The Next Thirty-three Years on Earth

The Green Party (Les Verts in French), the first unified political ecology organization, was created thirty-three years ago. As of today, this party’s representatives have been elected to nearly all of France’s elective offices, and all for close to nothing. From an ecological stance, the geo-bio-physical state of France – of Europe and the World – has been continually deteriorating since 1984, as shown by successive reports published by the GIEC, the PNUE, the Programme Géosphère-Biosphère, as well as other international publications. We can make the same observation from a social and democratic point of view: inequalities are widening, xenophobia is on the rise and political regimes are stiffening. Political ecologists, which were initially characterized by tremendous intellectual generosity and which were the only ones offering an alternative to the old left and the old right, have, today, lost almost everything, including their political seats. They are perceived as outdated. Reality is quite different than it was thirty-three years ago, especially due to the fact that we have passed the tipping-point of an inevitable systemic global collapse. Thanks to the Meadows report and the work of Bernard Charbonneau, René Dumont and André Gorz we knew what were the main causes of the deterioration of life on Earth and would have been able – at the time and at the international scale – to re-orient public policies towards sustainability. However, it is impossible to impose a wartime economy before the war has even started. It is too late now, the collapse is imminent.

Although uncertainty is the new intellectual trend and, political cautiousness implies that one should be vague about what the future holds, I believe the events of the next thirty-three years on Earth to be predictable (roughly speaking) and that being honest requires that I put forward an approximate timeframe. The 2020-2050 period will be the most transformative period ever known to humanity in such a short amount of time. It can roughly be broke down in three successive stages: the end of the world as we know it (2020-2030), survival (2030-2040) the beginning of the renaissance (rebirth) (2040-2050). It is possible that the world (as we today know it) collapses by 2020, probable that it does so by 2025 and certain by 2030. I make this claim based on numerous scientific publications with respect to the Anthropocene, which is to be understood as a break within the Earth system, characterized by the irrepressible and irreversible overrunning of global geo-bio-physical thresholds. The Earth system behaving like an automaton out of human beings’ control, these breaches cannot be remedied. Moreover, the general faith put in the liberal-consumerist system reinforces this prognostic. This belief is so anthropogenically pervasive that no other alternative beliefs will be able to replace it before the collapse, which will be a consequence of the triple crunch: energy, climate and food.

The 2030s, which mark the second stage, will be more difficult due to the rapid fall of world population (disease outbreaks, famines, wars), the depletion of energy and food resources, the loss of infrastructures (will there be electricity in the Île-de-France in 2035?), and to failed governments. This will be a period of precarious and bleak survival during which humanity will have to live on the resources left from the remains of the thermo-industrial civilization. Similarly, in 1348, in Europe, the survivors of the black plague were able to live during several decades on the resources that were not consumed by half the population (of Europe), which had died during the five previous years. I will not describe the dreadful and violent turn human relations will take once public services and political authorities will have disappeared all around the world. Some groups of people will have been able to settle down close to a water source and to create a stock of canned food and medicine until they relearn the basic skills necessary to the reconstruction of an authentically human civilization. We may hope that in the 2050s ensues a third stage, a stage of renaissance, during which the most resilient human communities (now deprived of materiel relics from their past civilization) will have successfully relearned the original techniques that are essential for the subsistence of human life and conceived new forms of internal governance and external policy enabling structural stability, necessary to the creation and preservation of civilizations.

These types of sentences that are, like slogans, very brief, may make the reader feel uneasy, he or she might probably wonder whether the writer of this article isn’t a psychopath who wallows in bleakness and despair. Quite the contrary, having been freed from power struggles and trying to stand out, we are now focusing on seeking to prevent the catastrophe. Moreover, we believe ourselves to be too rational to be fascinated by the prospect of the collapse. We are not pessimistic or depressed, we seek to examine things from an objective standpoint (or as close as we can get to it), we still believe in politics. The extremists are to be found in those that stand with mainstream thinking – which might as well be called religion – based on the belief that technological innovation, in conjunction with a return to economic growth, will solve our problems. Our prediction is the most rational and the most probable, but we have to convince the supporters of EELV (Europe Ecologie les Verts), the French citizens and our brothers and sisters in humanity. Due to a cognitive invariant of social psychology this will not be possible in the remaining timeframe. However, the policy directions to be deduced from the previous analysis are quite simply described: putting forward and implementing, as of now, a rapid degrowth project of the ecological footprint of rich countries (similar to low-tech bioregional localism), so as to minimize suffering and the number of deaths. In other words, we need to use the remaining powerful energies and metals of today to make the tools, utensils and devices of tomorrow (the 2030s), before these energies and metals are no longer accessible. One example out of a thousand others: we have to stop making cars (thermic and electric) in order to manufacture horse-drawn yokes, as well as millions of bikes, which are long-lasting if they are stored and if their metal and rubber pieces are well preserved. Unsurprisingly our general point of view is not shared by the majority of ecologists, which held their Journées d’été européennes at Dunkerque. Indeed, the plenary session held on august the 26 was partly devoted to the revival of “industrial growth” in Europe. An impetus towards the worst.


Yves Cochet
Former Environment Minister
President of the Momentum Institute