Sometimes, after reading a slew of news articles from around the world, I feel confused and weary. But occasionally patterns seem to emerge. I say “seem” because the human brain is all too eager to see patterns where there are none (hence humanity’s fascination with false conspiracy theories). Nevertheless, these days I can hardly escape the sense that current events are accelerating toward . . . something troubling.
Of course, we all bring preconceptions to bear on new information, and those preconceptions tend to shape the patterns we see. My own preconceptions have emerged from a few decades of studying humanity’s systemic problems—climate change, resource depletion, pollution, economic inequality and fragility, authoritarianism, war, and so on—and how these evolved through many centuries up to the present in response to new energy sources and technological innovation. The cornerstone of my preconceptions is a limits-to-growth perspective that sees the last few decades of fossil-fueled rapid expansion of population and per-capita consumption as profoundly unsustainable, and the decades of the 2020s and 2030s as the likely turning point in humanity’s overall trajectory from rapid growth to just-as-rapid contraction.
So, I guess you could say I’m a short-term, big-picture pessimist. You can judge for yourself whether focusing that particular lens on the Rorschach inkblot of current events is helpful.
The world is a complex place, and some countries are always doing better or worse than others. But occasionally, as was the case with the Great Depression and World War II, the whole world seems to falter or erupt at once. If the pattern I think I see is really there, we may be approaching a similarly pivotal moment.
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