Tag Archives: collapse

If civilization collapses, researchers say, try to be in one of these five countries

If you’re planning on thriving while civilization worldwide crumbles, New Zealand is probably the best place to be, says new research.

Bridal Veil Falls, New Zealand. Image credits Holger Detje.

Friday is upon us, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to ponder the collapse of modern human civilization, as a treat. New research at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) comes to help us along our merry way, by estimating which countries today would be most resilient to future systemic threats posed by climate change and other globe-spanning problems.

The paper itself examined which factors could lead to such a scenario, focusing on a combination of ecological destruction, resource depletion, and population growth. It then looked at today’s countries and gauged which would fare the best during the “de-complexification” we’d be bound to see after such a collapse. De-complexification refers to the gradual or sudden breakdown of the multiple overlapping systems that maintain the world as we know it, including the collapse of supply chains, international agreements, and global financial structures. In essence, globalization but in reverse.

At the end of the world

The study was carried out by Nick King and Professor Aled Jones at the ARU, and they identified New Zealand as likely the best place to weather the storm. Iceland, the United Kingdom, Australia (specifically Tasmania), and Ireland were the runner-ups.

The authors explain that the challenges which face us in the future, ecological destruction, limited resources, and population growth, could trigger a reduction in the complexity of our civilization — in essence, collapse — especially with climate change acting as a “risk multiplier” that makes these trends harder to deal with. Whether this will be a very rapid breakdown taking place in less than a year, or whether this will be a longer, more gradual descent, the paper doesn’t aim to answer. It could even be a hybrid of the two, according to the authors, starting as a gradual decline that picks up speed through “feedback loops”, leading to an abrupt collapse.

Since we live in such an interconnected and interdependent world today, any localized decline will quickly ripple across the world and affect us all.

So, where do you go to weather something like that? The researchers tried to determine that by looking at the self-sufficiency (energy and manufacturing infrastructure), carrying capacity (land available for arable farming and overall population), and isolation (distance from other large population centers which may be subject to displacement events) of countries around the world. The next step was to assess each candidate’s individual and local potential for agriculture and energy production.

According to them, New Zealand, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Australia/Tasmania, and Ireland are the countries that have the most favorable conditions to survive a global collapse while maintaining high levels of societal, technological, and organizational complexity (i.e. civilization) within their borders. All five of them are islands or island continents, have a strong oceanic climatic influence, as well as a low variability in regards to temperature and precipitation. Taken together, these conditions will likely allow the countries to remain quite stable despite the effects of climate change.

New Zealand came in first due to its low population, high geothermal and hydroelectric potential, and wide swathes of agricultural land. Iceland, Australia/Tasmania), and Ireland also have favorable characteristics, but to a lesser extent. The UK is put at risk by its complicated energy mix and high population density. Although it does have a high agricultural output today, it has low per capita availability of agricultural land, meaning each square foot of land needs to feed a lot of people. This may make it impossible to achieve self-sufficiency.

“Significant changes are possible in the coming years and decades. The impact of climate change, including increased frequency and intensity of drought and flooding, extreme temperatures, and greater population movement, could dictate the severity of these changes,” explains Professor Aled Jones.

“As well as demonstrating which countries we believe are best suited to managing such a collapse—which undoubtedly would be a profound, life-altering experience—our study aims to highlight actions to address the interlinked factors of climate change, agricultural capacity, domestic energy, manufacturing capacity, and the over-reliance on complexity, are necessary to improve the resilience of nations that do not have the most favorable starting conditions.”

The paper “An Analysis of the Potential for the Formation of ‘Nodes of Persisting Complexity'” has been published in the journal Sustainability.

Bee markets still in good shape despite pressures from parasites and colony collapse disorder

A new study led by researchers from Montana State University examines the economic impact of colony collapse disorders (CCD) among commercial honeybees.

This research traces back to several years ago when Randy Rucker, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics in the MSU College of Agriculture, started looking into the phenomenon of colony collapse to estimate its economic impact, along with members from North Carolina State University and Oregon State University. All in all, they report, CCD isn’t a very big threat to current commercial pollinator markets.

Not good, not terrible

“With colony collapse disorder, a beekeeper goes out and virtually all the worker bees are gone,” said Rucker.

“Twenty thousand, 30,000, 40,000 worker bees, just gone. There are very few dead worker bees on the ground near the colony, and the queen, the brood and all the food are still there. But the bees are just gone.”

CCD is still poorly understood. The phenomenon first came to the attention of the industry and the public during the winter of 2006-2007, when mortality rates among bees were estimated to be around 30% of the total population. Since then, it’s been stoking concern in conjunction with other pollinator health issues (such as the Varroa mite) among beekeepers and the public.

Rucker and his team set out to identify the economic effects of CCD by analyzing trends over four categories: nationwide number of commercial honeybee colonies, honey production, the price of queens and packaged bees, and pollination fees charged by commercial beekeepers.

Rucker explains that bee populations naturally fall during the winter months. Prior to the onset of CCD, overall winter mortality rates revolved around 15% — so beekeepers have a lot of experience replacing dead hives and dealing with bee loses. Typically, they handle these issues in two ways: splitting, or simply buying more bees.

Splitting involves taking half the bees from a healthy colony and moving them to a hive that’s struggling. A newly-fertilized queen (purchased for $18-25 and received through the mail, the team explains) is also added in the mix. In about six weeks’ time, both hives should be up and running healthily. Bees can also be purchased pre-packaged through the mail; such a purchase typically includes a fertilized queen and several thousand worker bees. These ‘reinforcements’ are placed in a dead hive in order to restart it.

The team notes that both methods are relatively easy and inexpensive to pull off for beekeepers, who have relied on them even after the onset of CCD.

“Beekeepers know how to replace dead hives,” said Rucker. “As winter mortality increased after CCD appeared and beekeepers worried about having enough hives to meet their pollination contracts in the spring, they responded by splitting more hives in mid- to late summer and would then end up with the number they needed.”

Despite the extra splitting and increased demand for bees from beekeepers, the price of queens or the insects has not increased dramatically, the team found. They say this is indicative of the fact that “the supply of queens and packaged bees is sufficiently elastic that any increases in demand associated with CCD have not resulted in measurable increases in price.” Similar trends were found for colony numbers and honey production figures. Both metrics saw downward trends before the onset of CCD, and they still do, but the rate of decline hasn’t increased. They explain that colony numbers in 2018 were actually higher than they had been over the last 20 years.

The only meaningful negative impact that the team found was in the fees asked for commercial crop pollination. Even there, however, only one commercially important crop showed a significant increase in price: almonds. With about a million acres of almonds in need of pollination each year, it takes about 70% of U.S. managed honeybee colonies to get the job done.

Fees for almonds rose from roughly $70 to almost $160 — adjusted for inflation — over the winters of 2004-2005 and 2005-2006. However, that’s before the onset of CCD, the team notes

“Almonds get pollinated in February or March, and it’s really the only major crop that requires pollination during that time of year,” said Rucker.

“Almond pollination fees did go up substantially, but they went up before CCD hit. You can’t attribute those increases to colony collapse disorder.”

The team says that the findings suggest CCD and other recent pollinator health concerns have little direct consequences on the health of commercial pollinator markets, which is good for both industry and consumers.

“When we started this project, we expected to find huge effects, but we found very small ones,” said Rucker. “The only effects we found on consumers, for example, is that they probably pay about 10 cents more for a $7, one-pound can of almonds at the grocery store.”

The effects of CCD are so small, Rucker explains, likely because most beekeepers expect some of their bees and honeybee colonies to die over the course of the year, and have traditionally developed methods of dealing with these disruptions. The framework was already there, and beekeepers were able to adapt it quickly and efficiently to overcome the extra disruptions caused, for example, by CCD or mites. But, there are still a lot of unknowns about the disorder, and the paper focused on the particular overlap of colony collapse disorder and economics.

Where wild pollinators are headed is impossible to say based on the results of this paper alone, the team cautions.

“The bottom line is that beekeepers are savvy [businesspeople],” he said. “Our research provides reason for optimism about the future ability of commercial beekeepers to adapt to environmental or biological shocks to their operations and to pollination markets.”

It says nothing, however, about non-managed pollinators. Data on those pollinators’ populations are sparse, and the impacts of maladies like CCD on their populations are not well understood. There is definitely much more work to be done to grasp the effects of CCD and other threats to bee health.”

The paper “Colony Collapse and the Consequences of Bee Disease: Market Adaptation to Environmental Change” has been published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.


Researchers want to vaccinate bees so we don’t run out of food

The world’s first bee-protecting vaccine raises new hope of saving these vital pollinators and preventing a global food crisis.


Image via Pixabay.

Finnish researchers want to push back against colony collapse disorder (CCD) by giving our buzzing friends tiny little vaccines. The Helsinki University team hopes their work will help tackle the dramatic decline bees have seen in the last few years. Even if only a few percent of their overall population is kept alive by the vaccine, the team will have “saved the world a little bit,” they say.


“If we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit,” said lead researcher Dalial Freitak for AFP.

“Even a two-to-three percent increase in the bee population would be humongous.”

Bees are, quite simply, the unsung heroes of farms everywhere. Our agriculture heavily relies on the work these animals provide for free — bees are directly involved in the pollination of three-quarters of the world. However, we don’t take particularly good care of them. In recent years, bee populations everywhere have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder“. This disorder is poorly understood and seems to be the work of mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or some combination of these factors — however, no explanation has managed to impose itself thus far.

What we do know about CCD is that it is extremely deadly to bees as a species. Worker bees in a CCD-stricken hive will simply up and leave, abandoning the queen, the honey, the eggs, and a few nurse bees. The disorder is known to affect both feral and kept bees and is particularly troubling for the fact that those abandoned honey stashes are usually not robbed by other bees for a long time.

But the problem is best viewed in context. While the bees themselves are a key pollinating species, they’re not the only one — but all pollinators are struggling to cope with us. A UN-led 2016 study found that over 40% of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, are facing extinction (with CCD as a leading cause). The study also found that 16.5% of vertebrate pollinators, such as birds and bats, are under threat. Diseases just one of a number of reasons for the loss of pollinators. Pesticide use and intensive farming, which reduces the diversity of insects’ nutrition, are also weakening pollinators

We rely on these species to put food on our table. That’s why the team decided to try and heal the bees.

Their vaccine works pretty much like human ones: it gives bees resistance to severe microbial diseases that can be fatal for whole communities. Where it differs is in how it’s administered: insects don’t really produce antibodies like we do (and on which human-use vaccines rely).

However, previous research by lead researcher Dalial Freitak found that feeding certain bacteria to moths will allow them to pass immunity to their offspring. They could quite literally eat their way to resistance against disease. However, the underlying mechanism was unclear, and Freitak worked with co-author Heli Salmela to get to the bottom of it.

“I met with Heli Salmela, who was working on honey bees and a protein called vitellogenin. I heard her talk and I was like, ‘OK, I could make a bet that it is your protein that takes my signal from one generation to another’.”

The two collaborated and developed a vaccine against American foulbrood, a vicious bee bacterial disease spread around the globe. The treatment is administered to the queen bee via a sugar lump. The queen then passes the immunity to her offspring, spreading it through the bee community.

The team is also working on making these vaccines commercially available. While feedback has been “very positive”, Freitak admits that the process is very slow and cites four to five years to market as “an optimistic estimate”.

Hopefully, their efforts will bear fruit. If they do manage to get this vaccine out in meaningful numbers, the team is confident that protection against disease will make pollinator species stronger, and therefore better able to withstand other threats.

Italy’s Mount Etna might soon collapse into the sea

Researchers carried out a precise survey of the mountain’s shifting tilt, and the results are pretty worrying.

An Etna eruption as seen from the International Space Station.

Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of the Island of Sicily. It’s by far the largest active volcano in Italy and second largest in Europe, surpassed only by the Mount Teide in Tenerife. Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is almost always in a state of activity. This is good on one hand since fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards on the volcano’s lower slopes. But on the other hand, because the area is so densely populated, its eruptions are also very hazardous.

But there might be even more to worry about.

Ever since the 1980s, geologists have known that Etna’s south-eastern flank is falling into the sea at a rate of a few centimetres per year, but this process has not been thoroughly understood. This was once believed to be caused by increasing pressure from magma swelling from the depths. But the new study finds that it may be gravity, not magma, that brings the doom of Etna.

A team led by Morelia Urlaub from the EOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Germany, found that the flank is actually collapsing under its own weight.

They gathered data from seafloor instruments, tracking the volcano’s movement. Initially, for the first 15 months, nothing happened. Then, over only 8 days, Mount Etna’s southeastern flank moved 4 centimeters to the east — a much larger displacement than what was observed on land. This suggests that previous observations, which largely based on land observations, may have been understatements. The magmatic activity also influences flank movement, but overall, the gravitational collapse appears to be the dominating factor.

A map of displacement around Etna (the displacement is not uniform). White dashed lines show principal geological faults. Dots show locations of the seafloor geodetic receivers. Image credits: Urlaub et al / Science Advances.

Researchers also raise an alarm flag, using some of the strongest language realistically available in scientific publishing:

“We cannot exclude flank movement to evolve into catastrophic collapse, implying that Etna’s flank movement poses a much greater hazard than previously thought,” the study reads.

Based on available information, there’s no telling when or where this might collapse, and how hazardous this collapse may be.

The study has been published in Science Advances.

Western civilization could collapse within a decade due to political in-fighting

We might be in for a bit of rough and tumble — the civilization-collapsing kind, according to Professor Peter Turchin from the University of Conneticut’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology. He believes sweeping political turmoil could lead to a complete social collapse in the West sometime in the following decade.

Image credits Unsplash / Pixabay.

Professor Turchin is one of the leading proponents of cliodynamics, a field of science that mixes history, sociology, mathematics, with a bunch of other disciplines to understand the forces that have shaped humanity over the centuries — forces that still shape us today.

According to the tenets of cliodynamics, historical events such as crises or the rise of fall and empires follow clear patterns. Patterns that can be measured, quantified, and anticipated. Turchin started out by using mathematic models to predict human activity from 1500 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. Three years ago, using similar models, he began to forecast what’s to come. The results have led Turchin to believe that America is in for a grim future — one that could lead to its downfall, similar to the empires of old. Should the United States collapse, western civilization will likely suffer a similar fate, he further cautions.

“We should expect many years of political turmoil, peaking in the 2020s,” he writes in an article published on Phys.

“But this is a science-based forecast, not a ‘prophecy’. It’s based on solid social science.”

Too many cooks spoil the broth

Turchin considers that a process called “elite overproduction” is at the root of the issue. As the rich elite of society grows in number, it becomes even more disconnected and distant from the poorer members. They’re all fighting over a slice of the pie — but there’s more of them now, and the pie isn’t getting any bigger. This leads to increased tensions and more rivalry in the political and ruling class, gradually undermining any co-operation efforts.

“This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.”

He also says that falling revenues and rising expenses will lead to the “stagnation and decline” of individual living standards and the fiscal health of the state. The economic hardships could become so severe that the state won’t be able to recover.
Turchin says that exactly what will happen when this ‘peak’ occurs is unknown. The theory does not predict events only trends.

But there is a difference between us and the civilizations that came before: we know it’s happening.

“Our society, like all previous complex societies, is on a rollercoaster,” Turchin said. “Impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge.”

“The descent is not inevitable,” he continued. “Ours is the first society that can perceive how those forces operate, even if dimly. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.”

And no, it’s not Trump’s fault. The results of the recent presidential campaign are likely a symptom, not a cause. Turchin says that the election “changes nothing in this equation”.

“It did not predict that Donald Trump would become the American President in 2016. But it did predict rising social and political instability.”

“And, unless something is done, instability will continue to rise.”

Which basically means that we’re in for it no matter who’s in power.

The full paper “Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade” has been published in the journal Nature.

Massive sinkhole opens up in Ottawa, thankfully without victims

A massive sinkhole formed in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday 8th of June, leading to the collapse of one of the city’s busiest streets and damaging gas and water lines in the area. Gas, electrical and water services in downtown Ottawa are temporarily cut off and roadblocks set in areas of the city while authorities scramble to stabilize the area.

The sinkhole damaged the street and buildings in the area.
Image via reddit

First signs of the sinkhole forming were reported at around 10:30 local time on Wednesday near the Canadian Parliament building in downtown Ottawa, Canada. The area, which grew to a large section of the Rideau Street, eventually collapsed later in the day. The street has been closed off to most traffic for some time now — except for a few taxis, buses and pedestrians — due to ongoing construction works. Several nearby buildings had to be evacuated but there thankfully were no immediate reports of injury or deaths caused by the collapse.

Some suggest that the ongoing work on the underground railway system below Rideau Street may have lead to the collapse, but it is still unclear whether the ongoing project had something to do with the appearance of the sinkhole, said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. The city is largely built on a type of soil known as Leda clay or quick clay, known for its tendency to collapse. It’s not the first time such a collapse happened in the city; in 2014, a smaller sinkhole formed in an area east of the city, believed to have been caused by a failure in a water line. In 2010 a massive sinkhole suddenly collapsed in north-east Montreal, destroying an entire house and killing four people.

But no matter how it formed, authorities are now looking for solutions, trying to figure out the best way of patching up the massive sinkhole that is now causing a major disruption in one of Ottawa’s primary streets. City officials were forced to temporarily cut off some water, gas and electrical services in downtown Ottawa and roadblocks had been set up as well in different parts of the city for public safety.

“All hands are on deck to make sure the site is secured and no harm is done to any individual,” Watson told reporters on Wednesday.

Watson said they are planning to use a special type of concrete to help stabilize the sinkhole. This might take some time, however, and people should be prepared for some delays.

Video credits CBC News