A Whole New World

Sara Robinson of the Campaign for America's Future outlines in the first of a series of articles why we simply won't be able to "return to normal."
April 8, 2009, 12pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"There is no going back. That future was foreclosed on right along with the houses and the banks. You can only believe in the Happy Face story if you willfully ignore the deep structural changes afoot in the way the world works -- the changes that have closed and locked the door back to 'normal' behind us for good.

There's a small number of overwhelmingly strong global trends that explain why all this stuff is breaking, and why just fixing it isn't even on the table. [W]hen we take full stock of the size and quantity of major moving parts in the machinery that's propelling us on toward the next future, it becomes very, very clear that going back to the 20th Century isn't anywhere among our current options.

1. Energy regime change
The first reason there's no going back to the way it was is that there's simply not enough oil left in the ground -- or carbon sinks left in the world -- to sustain America as we've known it. We may well be able to sustain some semblance of that way of life (or perhaps, find our way to one even more satisfying); but we won't be running it on oil or coal.

2. Environmental collapse
It's not just climate change. We're losing topsoil, fresh water, fisheries, forests, and useful plant and animal species faster than our scientists can count the losses. The first three, in particular, are so urgent that it's entirely possible that one of them may emerge as a serious threat to continued human life long before climate change does.

3. The Dawning of the Information Age
This shift could be one of the dominant forces shaping the history of the coming century. [I]t's also quite possible that American-style democracy...won't be adequate to this age (at least, not in its current form). First, the movement toward localized food, water, and power may mean that local politics become far more important. Second, large ecological, urban, and cultural regions are becoming more important than counties or states, especially when it comes to solving environmental and infrastructure issues. Both these forces may eventually lead to a structural re-ordering of government power."

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Published on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 in Campaign for America's Future
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