Expired · 18th November 2010
2050 is not very far away. All the Canadian children recently born or presently in schools and universities should still be alive at the midpoint of this century. Just add 40 years to their age and that's how old they will be in 2050. Many will be settled into domestic life, engaged in their employment and professions. Others will be newly retired, hoping to realize their dreams of promised ease and relaxation.
This is why Dr. Lawrence Smith's recent book, The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future, is so relevant today. His predictions of a world in 40 years apply to many of those who are living now, the inheritors of today's unfolding circumstances. And the predictions particularly apply to Canada, one of the eight countries of the "New North" most likely to benefit from the coming changes.
So, what will the world be like in 2050? No one, of course, can know for certain. But Dr. Smith has identified four forces generated during the last few decades that seem destined to reverberate throughout the planet and affect everyone everywhere.
1. Demography: Our human population in 2050 will be about 50% larger than today, peaking at slightly above 9 billion. The world's 19 megacities that have grown from just 3 a few decades ago, will grow to 27. Canada's population will increase 30% in the next 40 years, mostly because of the huge migrations of people energized by dislocation. The economic and social complications created by a cresting proportion of old people will preface to a gradual decline in world population after 2050.
2. Natural Resources: Canada will be one of the New North countries to benefit from the rising demand for dwindling resources during a time of increasing population and aspiring consumption. Our spacious landscape and economic opportunity will make this country a "migration magnet". Canada's petroleum will become ever more valuable and coveted in a world of diminishing supplies. The rising demand for fresh water, already scarce without climate change, will make it a "blue gold" commodity.
3. Globalization: Economic and cultural integration will continue, mixing value systems in combinations that will create new stresses and complexities. Globalization ensures that local events will reverberate around the planet. Both the pressures and difficulties of reaching international agreements on currencies, economies, resource distribution, pollution constraints, species protection and environmental regulations will increase.
4. Climate Change: The overwhelming effect of a warming planet will be negative. Rising temperatures will mean more disease, parasites, desertification, crop failures, droughts, heat, storms and coastal flooding from rising oceans. But Canada will experience a net benefit from this warming – a 2°C rise in global temperature will translate into a 4°C rise in northern latitudes. Warmer temperatures will increase Canada's agricultural opportunity – if the Prairies remain a viable wheat-growing region. The thawing of the Northwest Passage will increase economic activity in Canada's north by providing access to adjacent oil and gas resources, and by opening shipping routes to Europe and Asia.
From a solely national perspective, Canada should benefit marginally from the assemblage of circumstances predicted for 2050. But predictions are notoriously inaccurate. And increasingly complex world means that more interacting components react in less predictable ways.
Consider, for example, globalization. Very few experts predicted before 2008 that a relaxed regulatory structure in America's financial system would precipitate an international financial crisis, plunging many of the world's economies into recession. The loss of trillions of dollars from seemingly secure wealth undermined innumerable social programs, retirement schedules, health benefits and environmental initiatives. It closed mills, shuttered businesses, devastated optimism, traumatized communities, and forcibly restructured economies. It changed the calculus of international power by elevating the relative influence of countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. It nearly bankrupted Iceland. Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Ireland are just a few of the countries reeling from the financial impacts. It spawned a flood of angry and – some would say – dangerous right-wing American voters. Canada budgeted a record deficit. The fragility of the entire financial structure that organizes and stabilizes much of the world's economy is now evident.
Or consider resources. If tigers go extinct – which they probably will – the impact on humans will be relatively small. But, if we exhaust global fish stocks by industrial over-harvesting – as we are likely to do by 2040 – or if we collapse ocean ecology by acidification – which seems inevitable if we don't cut CO2 emissions – then we can expect that hunger will bring millions of people to desperation. If oil production is not able to meet demand, we can expect energy costs to skyrocket and economies to convulse.
Of the many uncertainties that could compromise the marginal benefits of the New North in 2050, consider that most of the countries most negatively affected by a warmer climate are the most densely populated, the poorest, and the least able to adjust to these new stresses. Canada's national comfort and affluence depends on a secure and contented global community. We cannot prosper if the world around us is in turmoil from dislocation, droughts, crop failures, water wars and resource conflicts. Even marginal benefits are lost when the surrounding stability disappears.
So this is the world we are presently shaping for our children and young adults. What kind of a world do we want for them? This is a question that Dr. Lawrence Smith asks in The World in 2050. And this is a question each of us should be asking ourselves. When we each have an answer, then we should each get on with the task of making that world a reality.
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Comment by Smokey Dymny on 26th November 2010
John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, and the forthcoming The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered. He lives in Cumberland, MD, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.
If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out Star's Reach, my blog/novel of the deindustrial future. Set four centuries after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for our descendants tomorrow.
I've read so many seriously depressing environmental books in the last decade I'm ready for a diet of PROZAC. J.M. Greer actually cheers me up sometimes.
So does my 2nd CD, "Solidarity is Easy".
What's your favourite anti-depressive????