At present world affairs are being shaped by three major forces: industrialization, the reaction to industrialization and emerging post-industrial views, values, structures and technologies. Although stories about the rapid expansion of the consumer society and its battles with Islamic traditionalists have dominated the news for decades, environmental problems will increasingly shape national and global events.
This is because resource shortages and failing ecosystems will not only limit the ability of the global economy to expand, but cause it to contract. The result will be growing economic and social crises, which will in turn provoke more local, regional and international conflicts. As a consequence the industrial system will weaken while both pre- and post-industrial forces will strengthen.
These three forces will increasingly converge into a single dynamic because there are only two possible outcomes for humanity—either we will continue to destroy our environments until our economies and societies completely collapse, or we will create viable societies and survive. The third alternative, a return to a preindustrial past, is not realistic for most of the people on Earth.
The population of the world is now too large and the environment too damaged to permit most people to live in hunter-gatherer, herder-cultivator or even agrarian societies (i.e. societies dependent on traditional farming technologies). However, it is possible now and will be possible in the future for a minority of the world’s population to live in sustainable pre-industrial communities where they can maintain, restore and develop their traditional lifestyles.
This means that there are only two options available for traditional groups opposed to modernization: they can either develop sustainable solutions that are appropriate for their cultures and physical environments, or they can make futile attempts to restore environmentally and socially obsolete social systems. The latter efforts will only increase chaos and accelerate the collapse of the global system into failed states and warring tribes.
As a result we can say that all events occurring on the planet today are part of two fundamental, major trends: they either support continuing environmental degradation and unsustainable outcomes, or they support the transformation of the global system and sustainable outcomes. At present the destructive trend towards collapse is the dominant trend and the constructive trend towards transformation is the emerging trend. Our futures will be determined by how these two interrelated trends develop.
The Three Possible Future Scenarios
Over the coming decades, the two major trends can produce three possible scenarios: rapid collapse, delayed collapse and (if major irreversible ecological damage has not yet occurred) transformation.
The majority of the world’s political and business leaders resist making major changes and continue with business as usual. As a consequence the pace of environmental destruction will increase and resource shortages will rapidly worsen.
The response to shortages will be to increase the rate of exploitation of the planet’s remaining natural capital, a process that will accelerate the destruction of major ecosystems. At some point in the near future cascading environmental, economic and political crises will become uncontrollable. This will cause irreversible damage to social and biophysical systems and bring about the catastrophic collapse of industrial civilization.
The majority of political and business leaders proactively introduce environmentally friendly technologies and provide emergency economic support to prevent unrest and conflict. These efforts will temporarily stabilize the industrial system and slow the pace of global warming and environmental destruction. However, attempts to improve the system without making fundamental changes to its unsustainable culture and economy will fail.
The environment will continue to degrade, and efforts to manage crises will consume more and more scarce resources. Although system failure will be delayed, the eventual result will be the same as in the first scenario: the inevitable collapse of major ecosystems and human societies.
As regional and global crises grow and the world economy begins to fail, it becomes increasingly clear to people all over the world that the current global system is unsustainable and heading for catastrophic collapse.
More and more people will then question the destructive values and institutions of the industrial system and begin to look for constructive alternatives — pathways to survival. Large numbers of people will be attracted to the developing systems-based vision of a sustainable future. The emergence of this new paradigm will enable the rapid constructive transformation of global views, values, technologies and social structures.
Excerpt from Graeme Taylor’s Evolution’s Edge: the Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, September 2008. (320 pages, 64 color illustrations, 584 references).
Available at amazon: Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World
It will look like this: World Transformation – Three Possible Future Scenarios