The global corporate economy of perpetually growing extraction, production, consumption, and waste, has already produced far too much. It has done so for a very long time, with increasingly inequitable distribution. Consumption and waste not only exhaust non-renewable resources; they contaminate the complex adaptive living systems we call ecosystems, that is, our habitats. The only viable path forward is to downsize everything about the technosphere and the political economy that supports it.
In that context, how can humanity respond to the accelerating global convergence of multiple complex systems in crisis? It seems certain that not only will both production and distribution have to be deeply reconsidered. Our very survival dictates that we must severely curtail economic overproduction and we must radically redistribute what is left. The same goes for extraction, of course.
The whole design of the globalized mainstream corporate economy is based on perpetuating itself with no limits in a clearly limited world more precisely described as the Earth System. That is clearly unsustainable.
Hitting the Wall, and its Aftermath
We have already hit the wall of Earth-System limits to its capacity to sustain the industrial-consumer overshoot of those limits. The Anthropocene is now in full swing, yet many of the most devastating consequences of overshoot lie ahead. Looking forward, growing chaos appears to be the most likely consequence of the destabilization of ecosystems, climate, politics, and economic systems. The future does not look pretty. It is therefore not surprising to note the upsurge in “doomer literature” and apocalyptic climate fiction.
The global corporate extractive economy of endless growth now confronts the tipping points toward collapse of multiple sub-systems of the Earth System, losing their balance and amplifying the instability of the whole. That is why the very core assumptions and practices of the global economy have become completely absurd. Current assumptions about a rising “data economy,” for example, are not even premature; they are out of date at best. Recent short-term trends will not determine the role of “Big Data” in the coming decades.
As with all the latest technologies, large data sets and the supercomputers to process them will not simply proliferate throughout corporate profit centers and regulatory agencies. The Surveillance State and all the technical means of controlling populations, are only as strong as the thining resource base and waning political authority.
Many of the strongest appearing institutions today may have a very short half-life. Most of them have very tenuous connections to the realities of people in communities struggling to survive under growing economic extremes and institutionally devastated natural systems forced out of balance by the very technosphere those institutions find so essential to their operations.
Answering the Big Question is not so Easy.
The mostly unasked question underlying the deterioration of our Earth-System habitat is how can humanity actually transform its social structures, or possibly replace them. The most misunderstood aspect of all this is the fact that to operate economies within the natural limits of ecosystems, climate, and dwindling resources, we can no longer sustain most corporate, industrial, and governmental institutions. The costs to people and planet are too high.
The utopian dreamers of the mainstream economy would have us plunder on into a dystopia that none dare imagine. The doomer literature has sensed that truth. Industrial-consumer economies have already passed some of the limits to growth and stability. Depopulation seems inevitable in this context, so the character of “big data” will radically change and so will its usefulness.
The big question of distribution will be, “Can we produce enough of what we really need to distribute it equitably to survive?” That will be a local/regional question. The answer is probably that we cannot, but that we can seek an optimum path to minimizing the chaos and slowing depopulation while finding stability in local and regional communities with ecologically sound human-scale economies.