The World In 2050


Four forces shaping civilization’s northern future (2010)
By Laurence C. Smith

Smith talks about the 4 global forces – demographics, resource demand, globalization and climate change which will shape our future in 2050.

There are now more people living in cities than out on the rural lands. Worldwide employment in agriculture is falling fast and in 2006, for the first time ever, it was surpassed by employment in the service sector. Aging population will hit some places faster and harder than others. Based on current population structures, the most youthful countries in 2050 will be the same ones where fertility rates are highest roday – in the world’s least modernized places – Somalia, Afghanistan, Yeman, the West Bank and Gaza, Ethiopia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa will offer our world’s youth in 2050. Terrorism must be sufficiently quelled such that the countries that need young workers will accept immigrants from the countries that have them.


World leaders, financial markets and even oil companies have already decided it’s time to add other options to the energy basket. The world is entering a time of unprecedented energy demand just as our great oil fields are aging and new ones are harder to find and more expensive to tap. Future production will increasingly come from new discoveries that are smaller, deeper and riskier; the remnants of depleted giants; and unconventional sources like tar sands.


There is also the importance of water in the ecosystem – floods and droughts occuring in various areas due to climate change. Most politicians and planners do not realise that energy and water are interrelated for planning. The single greatest demand for water in the energy sector today is for the cooling of power plants. Water recycled back into a river is hotter than the water withdrawn/ Putting hot water into a river or lake, degrades aquatic ecosystems for many reasons. Warm water holds less dissolved oxygen, slows the swimming speed of fish, and interferes with their reproduction. The cushion between energy and water will continue to narrow as supplies of both tighten out to 2050.


With all these threats, more people and countries are vying for the Arctic, which contain lots of potential deep natural resources. I think the most re-assuring portion of the book is its ending below. In fact, it paints a rather optimistic picture that the fate of the future still lies in the hands of mankind.

The question is not how many people there are versus barrels of oil remaining, or acres of arable land, or drops of water churning through the hydrologic cycle. The question is not how much resource consumption the global ecosystem can or cannot absorb. No doubt we humans will survive anything even if polar bears and Arctic cod do not. To me, the more important question is not of capacity, but of desire : What kind of world do we want?




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