We live in awkward times. Between now and 2050 world population is expected to grow by 50 per cent and, as we have seen, our per capita consumptive demands on the planet are also growing fast. In the 1960s the world's ecological footprint was below the planet's biocapacity; by the end of the 1970s it had risen to about one planet, where it stayed until about 1983. By the end of the millennium our footprint had reached 1.2 planets. We have now been living in ecological deficit for two decades.60 At the same time, wealth differentials are getting more extreme. Global inequality is worse than it has ever been. Such trends gloomily raise the question, Has modernity failed us? Has, indeed, decivilization already begun?
In 1992 Francis Fukuyama buoyantly declared in his book The End of History and the Last Man that the end of the Cold War meant the end of the progression of human history with Western liberal democracy as the triumphant, final form of human government and liberal economics as the ultimately prevailing mode of production. However, this thesis has not been able to withstand geopolitical - Balkanization, Islamic fundamentalism - and environmental objections. Capitalist ideologies assume inexhaustible resources which just aren't there. The global economy cannot, or
The basic infrastructures of life simply do not exist in many places across the world - such as Shkodra, Albania (above)
plain won't, continue in its present form. We cannot rely on the market to respond appropriately to environmental, social and cultural crises in time because environmental, social and cultural costs are not factored into economic calculations.
Barring manna from heaven or an extraordinary scientific discovery, it is safe to say that civilization will not survive in its present form. This is not to make an ideological point. There's just not enough planet to maintain culture as we now know it. Our addiction to the automobile will have to be addressed because even if or when sustainable energy sources arrive on a widespread, global scale, we do not have an infinite supply of metal. Tastes will change as we readjust to agricultures and industries closer to home. Water will become, as it should be, precious.
Given this material backdrop, ideologies will of course change. Perhaps the current rhetoric of rational economic man will be seen retrospectively as rather mad. The cult of individualism may wane when we realize in full how dependent our individual existences are on others (since we are all in effect sharing the same pie, having more means someone else having less). And change will be traumatic. Extreme economic crisis has historically precipitated extreme ideologies.
Was this article helpful?