"I do not view the stage of 'systems breakdown' as a time of abrupt and apocalyptic change. Instead, the wintertime of the industrial era seems likely to be characterized by an extended period of disharmony, discord, and fragmentation. Given a biosphere already stretched past its ability to carry the burden of humanity, nations around the world will be squeezed increasingly by unyielding limits to growth. Despite the severity of our problems, I do not expect the productive capacity of industrial nations to be destroyed. Indeed, outward physical appearances could suggest that nothing so momentous as a global transformation is in fact happening. The most fundamental challenge that arises in the season of systems breakdown is an invisible crisis: a loss of social cohesion around a compelling civilizational purpose that mobilizes our collective efforts and draws out our enthusiastic participation in life.
"We humans can bear many hardships when the burden feels meaningful. However, without a compelling sense of social purpose, feelings of futility and despair begin to permeate our lives. Without a sense of meaningful participation in life, we lose our bearings, begin to wander, and become disoriented. An overriding challenge in the winter of civilizational growth is to find a new 'common sense' — a new sense of reality, human identity, and social purpose that we can hold in common and that respects our radically changing global circumstances. Finding this new common sense in the middle of the turbulence and disarray of the breakdown of industrial civilizations is likely to be a drawn-out, messy, and ambiguous process of social learning. How effectively we use our tools of mass communication to achieve a new consensus will be critical in determining the ultimate outcome of this season of growth.
"I do not expect a quick or easy resolution to the difficult conditions of the stage of systems breakdown. Only after people express their anger and sadness over the broken dreams of material prosperity will they turn to the task of building a sustainable economy. Only after people communicate their despair that we may never be able to restore the integrity of the global ecology will we work wholeheartedly for its renewal. Only after people express their unwillingness to make material sacrifices unless their actions are matched fairly by others will a majority of people begin to live in a more ecologically sound manner. Only after people have exhausted the hope that the golden era of industrial growth can somehow be revived will we collectively venture forward. We are moving into a traumatic time of social turmoil that will either transform — or devastate — the very soul of industrial cultures."