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Is Society Collapsing?

Is Society Collapsing?

Abandoned passenger train car, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Twenty-five years ago, when the high-tech Second Industrial Revolution had just begun, I made a bet with an editor from Wired magazine that global society led by the United States would collapse in the year 2020 from a confluence of causes created by modern technology out of control.

It would be, I said, a mix of ecological disasters including earth overheating and polar ice melting, political disintegration including failed states worldwide and uprisings in major cities, and economic chaos including insurmountable debt and a stock-market crash and depression. He said, “We won’t even be close,” and slapped down a $1,000 check on my desk. Though a tidy sum in those days, I matched it and we settled on a mutual editor friend as the arbiter, to make the call when the time came.

That time, the end of the year 2020, has now indeed come. Who wins?

As to ecological disaster, the evidence is ample even though the response to it has been negligible. The ten hottest years on earth have been between 2005 and 2020, with 2019 the hottest ever recorded and 2020 very close. That means ice melting at a record rate, with significant loss at glaciers around the world, in Greenland, and at the poles, with ice going three times as fast in the last three years in the Antarctic as just ten years ago and the Arctic in what a scientist at the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University has called a “death spiral.” The U.N. climate panel, which puts the blame for global warming on “greenhouse gasses,” says these must cease by 2030, a goal that not a single major country is capable of meeting.

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