Where will we be in, say, thirty years? I know I get distracted by more current events, and stray from my purpose in this blog, which is to address issues around achieving a sustainable world situation, and how we might live and improve in the next two to ten decades. This entry is an attempt to get back to my original intent, and I hope to paint a relatively hopeful picture of where we may be in a few decades. So how might we expect things to go, and where might we expect to be in the future?
Studies suggest a moderate path, a “middling” or “muddling” direction for humanity and the earth. While some people expect doom and gloom, and others see overpopulation as simply good for business, the science suggests something in the middle. The latest UN data suggests a world population reaching 9.2 billion by 2050 (link), with the increase from today’s 6.5+ billion occurring almost entirely in the 50 least developed countries. This suggests that problems exacerbated by overpopulation will occur mostly in those countries, though I think increasing problems with immigration will appear in most of the rest of the world as a result. Also, ecological problems such as air and water pollution resulting from the new masses of people, as well as from the rapidly increasing energy-use habits in the developing world, will cross borders and cause problems for the more developed countries (and everyone).
The middle path will involve change and sacrifice, but I believe it will take us to a relatively sustainable world situation. This kind of prediction is a long way from the global catastrophes predicted by some – rising sea levels, extensive drought and other major climatic changes, and global conflict. That isn’t to say that some of these problems won’t occur to some extent, but I have to think they will be nowhere near the severity as some currently predict. For one thing, as people become increasingly aware of the potential for future problems, and as the doom-and-gloom predictions alarm and motivate people, studies will be done and movements will be created that will address the issues, mitigating the potential for disasters. For another, recent natural disasters have shown no capacity to make a significant difference in the world population, which is so large now that anything less than a million lost would be unlikely to make a noticeable difference in global population and related problems. If we do our homework now, and learn how to change our behaviors and technologies for the better, we can reduce the potential for human disaster as the world adjusts to the huge and increasing numbers of humans.
We will all need to make major adjustments and changes in our lives, but our efforts will produce positive results. One of the biggest adjustments that will be needed will be to the increasing cost and scarcity of fossil fuels. Human civilization has become largely dependent on petroleum and coal in just the past couple of centuries, and we will nearly exhaust our supplies in the next century (at most). Since food production, let alone our standard of living in the developed countries, is highly dependent on fossil fuel use, this represents an area for concentrated effort. Alternative energy sources have not been identified that can provide anything approaching the amount of fossil fuel energy currently being used. This suggests we will need to make huge improvements in energy efficiency and/or achieve a significantly smaller population. Otherwise we could suffer a significant decline in standard of living, not to mention serious food shortages, on the way to a sustainable world.
Things probably won’t be terribly bad, but every individual’s efforts (including yours) will be needed. Given human capacity to predict the future and take action in advance, it is just possible that, within a few decades, we will see the world population begin to level off, new technologies reducing the “burn rate” of our fossil fuels as well as the resulting pollution, climate change mitigated, and a rising consciousness of our interdependency with all life on the planet. Through a complicated set of adjustments and changes, both in attitude and how we live, we could see the world situation stay relatively stable. Please continue to learn and act to make that possible, and please let your government representatives know what you want, as without that their only incentive will be represented by the next election.
As always, I welcome your comments.