"Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with.
"The 'growth' we are talking about consists of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with more people being served and more money changing hands) and of the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it. [...]
"[T]here are three primary factors that stand firmly in the way of further economic growth:• The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and minerals;"[W]e are seeing a perfect storm of converging crises that together represent a watershed moment in the history of our species. We are witnesses to, and participants in, the transition from decades of economic growth to decades of economic contraction. [...]
• The proliferation of environmental impacts arising from both the extraction and use of resources (including the burning of fossil fuels)—leading to snowballing costs from both these impacts themselves and from efforts to avert them and clean them up; and
• Financial disruptions due to the inability of our existing monetary, banking, and investment systems to adjust to both resource scarcity and soaring environmental costs—and their inability (in the context of a shrinking economy) to service the enormous piles of government and private debt that have been generated over the past couple of decades. [...]
"It is essential that we recognize and understand the significance of this historic moment: if we have in fact reached the end of the era of fossil-fueled economic expansion, then efforts by policy makers to continue pursuing elusive growth really amount to a flight from reality. World leaders, if they are deluded about our actual situation, are likely to delay putting in place the support services that can make life in a non-growing economy survivable, and they will almost certainly fail to make needed, fundamental changes to monetary, financial, food, and transport systems.
"As a result, what could have been a painful but endurable process of adaptation could become history’s greatest tragedy. We can survive the end of growth, but only if we recognize it for what it is and act accordingly."
- Richard Heinberg, "The end of growth".This article is well worth reading in full. Although Heinberg emphasises peak oil a little more than I do and ecological degradation a little less, it is a good summary of the three interlocking challenges (economy, energy, ecology) that will define the next few decades (even if they are manifest first for some people through secondary effects). If you're not thinking about these issues and how they will (and already are) affecting almost every aspect of your life and the lives of those you know for the foreseeable future, you're not really paying attention.
We live in interesting times.