remedies such as desalination, if the trend of water consumption persists, then the depletion of fresh water seems to be a matter of “when” and not “if.”

Foreign Invasion

Foreign invasion is one of the leading causes of societal collapses witnessed in history. War is almost as ancient as civilization itself with communities, kingdoms, and empires invading each other for thousands of years. Many ancient civilizations disappeared from the face of the earth after they were invaded by neighboring societies. The societal collapse caused by foreign invasion takes place in two distinct processes; one is where the invaded society experiences large-scale killings leading to the irreversible decline in its population, while the other is where the invading society absorbs the invaded society through intermarriages. Foreign invasion is one factor thought to be behind the collapse of the Roman Empire. While the end of the Roman Empire happened gradually and caused by many different factors, foreign invasions witnessed in the 5th century by Barbarian invaders certainly accelerated the downfall of the Empire.

Foreign invasion was also witnessed in Asia with the most destructive of these being the Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan. The Mongol invasions are linked to the collapse of many civilizations in Asia after invaders slaughtering thousands of people and causing an irreversible damage in populations in Russia, China, and the Middle East. Historians believe that the Mongols were directly responsible for the collapse of Mesopotamia after causing irreparable destruction on the irrigation system of the kingdom. Many societies collapsed during the spread of Islam across the Middle East and North Africa as Islamic armies, through holy wars or jihads, ravaged native communities who were forced to abandon their ways of living and embrace the Islamic religion. European invasion witnessed all over the globe between the 15th and 19th centuries led to the complete destruction of many native societies as European powers used force to establish European imperialism and form colonies in Asia, the Americas, and Africa. The effects of the European invasion are still felt in many of the native communities in different parts.

Natural Causes

Other than human interferences, there are events caused by nature that can also lead to a societal collapse with some natural events that took place millions of years ago including giant meteor impacts, led to the extinction of hundreds of species, with human civilization being nothing in comparison. Kingdoms in Mediaeval Europe were almost wiped off the face of the earth after the bubonic plague led to the Black Death which saw millions of people die in a span of a few decades. The plague destroyed entire communities. The plague impacts on the population of Europe was so significant that it took centuries for the population to recover. Scientists believe that natural events such as a giant meteor impact or gamma-ray outbursts from the sun can cause the end of modern human civilization.


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