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It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

“It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)” ~R.E.M.

“NASA-funded study: industrial civilization headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?” asked a March 14 article by Nafeez Ahmed on The Guardian’s web site. Such headlines always catch my eye; I’ve been an avid reader of the history of the end of the world since the 1970s classic The Limits to Growth. More recently, there’s been Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and multiple updates to The Limits to Growth, including Jorgen Randers’ 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, which I covered in a previous blog post.

Readers of collapse literature tend to fall into one of two camps. My own sustainability mentor—himself a member of the Club of Rome, which produced the original Limits to Growth—calls these folks “Pollyanas” and “Cassandras.” Pollyanas are the rose-colored-glasses-folks, named after the eternally-optimistic character of literary fame. Pollyanas poo-poo any notion of limits to growth, let alone global collapse due to exceeding such limits. Cassandras, on the other hand, are named for the legendary tragic Greek prophetess whose prophecies were doomed never to be believed. These are the doom-and-gloom folks who, like their namesake, seem cursed never to be believed by government leaders. (What government leader is going to get elected on an “anti-growth” platform these days?)

As I ask my students in my Intro to Sustainability Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Do you consider yourself a Pollyana or a Cassandra on the question of our ecological future? Is human society—or even the whole biosphere—doomed to collapse from our actions?

Or is there a middle-of-the-road opinion? Where does the “realist” fit on this ideological spectrum? This is an important question for, as Anaïs Nin famously stated, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Won’t you share your opinion with us in the comments section to this blog?

Kyle Crider is Program Chair at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at