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 7 months 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 9 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 9 months ago

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

  • 8DanielDag8 9 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 9 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 10 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 10 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 10 months ago

    This was a really insightful presentation, thank you.

  • Nualaboala 10 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 11 months ago

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

  • PESSOTTY TY 11 months ago

    instructive. Thank you

  • rx327prime 11 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 1 year ago

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

  • kelm0x0 1 year ago

    see : Red queen’s race

  • Wong Yu 1 year ago

    Yes, it can be.

  • kelm0x0 1 year ago

    Power and complexity is actually the same thing

  • Alfred Mayer 1 year 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.

  • Andreas Persson 1 year ago

    Most important video on youtube!

  • ebedgert 1 year ago

    I find that MOST people don’t really grasp what Tainter is talking about,
    because in the end they are always looking for an “out” to this situation.
    There IS no “out,” it is like the frog who fell into the buttermilk pail…
    keep kicking, or die. Human civilization, and possibly life itself, is too
    complex to survive in a steady state. There have been and will be further
    collapses, and no amount of R&D will prevent the next collapse.

  • jacopman 1 year ago

    While there are other alternative energy sources there is not one that is
    simple, portable and as varied in useage as oil…………..we don’t have
    a substitute for that is more of what he is implying…………wind and
    solar where just examples stated, not the be all to end all……

  • Wong Yu 1 year ago

    The problem: the system was/ is not set-up for efficiency or
    sustainability. In fact, the system was created by governments to be
    unstable and inefficient long-term in order to gain short term rewards. The
    politicians engage in vote buying through unsustainable government
    programs, regulation, restrictions, taxation, etc. that needlessly
    increases complexity within the economy and society. Meanwhile, governments
    also fail to fulfill its basic duties, because more complexity brings more
    power.

  • Jim Dandy 1 year ago

    its about control

  • nastymutant 1 year ago

    get your balls out

  • Louis Calvez 1 year ago

    No mention of entropy? Hmm. The w.roman empire failed completely within two
    hundred years and it had an energy consumption of about one hundreth of
    ours? “Sustainability” is another human myth, as is “environmental
    protection” and “environmental remediation” by industry. Ecosystem
    sustainability has been subverted by human industry over and over again as
    a claim of man’s dominion over all living things. The time is near when
    humans reconnect with the program of ecosystem morality.

  • 0utc4st1985 1 year ago

    The key difference is that while Jared Diamond believes environmental
    problems caused the collapse of societies Tainter has made the case that
    the cause was economic, rooted in the structure of society itself.
    Honestly, Diamond’s work looks like more enviro fear mongering. The
    environmental problems he talks about had happened previously, yet the
    societies discussed didn’t collapse. Primitivism is tempting, but it’s a
    road to nowhere.

  • Great presentation – very thought provoking, raises serious long term questions about the future for human civilisation even setting aside the apparent inevitability of collapse for the current one (ie there will be more civilisations later). How can one predicate a civilisation on a long term sustainable basis without collapse becoming an inevitable outcome – not a simple question apparently.

  • orangedac 1 year ago

    An excellent lecture.

  • 24kGoldenRocket 1 year ago

    Tell me the reason that Energy and Complexity are functionally intertwined.
    Please use your understanding of the Laws of Classical Physics in your
    answer. Please present your answer in an Aristotelian Logical Format with
    Two Premises and the Conclusion.. Do you have a grasp of what Dr. Tainter
    is saying? You listened to the presentation. Do you think broadly? Those
    people have a better grasp than most. The answer to my question deals with
    Thermodynamics. Specifically it deals with Entropy.

  • Andres Soolo 1 year ago

    Isn’t it just delightful to see a good lecture followed up by crackpot
    questions?

  • Edward Kirby 1 year ago

    “Are all societies doomed to collapse” That *would* explain the Fermi
    Paradox.

  • MrDiceman9000 1 year ago

    In terms of “choosing to fail or succeed” an example I believe Jared
    Diamond uses in his book is the Hopi Indians as a successful society. Also,
    the sea faring peoples of northern greenland vs the greenland norse. The
    choice was adopting some of the food practices of the sea hunting indians
    vs attacking them and recording that they bleed. This was a choice that the
    greenland norse made. They consciously choose to have these locals as their
    enemies instead of learning from them.

  • ClimateState 1 year ago

    Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter

  • ririri 1 year ago

    Would have made more sense if this was cast as “Collapse of Complex Systems”

  • artistoli 1 year ago

    Good grief, some of those students asking questions at the end are examples
    of why we are screwed. They ‘listened’ to the presentation but still have
    no grasp of what Dr Tainter is saying.

  • cikular 1 year ago

    Basic income is the aswer and solution for all troubles.

  • Castorios 2 years ago

    very informative video, thanks for the upload !

  • kimxxxyyy 2 years ago

    the problem is there are to many, my life boat is being polluted with to
    much shit!