Dystopian prognostication is popular right now. Donald Trump, tension in the Korean peninsula between nuclear armed combatants, increasing economic inequality, climate change…you get the idea because you are living in this news cycle every day.
In a world where it seems like the first war between two nations with nuclear weapons could be started by an errant tweet it is not a far stretch of the imagination to visualize a dystopian future. However, this forecasting is not something that is new to modern civilization. Almost since the close of World War II musings on the dire future of human civilization has been a theme in literature and popular culture.
Add in a dash of climate change and the Kardashians…bam, you have all the elements for everyone with a keyboard, camera, or microphone to paint a picture of a really shitty future. What if the future, as drastic as the impacts of climate change might be, is not really as bad as Mad Max: Fury Road?
Maybe the future is different than today, but not altogether bad by most objective measures.
What if the future is less Walking Dead without the zombies and more solarpunk?
Consider what the future will look like with a look back on history. Civilizations do not “fall” in the sense that one day things are all Athenian democracy and the next it is apocalypse. From the perspective of a historian writing about the decline of a civilization hundreds of years after the fact a long period of decline may be interpreted as a “fall,” but it is nothing of the sort. One of my favorite examples of this is how native Mayans respond to people asking “What happened to the Mayans?” Nothing, people of Mayan descent still live in the exact same places that they did when the temples you visit on a cruise excursion were built. The markers and remains of the civilization changed, but the people remained.
What would our modern civilization look like if the markers of a high energy system fueled by non-renewable energy were forced to adapt to a lower energy future? Would some future historian or current pundit—yes, I am looking at the talking heads on Fox News, lament the “fall” of modern Western civilization?
Perhaps, but would it really represent a fall or is just an evolution? The difference in how that question is answered may rest with our response to a world wracked by climate change. If we hold on to our old ways of doing things then a fall is likely as we prop up existing paradigms in ever more complex systems that are pre-ordained for a spectacular collapse. However, if we pivot either by choice or circumstance to the changing conditions maybe society will have a chance to evolve into something more compatible with a long term sustainable arc.