The television series Game of Thrones warns darkly of a coming winter when cities are destroyed, crops fail and thousands of people die of cold, famine and war. What I intend to explore in this post is the future of our contemporary industrial civilisation and whether we are heading towards an equivalent winter in the coming decades.
To peer into the future the past is often a good place to start. During the 1970’s concerns regarding resource depletion, sustainability and future availability of oil supplies were major issues which were widely discussed in the public sphere. A widely misunderstood group attempted to forecast the future trajectory of civilisation through a computer simulation which calculated the consequences of interactions between the Earth’s and human systems. In 1972 the book Limits to Growth was published with various scenarios including a “business-as-usual” standard model (the “standard model”).
Researchers have regularly revisited the Limits to Growth forecasts in the proceeding decades and the standard model is in line with the real world trends to this current day. You can see the standard model and the 30 year update below. To summarise, a 1972 computer simulation has accurately predicted the major trends of the world economy and biosphere over the last four decades, yet it is hardly known to the general public. The reason why nobody wants to discuss the eerily prophetic Limits to Growth standard model may be in what it forecasts in the future.
- A catastrophic global collapse in industrial output per capita and food output per capita from around the mid 2010’s onwards.
- A massive ongoing rise in global pollution which only peaks in mid-century.
- Services per capita peaks around 2020, after which there is a devastating collapse, with a huge drop within 20 years of the peak.
- By around 2030 the world economy has started collapsing with ominous implications for the world population which starts to drop from that point onwards.
The only minor consolation is that on a number of the key trends, the real world data is marginally better than the forecasts by the computer simulation, although still in line with the overall model. Some may argue that technology will come to the rescue and save humanity from this bleak dystopian future. Although an energy game-changing discovery like cold fusion could avert our likely future, there is no evidence that such a technological savour is on the horizon. If the world of science is going to rescue us, it should better hurry up, as we are running out of time.
Decades ago, there was still time to ensure sufficient non-renewable resources could be preserved for future generations through a shift away from a free trade oriented world economy dedicated to economic growth. It is probably too late to avoid significant negative repercussions as our fossil fuel supplies become scarcer and ever more expensive to mine. Even the spectre of manmade climate change wreaking havoc hasn’t been a sufficiently strong reason to force world leaders away from the business-as-usual status quo. It is highly unlikely that politics can save the world now.
The trends forecast in the Limits to Growth standard model is the mega-trend driving world economic and political forces. One of the reasons why the Pundocracy increasingly fail to accurately predict major political events (for example the Brexit referendum result) is that they have a total blind spot to the biggest mega-trend impacting on the world. Ordinary voters understand at an instinctive level that the prospects of maintaining a middle class lifestyle are dying. When news viewers see thousands of migrants risking their lives to get into Fortress Europe, they sense, that this is only the beginning of a massive migration wave from a collapsing MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. And they are right.
Based on the standard model megatrend, as well as other key drivers, here is what I anticipate is likely to happen in the coming decades;
- The eurozone will collapse around 2020
Historically, European monetary union experiments have lasted on average 20 years and the eurozone is the biggest and most ambitious monetary currency union in European history. It is however in profound trouble with openly anti-Euro parties including the French National Front and the Italian Five Star Movement enjoying a real chance of winning power in elections next year. Should either France or Italy vote to leave the Eurozone, the economic and political implications will be devastating.
The European elite have created a monetary and currency union without a corresponding fiscal, banking or political union. If the eurozone is to survive in the long-run, it needs a functioning supranational federal government which can arrange fiscal transfers from the wealthy northern countries to their poorer Mediterranean neighbours. Public opinion polls show no popular support for such a federalist vision amongst the European public. Even without the Limits to Growth megatrend, it was always unlikely that the eurozone would survive the rising populist backlash by an alienated European electorate. The only question is whether the eurozone experiment, inaugurated in 1999, will collapse in an orderly or disorderly fashion.
- Nationalistic and populist political forces will continue gaining power
The rise of nationalistic and rightwing populist forces throughout the world is gathering pace. Russian strongman President Putin was one of the first but there are many others in power now, including President Erdogen of Turkey and the authoritarian Chinese President Xi Jinging. One could call it the Putinisation of world politics. These charismatic leaders are popular with the masses and appeal to the nationalistic feelings of their peoples.
The virus of Putinisation is spreading to the Western world. Rightwing populist parties have gained power in Poland and Hungary and only narrowly lost in the Austrian presidential elections recently. The Republican candidate Donald Trump, an admirer of President Putin, is neck to neck in the polls against Hilary Clinton and is likely to win the November general election. The election of Donald Trump as president will be a historically significant event and will signal that the liberal international order has died.
As we enter into the long twilight years of shrinking and more expensive non-renewable resources, access to oil, gas, coal and rare metals will become a matter of national security. The state will see a comeback as the market will not be relied upon to ensure sufficient supplies of strategic raw materials critical to a modern industrial society.
The writer John Greer has written about this new era of economic decline and growing world disorder, which he calls Scarcity Industrialism, in a number of articles over the years. As Greer notes, the key feature of this new era will be that “access to fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources will be the key to international power and national survival, but by that very token fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources will continue to slide down the curves of depletion. As resource production in one nation after another drops below levels that will support any kind of industrial system, industrial economies will unravel and give way to other forms of economy.”
States that have strong national security regimes and powerful militaries will be in a strong position to ensure sufficient strategic resources to keep their economies afloat. Power will shift from the finance oligarchs to the generals in the coming decades and a frightened public across the world will demand strong leaders who can preserve their crumbling way of life.
- The international migration crisis will massively worsen
Experts on the refugee and migration crisis warn that Europe faces the prospect of waves of migration which will dwarf the million and a half that have arrived to date. The German government has been warned that up to 10 million migrants could enter Europe within the next 5 years from a troubled MENA world. As food per capita starts to fall of a cliff in the coming decades, hundreds of millions will be at risk of starvation across the African and Eurasian continents. These people will have nothing to lose by trying to enter a prosperous Europe.
The prospect of tens of millions of predominately Muslim Africans and Arabs trying to enter Europe in the coming decades will accelerate the rise of right wing populist forces to power across Europe. Where there are already significant Muslim populations in western European countries, including France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, tensions between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations will continue to worsen.
- The European Union (EU) will collapse around 2030
The likely collapse of the eurozone around the year 2020 will be a hammer blow to the European Project. It will still be in the interests of the major European powers to keep the union going as economic and geopolitical tensions worsen throughout the world. As the forces outlined in the Limit to Growth megatrend worsen, the ability of an increasingly fragmented and divided EU to survive will diminish, and the EU will eventually disintegrate into nationalistic power blocs.
- Western Europe is heading towards civil war
The prediction that Western Europe is heading towards civil war may appear absurd but it is a frighteningly real possibility. The Chief of the Swiss Armed Forces, Lieutenant General André Blattmann, has publically warned of the risk of civil war, in December 2015. On 12 July 2016, it was reported that the head of French intelligence Patrick Calwar informed the French parliament that France “is on the brink of civil war” between the ultra-right and the French Muslim community. British Rear Admiral Chris Parry warned in the Sunday Times on 11 June 2006 that western civilisation faced a spectre of a Roman Empire style collapse in the coming decades as mass migration and radical Islam triggers violent unrest. European security and military circles are discussing the risks of civil war in public and almost certainly in private.
If there is widespread and violent unrest from a radicalised young Muslim population, then the cities of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom will bear the bulk of the fighting. Western European states have cut their military and police budgets since the end of the Cold War and would struggle to put down a violent urban uprising. European governments could have to request American military support but it is not certain that a future US president would send US military forces in a European urban insurgency. Hopefully this grim prospect will never happen and the securocrats are wrong in their fears.
To conclude, we are entering into a twilight era of Scarcity Industrialism where the current financial, economic and geopolitical framework is disintegrating. The Limits to Growth megatrend is driving a collapse of the post-Cold War liberal international order, which will be heralded when Donald Trump is likely inaugurated as America’s next president on 20 January 2017.