As population declines in the latter half of the 21st century new construction will be cut to a minimum, and renovation and recycling of existing buildings will dominate the construction industry. Few new buildings will be needed as populstion decreases, growth will no longer be the predominant economic theme, and decreasing tax bases will reduce public funding. People may move out of some neighborhoods and towns and collect in others, probably to live closer to places of employment, education, etc., and reduce their cost of living. Will smart individuals start working today to build profitable businesses that take advantage of the changes in our future?
Reclamation and recycling of existing buildings, especially in the big cities will become the bulk of construction business. When many structures fall into disuse, many will eventually become dangerous. Such buildings will have to be removed, but it is possible that rising material costs and decreasing labor costs due to the population boom will make it increasingly economical to disassemble and recycle the building materials. Demolition and large scale recycling of steel and other building materials could become big business, and parts of cities and towns may be “mined” for materials where it is m ost economical to do so.
Rises in fossil fuel costs will make transporting and processing a lot of raw materials prohibitively expensive. This will increase the economic viability of recycling. Since building materials will be most needed in the population centers, it makes sense that materials reclaimed in or near those areas will be the cheapest to get and use. The business of building portable equipment to help in processing of reclaimed construction materials may boom.
Inevitably, large urban areas built in the 20th and 21st centuries may be abandoned for lack of ability to do anything else with them. Over a century or two the abandoned areas will decay into ruins, but the areas where population concentrates will remain vital. The decrease in the distribution of populations will allow more efficient rail transportation to take a bigger role in interstate and international commerce. There will be too little tax money to permit maintenance of many roads and highways, so only the roads serving the most populated areas will be maintained. Public transportation may become much more prevalent as well, and there may be light rail lines that don’t exist today, built during the tail end of the population boom which the U.N. has said is expected to occur between now and 2050.
Is it possible to think ahead about what investments and businesses will do best over the coming decades? I believe it is not only possible, but a very good idea to think ahead to the long term. A company that develops recycling and reclamation technologies that don’t require fossil fuels today may survive the next few decades reasonbly well only to see a huge boom in business when fossil fuel sources run down and population declines. I hope there are people taking the long view and working on new technologies today that will become increasingly important over the next century. The act of thinking and planning far ahead has great potential for creating industries that will retain growth potential even as the general economy is declining, and those who pursue such a course will ensure a better future for themselves, their descendants, and potentially everyone else.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim