The collapse of complex societies of the past can inform the present on the risks of collapse. Dr. Joseph Tainter, author of the book The Collapse of Complex societies, and featured in Leonardo Dicaprio’s film The Eleventh Hour, details the factors that led to the collapse of past civilizations including the Roman Empire.

2010 International Conference on Sustainability: Energy, Economy, and Environment organized by Local Future nonprofit and directed by Aaron Wissner. http://localfuture.org

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38 Comments

  • pr0tect0r7 1 month ago

    I agree with much of what he says, except for the idea that innovation
    cannot save us, and that the cost of innovation increases exponentially.
    One of the main reasons our innovation is stagnant is the fact that
    copyrights were only supposed to last no more than 4 years to keep the free
    flow of new ideas to innovate society. Disney came in and spent lots of
    money when its first cartoon steamboat willie came out, to extend
    copyrights for years, and even years more since that time. Innovation
    doesn’t cost us, corruption does. One of the saddest inflictions on the
    people of America, and the people of the world, are our strict copyright
    laws that hinder progress and slow innovation and free thought. If these
    were never in place we could likely be a hundred years more advanced than
    we are today.

  • Alfred Mayer 2 months ago

    Steady state economy is the only version of economy that can be sustained
    for the lifetime of the human race. Growth can not be maintained in a
    finite environment. Like it or not.

  • AlexBoerger.com 2 months ago

    ▶ Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter – YouTube

  • 8DanielDag8 3 months ago

    The growth in complexity seems to be a problem of Governments – having no
    direct cost benefit feedback.
    Unfortunately not only Governments grow in complexity, they also happen to
    prevent Business Cycle from occurring, keeping ‘too big to fail’ businesses
    shielded by interest rate manipulation or direct subsidies, in order to
    maintain status quo – employment etc.

    Maybe the solution is to shrink the Government and allow recessions in
    Business Cycle to clear the dead wood – companies which grow too complex
    for their own benefit.

    In centralized society the collapse is inevitable. But in diversified
    society the collapses can be just local, concerning few companies or
    regions and therefore mild.

  • Dmitry Uchitel 3 months ago

    The second last question after the talk is where our solutions may lie in:
    the facilitation of more long-term temporal ideas in the education system
    to begin a new generation of long-term thinkers, those that are curious
    enough to explore these kind of problems and apply their temporal
    knowledge. These problems that lead to societal collapse may be due to the
    way the educational system is designed and the fruit of that system isn’t
    geared towards thinking in more collectivistic manner that progresses
    through time and space. Tainter said that humans are generally not evolved
    to think on such a long-term scale. Maybe we need a conscious evolution, we
    have the right hardware (our brains) but we need to change and update the
    software (our ideas).

  • Juan Chevalier 4 months ago

    starts out pretty good. problems. steady state is a myth. growth isn’t
    required. change is required. isn’t that clear? when we change our energy
    efficiency – America and cut its fossil fuel consumption by 80% – or 800
    billion dollars or more a year.

    that’ll save a trillion dollars a year, get rid of pollution and the
    illness that is causing globally. That’s *change* in human behavior.
    Rideshare, better cars, electric cars, LED lights. That’s happening.
    America is using less fossil fuel than ever. Growth in China’s standard of
    living doesn’t mean growth in consumption. It means better clothing, better
    transportation, better. not more.

    Collapse isn’t likely unless economic leaders continue to dream that more
    consumption is better. Sustainability is a contextual thing. Not converting
    the Earth into crap that is useless is how you address sustainable use of
    planetary resources.

    We convert uranium into the worst pollution on the planet, but weight. We
    convert fossil oil/gas into substances we can’t re-capture and re-use. That
    kind of insanity leads to collapse. However, we convert plants into energy
    we use to walk and talk and find ways to convert the output of humans or
    living things, into stuff that is re-useable.

    Productivity in innovation is all wrong in those slides. patent output does
    not equal improvement in efficiency, recovery and re-use of resources. And
    the last 2 years of innovation in alternative energy in those charts showed
    a massive uptick. Since GOP Congress cut funding, it may have returned
    downward.

    Patents are not very useful in highly innovative fields. They could be
    entirely useless in 2 years where innovation is high-speed. His chart on
    innovations in communications systems is entirely wrong. Communications
    speed, quality and lower price, lower energy consumption are exploding.

    Not a very good appraisal of innovation. Complexity? Nature is the most
    complex thing out there, our ability to create complex symbols to
    communicate what we know about it, to predict disasters and avoid them, is
    great.

    Humans overall, need to *change* patterns of behavior, not *grow*consumption.

  • Frank Black 4 months ago

    This was a very good presentation by Dr. Tainter after having read his book
    and that of Jared Diamond. However, he failed to mention the role of the
    immutable law of entropy in the collapse or mutation of complex systems. I
    cannot go into detail on this forum, but there was a book written by Jeremy
    Rifikin in 1980 by the name “Entropy – A New World View.” Simply, it
    answers a lot of the questions of why complex systems eventually collapse
    and new systems emerge.

  • Adrian Shmadrian 4 months ago

    This was a really insightful presentation, thank you.

  • Nualaboala 4 months ago

    I cannot stress how important this video and this guys work is. Anyone who
    is interested in society and the future will find this video very
    informative.

  • Heavy Psych 5 months ago

    This should be taught in school for the future of our society

  • PESSOTTY TY 5 months ago

    instructive. Thank you

  • rx327prime 5 months ago

    They are people who benefit from a complex system and who in fact try to
    make the system more complex, just because they can hide themselves into
    this system. More complex is the system, more hidden they are, they think.
    Internet is a simplification of our mutual information exchanges, which
    allow us to see those who are hidden.

  • jdirt2019 5 months ago

    check out “Sustainability 101: Exponential Growth – Arithmetic, Population
    and Energy (Full – Updated)”

  • kelm0x0 6 months ago

    see : Red queen’s race

  • Wong Yu 6 months ago

    Yes, it can be.

  • kelm0x0 6 months ago

    Power and complexity is actually the same thing

  • Alfred Mayer 6 months ago

    What I can say about the social complexity is that it bears no benefits. In
    the end it is an act of sidestepping problems on one side to face it later
    on the other side.