Frosty Wooldridge

Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winner for his Guns, Germs and Steel, wrote a second compelling book titled: Collapse: the fates of human societies.  That book provided evidence for how societies ultimately collapse.

Most disturbingly, the United States of America races headlong into another chapter for that book in the not too distant future.

In an outstanding piece by Dr. Jack Alpert, “Social Conflict Trips Civilization Collapse”, 8/30/09, he illustrates by simple graphs how civilizations decline and vanish.  Dr. Joseph Tainter added to the discussion recently with much the same: The Collapse of Complex Societies.


While most Americans go about their daily business, imperceptible changes accelerate across the planet. The end of the Age of Oil looms for every Western civilization in the 21st century. Great scientists like Paul Ehrlich, Dr. John Tanton, Dr. Albert Bartlett, Dr. William Catton, E.O. Wilson and others find themselves relegated to the shadows of media hype and pompous circumstance.

Dr. Alpert joins the list of distinguished research scientists that expose what humanity faces in the 21st century.

“Before today, humankind has never been able to support 6.8 billion people,” said Alpert. “We know this because, if each woman at the time of Christ had only three children, and each lived to 60 years of age, the 150 million people existing then would have grown to 6.8 billion by the year 400. The primary reason population did not grow that fast was our social organization could not create the goods and services to allow it.

“Today if we lost important elements of our civilization e.g. communication, transport, means of exchanging goods, services, and labor, economies of scale, or technology (cet. par.) fewer people could be supported.

“The important questions are not, "When will we lose supporting resources like an ocean fishery, or easily accessed oil, or an atmosphere that can absorb CO2 without changing our climate, but, when will these changes cause our civilization to collapse?

“Certainly if energy costs "doubled the price of bread" the billion people who are already spending 90 percent of their wages on food would die. The two thirds of the population that the WHO and FAO report as "not having enough of the proper food to maintain health and brain development" would know they were heading for the same fate.

“The resulting social stress would erupt in a civilization crushing social conflict. Not only would there be a huge die off, our civilization in its death throes will deplete the remaining dense-energy, ruin natural productivity like fisheries, forests, and soil, poison the air and water, and kill large portions of the biota. There might not be enough resources remaining to rebuild what we have today.

“The above paragraphs present many changing variables that lead to an unrecoverable Dark Age. The image below ties them together to describe avoidance behaviors.

“The top box “load on earth” shows how "Total human footprint" is created by multiplying "population" times "per capita footprint."  (check for the displays at www.skil.org)

“The middle box shows how the earth creates the "ability to carry" this footprint using non renewing resources (e.g. exhaustible oil,) renewing resources" (e.g. fisheries,) or recycling or absorption capabilities" (e.g. CO2 in the atmosphere.)

“The lower box is labeled “civilization death spirals.  The key element is scarcity which first was created by humankind's total demand exceeding the earth's "ability-to-carry."

“However, as scarcity increases it causes increases in conflict and redistribution. Redistribution increases the separation between the rich and poor which creates more scarcity. This new scarcity creates more stress and conflict.

“Conflict diverts resources from supporting people to aggression or defense and this creates more scarcity. More scarcity creates more conflict. More conflict creates more scarcity. The two variables pump each other up until civilization collapses.

“This figure shows that to prevent civilization collapse, with all its attendant injury, scarcity must be ever-decreasing.

“My suggested process to create "ever-decreasing scarcity”, (described in SKIL Note 41) is ever-decreasing population.

“In notes 42-65 I explain that a one child per woman behavior must be adopted until population is so small there is essentially no meaningful scarcity. My estimate for earth's sustainable human population (where scarcity does not lead to civilization collapse) is below 100 million.

After talking with Dr. Alpert, I am reminded of a little child that does not want to give up his toys.  He stubbornly holds them close.

The America society holds its own sense of entitlement close while refusing to see that it cannot continue on its current consumption/population/growth path.  It needs to take a look sooner than later.  American and world societies must move toward a sustainable future by changing their birth rates to move into line with carrying capacity of the planet.

The eminent Harvard scholar and biologist E.O. Wilson said, “The raging monster upon the land is population growth.  In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology and land-use management is sophistic.” 


Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents " from the Arctic to the South Pole " as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border.  In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece.  He presents “The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it” to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges.  He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com  He is the author of:  America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans.