This article examines some major changes relating to the contemporary conditions of life upon Earth. It deals especially with emergent contradictions that stem from shifts within capitalism in the rich North over the course of the last century or so. These shifts involve moving from low-carbon to high-carbon economies/societies, from societies of discipline to societies of control, and more recently from specialized and differentiated zones of consumption to mobile, de-differentiated consumptions of excess. Societies become centres of conspicuous, wasteful consumption. The implications of such forms of ‘excess’ consumption are examined for clues as to the nature and characteristics of various futures. Special attention is paid to the interdependent system effects of climate change, the peaking of oil and exceptional growth of urban populations. It is argued that the 20th century has left a bleak legacy for the new century, with a very limited range of possible future scenarios which are briefly described.