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Professor of Environment & Society,

College of Natural Resources,

Utah State University

Author, ‘Collapse of Complex Societies’



Joseph Tainter, PhD, is an anthropologist and historian who has studied collapse in numerous ancient civilizations.  He worked on issues of sustainability before the term became common, including his highly-acclaimed book The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988).  He has also conducted research on land-use conflict and human responses to climate change.  Tainter's sustainability research, with emphases on energy and innovation, has been used in more than 40 countries, and in many scientific and applied fields.


Tainter's biography is included in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, and Who's Who in Science and Engineering.

Among other institutions, Tainter’s work has been used in the United Nations Environment Program, UNESCO, World Bank, Rand Corporation, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Earth Policy Institute, and Technology Transfer Institute/Vanguard.


He has been invited to present his research at Getty Research Center, University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and many other venues. 


His research has been applied in economic development, environmental conservation, health care, information technology, urban studies, and the challenges of security in response to terrorism.


Tainter has appeared in print media, radio programs, and in documentary films and television programs, including Collapse: Based on the Book by Jared Diamond, by National Geographic (2010), and The 11th Hour, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (2007).


His other books include Supply-Side Sustainability (Columbia University Press, 2003), which was the first comprehensive approach to sustainability to integrate ecological and social science, The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History, and Human Action (Columbia University Press, 2000), a work that explores past human responses to climate change, and Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma (Copernicus Books 2012).

Dr. Tainter earned a Masters and PhD in Anthropology from Northwestern University in 1975.

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