(Also published in Cassandra’s Legacy)
The victory of Donald Trump, as well as so many things that have been happening in recent years (the rise of the extreme right wing in Europe, the fall of Asian trade, the Brexit, the war in Syria and Yemen), shows that we are following the path of what we called Scenario 3. It could not be in a different way since our “scenarios” were narratives that we used to glimpse the future, and the energy told us that Scenario 3 was the most realistic one.
Scenarios are a quite common tool used by the United Nations and other international agencies to look at the future of humanity, they are used to group their reflections around coherent visions. We call Scenario 3 one of these archetypal visions that create the international agencies1 and we used in our studies that compare the available fossil fuels subject to peak oil with the expected demand of energy2.
Scenario 3 describes a future of regional competition and return to national sovereignty. It assumes that regions will focus more on their self-reliance, national sovereignty, and regional identity, leading to tensions between regions and/or cultures. Countries will be concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets (protectionism, deglobalization) and paying little attention to common goods, international environmental agreements, and cooperation for development. Scenario 3 describes a future of deglobalization and conflict, it and is, to a large extent, Trump’s conservative discourse.
Other scenarios, such as Scenario 1, talk about economic optimism and high growth. The humanity is focused on achieving competitive markets and free trade that would, eventually, benefit everyone by correcting social inequalities and environmental problems. Scenario 1 is the scenario of globalization. There is also a Scenario 2, the one of green capitalism, a friendly version of Scenario 1, which gives priority to protecting the environment and reducing inequality, using technological advances, dematerialization, and the economy of services and information.
There is a fourth scenario at stake,Scenario 4, which consists of a friendly version of Scenario 3. In Scenario 4 there is a major change in values: society reacts against nonsense consumerism and disrespect for life. Citizens and countries decide to assume their responsibilities by being a green example for the rest. Although barriers to trade of goods are rebuilt, barriers to information tend to be eliminated. The emphasis is on finding regional solutions to social and environmental problems, usually by combining drastic changes in lifestyles with decentralized governance styles. Scenario 4 is the ecologist scenario, the one of local autonomy, cooperation and open-source, the closest to the utopias of the Degrowth movement.
The problem is that Scenarios 1 and 2 require a lot of energy, while Scenario is the one that needs less energy because it has less trade and less economic growth. Scenario 4 is also a low energy one. The bad news is that Scenario 3 is blind to environmental problems and leads to the war for resources because there is no lifestyle change towards an austere society based on renewable energy. Only Scenario 4 could be a minimally sustainable one because is the only one that invests in the energy of the future and does not grow a lot.
Trump’s victory, like so many other things, shows us that the business as usual options are no longer what we used to call business as usual. We can no longer choose between neoliberal globalization or a slightly more social globalization of sustainable development. In a world where the energy is getting more and more difficult to obtain those scenarios that minimize energy consumption are the ones that have more probabilities of becoming true. Now the only possible options are Scenario 3 (neocons, right-wing) or those that could arise from Scenario 4 (anti-consumerist movements and ecosocialism).
The traditional political left parties should wake up and stop pursuing futures that resemble Scenario 2 and seek a slightly more friendly or greener globalization. Only the political options that are well aware of the planet’s ecological limits can be a solid discourse against neoconservatives. In this moment we need to develop a political alternative based on anti-consumerist values, on the defense of the land and on the values of cooperation. Only this alternative can compensate self-destructive neoconservative tendencies that lead us to a dangerous competition for the resources in a planet that is going on a trend of constant ecological degradation.