The decade ahead will be a testing time as it marks the peak clash between two mythologies — or rather, two defining eras. The outgoing mythological era is the one which has largely defined the recent century and a half of unprecedented growth and technological advancement and discovery. The model for this era consisted of the industrial extraction of fossil fuels, constructing superhighways of concrete, installing heavy cables, developing global trade zones, centralizing business into mega-corporations, etc. It was an era defined by heavy industry and machinery and was marked by high energy intensity and use. Yet it was necessary in forming and developing our diverse societies into a planetary body of interconnections.
It is now transparent to us that many of the systems we have come to rely upon are in a state of vulnerable criticality. The upcoming decade involves a period of sharp, short-term risks that are economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological. As nation states contend with the old model of requiring increasing amounts of energy and materials to sustain economic growth there will be an escalation in the struggle for control of resources that will realign geo-political relations throughout the world.
We should not underestimate the covert maneuvering set to take place upon the world stage from now to 2020. Already such nations as China and Saudi Arabia are buying farmland in Australia, New Zealand, and South America. North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are all hot-spots where aspects of this “Great Game” will be played out. The Middle East, for example, maintains vast oil wealth yet is beset by extreme economic inequality, political corruption and instability, and the need to import critical resources such as food and water. The Arab Spring protests were warning shots telling the world that the people were no longer going to tolerate these situations. What erupted there surprised almost everybody and further major destabilizations in these areas are more than likely.
In the short-term we may find that the political response is to try to arrange the world into more regionalized and hierarchical structures, driven by nationalistic security fears. Our predominant urban lifestyles, enmeshed within supply and demand infrastructures of dependency, may soon become enormous liabilities as the old mythology proves too slow to adapt to changing needs. Conditions may become unstable for a while as the world passes through a bottleneck of resource (oil, food and water) depletion, financial breakdown and reordering, disruptive environmental impacts, and social anger. Our current global civilization is witnessing what happens when the natural laws of increased complexity, growth, and overshoot occur. The result may be a necessary shift from vertical, hierarchical structures to horizontal, lateral networks.
As we move into a period of facing an energy-constrained global economy we will need to rely more on local resources — this suggests an economic re-localization and distribution model. As well as economic restructuring we will also need to redesign our transport systems, energy networks, and our food production and distribution systems. We are heading into a decade where we will literally have to rearrange the very way we think and do business. This is the clash of mythologies — the narratives we live by — and is necessary if we are to have sufficient “crisis” to catalyze real and lasting change. New mythologies rarely come into existence smoothly — the change of guard involves disruption as the norm.
The discontinuity of the coming years, whilst we make preparations for change, will inevitably incur sudden system shocks as we can no longer assume that we can avert some degree of significant tipping points. All of us on the planet are faced with the necessity of reevaluating our understanding of how we coordinate social, economic, and environmental concerns and interdependencies. Shifting to a new model is fundamentally a question of how (not if ) our diversified human civilization claims its right to take action to implement a future that benefits the majority in a sustainable and equitable way. Our current heavily-centralized utility infrastructures will need to give way to a horizontal, decentralized model of distributed networks.
In this remodeling we become more globally connected through our collaborative communications whilst at the same time developing deeper ties with our own communities. It is imperative we move into an era of open planetary dialogue as information and communications become even more democratized, accessible, and widely shared. As we move through this decade there will be incontrovertible signs of this new model that blends more localized ways of living with increased planetary awareness and unity consciousness. We will see increased creative collaborations between individuals and communities; we will share our new ideas with many people whom we may never meet; we will patronize local products and services; we will share, re-use, and barter rather than consume and throw-away; and whilst doing so we will be developing our community relations. The only thing that is certain is change.
The writing has been on the wall, so to speak, for a long time now, only vested interests (in the interest of greed and power) have kept the wolf from our doors. Until now, that is. Whilst some may have the means to “hunker down” in the plan to ride out — or “ride on” — the coming shocks, the rest of us don’t have this luxury. Nor should we, for it is a sugar-coated luxury that blinds us to a momentous opportunity for real and lasting change. These changes are not only structural but, more importantly, behavioral. Whilst experiencing the upcoming years of austerity and financial uncertainties we will also learn to be more connected, communicative, and to appreciate our relationship with the natural world. In doing so we will begin to participate in co-creating a more sustainable, equitable and meaningful future for us all. This will be the birthing of a new narrative for the next stage of human civilization.