Consumer society has tried to legitimize itself by making people believe that it represents a sustainable way of living. For those in the First World, all the evidence that a meltdown is coming-the deterioration of the climate, the decline of the biosphere, the diminishing of available resources-has usually existed outside of immediate view. Commercialism and the mass media, which have gained an unprecedented presence in our lives through the digital revolution, have distracted us from these realities while the machine of global capital has continued to run.
With this year's pandemic-triggered economic crash, more have begun to realize that the system is broken. But it's still hard to grasp the enormity of the upheaval that we've entered into. The big tech companies, which have benefited from the crisis, are trying to extend the paradigm of industrial consumption. Amazon hopes it can replace retail with home delivery, and tech monopolies like Google and Apple hope they'll be able to keep their profit margins up by creating a demand for digitized healthcare services.
They'll rake in money from this for a while, but when you look at the material limitations that industrial civilization has created for itself, it becomes clear that capitalism will overall produce diminishing returns from here.
The most immediate threat that the commercialized paradigm faces is the fact that for most people in both the Third World and the imperial core, a prosperous life is now out of reach. With unemployment soaring worldwide while the neoliberal countries increasingly resemble failed states, living standards in the capitalist world are sure to continue declining not just in this year, but throughout the next generation or so.
In the U.S. alone, around 60% of people had less than a thousand dollars saved up prior to the pandemic, while a third of U.S. households struggled to afford food, shelter, or medical care. Now many of these people's meager savings have been blown apart, while hunger and unpaid rent have started to appear for many others. The labor and consumer base is rapidly shrinking, which is why hundreds of thousands of capitalists have recently lost their statuses as millionaires.
In this next decade and beyond, what will exacerbate the economic meltdown-in addition to the decline of the dollar and the escalation of the U.S. economic war with China-is the acceleration of the climate collapse. It's expected that by 2030, global sea levels will have risen by 0.3 to 0.6 feet, which will turn into somewhere between 2 and 5 feet by 2050. For perspective, with eight feet of sea level rise the World Trade Center building in New York (and a lot of buildings inland of it) will be surrounded by water.
By 2030, 60% of coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened, which will lead to food shortages and market collapses; reefs house 25% of marine life and support the basis for $375 billion in goods and services each year, meaning this kind of disruption will greatly shrink economies and make many kinds of foods scarcer. Add this onto the ever-increasing fires, storms, and heat waves, and it's clear why over 100 million people are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty within the next decade.
In a situation where capitalism will continue to try to create ever-increasing quantities of commercial consumption and resource extraction, unprecedented shortages for food and other goods are inevitable. A 2014 IPCC report says that by the middle of the century, the planet will reach "a threshold of global warming beyond which current agricultural practices can no longer support large human civilizations." Even if better agricultural practices get more widespread in the next few decades, this century's additional environmental disasters and resource shortages will make the capitalist world rife for social unraveling.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).