The United States likes to think of itself as the center of the world. For the last 100 years since the end of the World Wars, it was the world’s leading economic and military power, shaping much of the global human development trajectory according to its will within the social frameworks of liberal capitalism. U.S. American presidents have played roles on the world stage, watched by millions, as their policies and actions drive both prosperity through growth and conflict through confrontation. Partnerships like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher or Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong have lasting impacts for good and bad.

What happens in the United States elections does not stay in the United States. The mix of leadership and coercive force projected by it influences lives and outcomes everywhere. U.S. domestic policies have resulted in the country being the largest historical emitter1 of climate-changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while surpassing Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer2. People around the world have an interest in the outcomes of U.S.-American elections.

The domestic and international debates about the preference for President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump in 2024 are once again repeating in the news cycle. Tensions run high as the so-called pro-union Biden forces union workers back to work arms Ukraine, authorizes the use of force throughout the Middle East, and is complicit in an Israeli genocide against Palestinians in retaliation for attacks by Hamas. Comparisons of Biden are against the also pro-Israel, Iran-hawk Trump, who is a threat to democratic norms and standards. Trump is involved in a long list of legal entanglements because of accusations of financial misdeeds and sexual misconduct and for attempting to subvert the 2020 elections. Biden will preserve the stability of mediocrity, while Trump promises to restore America to an imaginary idea of past glory. Both candidates defend and support the corporate power structures that fund their elections over working-class interests. The Republicans move to restrict voter access, while the Democrats move to restrict voter choice. The fiascos and disappointments have resulted in continued and rising public disdain for both candidates.

Most people do not realize that this time something is different. We are about to enter a 75-year-long decline and even the collapse of civilization. A perfect storm of destabilizing conditions is about to converge like no other period in human history. Climate change, resource depletion, and pollution have reached unhealthy planetary limits. Neither major U.S. candidate has a plan to save us. Their liberal and nationalist ideologies speak to an aging population for an era that is ending. Social needs are changing rapidly. We now need something different. Both Biden and Trump are irrelevant.

Endless growth will end

Much of human development has been reliant on unsustainable concepts of endless growth and expansion. Geographically, humans expanded their footprint to every corner of the Earth, altering the landscape with cities and industrial agriculture while draining its fresh water and stripping the ground of its minerals. Economically, development measured in GDP, or gross domestic product, requires the continuous expansion of the production of wealth from labor exploitation and resource extraction to prevent recessions and attract investment in a capitalist model. However, there are limits to growth on a finite planet. We have reached these limits. The Global Footprint Network3 says we are now using 1.7 Earth's worth of resources every year. Our consumption overshoots the ability of the Earth to renew itself. There is only so much land, so much fresh water, and so many minerals to extract. We are running out of land and water to grow enough food4. At some point, growth catches up to limits on input, which brings growth to a halt. We are now arriving at this destination.

The 1972 MIT study The Limits to Growth tried to warn us decades ago5. In this analysis, at some point, industrial production will decline, food production will decline, and pollution will increase to the point of collapse. Population growth will plummet because of the erosion of environmental conditions and living standards. This study looked at resources and consumption rates and made estimates of how long our way of life could persist before hitting the limits of continuation. Subsequent updates to the study over the years6 have asserted we have been on the projected trajectory and are on track for hitting brick walls to development in the 21st century. The latest review of the World3 model was in November 20237 in the Journal of Industrial Technology. According to the updated recalibration study, the 75-year-long decline of our current modern civilization will begin around 20258 and last until 21009. Modern liberal capitalism depends on endless growth. This will no longer be possible. This era is ending.

The world’s oceans are not well

Melting icecaps because of human-induced climate change are causing a rapid rise in the Earth’s oceans. A 2019 study suggests many coastal cities around the world will submerge under the sea or will experience chronic flooding by 205010. These include Shanghai, Bangkok, Alexandria, Mumbai, Basra, Dhaka, Ho Chi Minh City, Miami, Venice, and Amsterdam. Areas like these feature high population densities and host food-growing regions for staples like rice or produce. Human activity is making the oceans sick. Besides acidification from pollution, overfishing11 is depleting the world’s oceans of sea life resulting in plummeting fish stocks and smaller catches while putting many species at risk of extinction. Because of melting freshwater, ocean circulation patterns are about to collapse in the North Atlantic12, which will dramatically alter weather and agriculture patterns in Europe. Human activity is making the oceans sick.

We are being buried by our plastic garbage

Archeologists and geologists associate a layer of yttrium with the demise of the dinosaurs and a layer of volcanic ash with the destruction of Pompeii. Future scientists may find a layer of plastic to demarcate our point in historical time. Welcome to the Plasticene 13, the new era where petroleum-produced microplastics contaminate our air, water, and food to enter our bloodstream. We ship plastic around the world to dispose of and dump on smaller, weaker, developing nations. We have created a great Pacific Ocean garbage patch of floating plastic debris. This material does not decompose. It just breaks into smaller pieces.

Mass migration is coming to a country near you

Present-day immigration debates in the United States and European Union will soon pale compared to what is coming. Millions of people from Europe to India14. and Africa will experience a great change in their local environment, which will no longer be conducive to supporting normal daily life. Rising seas, rising temperatures, the lack of fresh water, and disruptions to agriculture for crops like wheat will push populations to move elsewhere. Oxfam says there will be 216 million climate migrants by 203015. Militarized borders and climate change refugees are very much a part of our future, along with an increased threat of reactive authoritarianism to “preserve order.”.

We are already living in a mass extinction event

Today, we go about our daily lives as if nothing is happening. Scientists say we are already living in a period of sixth mass extinction16. Unlike the extinction events in earlier history, this one is driven by human-caused habitat destruction and climate change. A growing number of studies suggest the end of what we would call modern human civilization may occur around 2070–2100.

Climate change will not stop at a rise of 1.5 C

More and more studies point to the failure of the Paris Agreement to contain the rise of global temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius. Of note is the recently published study by Dr. James Hansen et al., 2023 17, which asserts we are on track for far more extreme warming than what we previously understood. The carbon we have already emitted into the atmosphere and the reduction in atmospheric aerosols to reflect solar energy are creating an energy imbalance where the Earth is absorbing more heat energy than is radiating back into space. In 2023 and continuing into 2024, we are experiencing dramatic accelerated heating18 with world ocean temperatures rising rapidly into previously uncharted territory. Heat waves, high winds, droughts, and heavy rains are making more and more headlines. The temperatures and conditions expected in 2030–2050 appear to be arriving earlier than expected.

The risk of conflict within and between nation-states will increase

In recent years, we have already seen a recent decline in international cooperation, the rules-based system, and the liberal order. As temperatures rise, resources decline, food production declines, pollution increases, and migrations go on the move, more nations may resort to protectionism and isolationism. Authoritarianism and militarism may become appealing to previously democratic societies to preserve order. Aggressive, competitive states may seek to plunder resources from weaker states or rivals by force. The coming changes will present a rise in the risk of global conflicts. The pace of change may be more than some societies can adapt to. Consider the shift from fossil fuels to electric-powered vehicles. Most car companies have pledged to make a complete shift in production by 2035. Where does this leave much of the oil-producing Middle East, which must find a completely new economic model? The amount of social change from economics to politics will be enormous on top of tremendous heat, disruptions, and dislocations. The risk of social unrest in places like this runs very high.

Inequality will divide societies and nations

Differences between the poor and affluent will become magnified within and between societies. The global north is responsible for much of the world's historical environmental destruction and overconsumption. At first, it will feel less pain than the developing world in the global south, where poverty will exacerbate any mitigation or adaptation to rapidly changing conditions. The irony here is that the simpler ways of life found in poorer nations may be more sustainable in the long run. The people in the major cities of the global north do not know how to grow their food. The people of the rural regions already live with this tradition. Eventually, the large urban areas may erupt with violence as the current leadership cannot reverse the consequences of decades of environmental destruction and overconsumption.

Back to Biden and Trump

So where does this understanding of future challenges leave us for the U.S. 2024 presidential election? Can the U.S. lead the world to safety and survival? Can the European states in the economic, political, and military orbit of the United States find a collaborator? We now realize that neither Trump nor Biden offer any policy pathways to civilizational survival. They have nothing to offer current and future generations on these topics. Trump is a well-known climate change denier, while Biden approved more fossil fuel permits19 than Trump in 2021 after refusing the Green New Deal in 2020. Biden’s other small-token efforts lack significant gravity. Neither is about to embrace or argue for the radical system changes required to curb excess consumption and create a new circular economy through de-growth. To do so would mean challenging the capitalist-funded system which sustains them both. Once one comes to this shocking understanding, new ideas become possible.

The social systems of every age are driven by the social needs of that era. Feudalism gave way to mercantilism and then to liberalism. Capitalism and industrialization drove responses from socialism and communism. Each -ism evolved from a new social condition. We are about to experience rapid change with different needs in a different era. This means we need new systems, new political parties, and new leaders. We need to build new movements to develop new “-isms” to meet our new collective social needs.

Biden and Trump are an irrelevant waste of time. They are a distraction. Let’s stop giving the political clown our time and energy. Their outdated models and ideologies from a previous era no longer serve our needs. Let’s build something new and different. The support and building of third parties are essential. The journey into the future will be rough and uneven. The required change will be resisted by those who benefit from current systems. We have a lot of work to do.


1 Cumulative carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuel combustion worldwide from 1750 to 2022, by major country.
2 Visualizing the Rise of the U.S. as Top Crude Oil Producer.
3 About Earth Overshoot Day.
4 Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits.
5 The limits to growth.
6 Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data.
7 Recalibration of limits to growth: An update of the World3 model.
8 2025: A Civilizational Tipping Point.
9 Recalibration23.
10 Rising seas will erase more cities by 2050, new research shows.
11 NGO outcry as latest EU report shows little improvement in ending overfishing.
12 Physics-based early warning signal shows that AMOC is on tipping course.
13 Do We Live in the Plasticene? 12 Words to Know for the Age of Plastics.
14 Record heat waves push India closer to limit of human survival.
15 Oxfam: 216 million climate migrants by 2050.
16 Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines.
17 Global warming in the pipeline.
18 Copernicus: In 2024, the world experienced the warmest January on record.
19 Biden Administration Oil, Gas Drilling Approvals Outpace Trump’s.