“Politics is not just the battle for today, it is also the war for tomorrow.”
Welcome to Futurist Friday, where tomorrow intersects with politics, policy and prediction. The point of this exercise is to describe the likely future based on current analysis of trends, curves and activity occurring today. The hope is to encourage discussion and debate on what needs to be changed, what actions can be taken and; why should Alan Boyle have all the fun?
The format of this article will cover five year increments to the year 2100. This week, 2021 to 2025 will be covered. A word of caution, some of this will seem rather dystopic, however as history has shown, it is always within peoples’ nature to change. I must give credit to FutureTimeline.net as an invaluable source for the speculations presented.
Welcome to the Future 2021-2025
Global Average Temperatures Have Risen by 1 Degree Centigrade
As CO2 levels continue to increase, temperatures on land and sea have continued to rise. At the beginning of the 2020’s, temperatures are 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 degree F) higher relative to 1961-1990. While representing a global average, many inland areas are experiencing much larger fluctuations. The Great Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas are revisiting the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930”s with much greater severity.
This has a marked effect on food prices as crop failures combine with fuel price hikes to strain the economy of the U.S. Large dust storms, known as “dusters” or “haboobs” are carrying eroded topsoils as far east as Chicago and St. Louis.
In Africa, the snows of Kilimanjaro have dissipated, leaving the continent ice free for the first time in 11,000 years.
Bangladesh, in southwest Asia, is now imperiled by both torrential flooding and storm surges with regularity. Within a few years, it will have a historic refugee crisis.
At the north pole, Arctic regions experience the greatest temperature increase. By 2025, it will change from a carbon sink to a carbon source, eventually releasing 100 billion tons of CO2.
During this time, the southwestern U.S. begins to experience chronic water shortages.
Water Crisis in Southwest United States
Nevada, Arizona and southern California are facing water shortages typically seen in Third World countries.
Lake Mead, a primary water source for over 25 million people (approximately 8% of the U.S. population) has run dry due to climate change as well as increased population growth and the associated demands on this resource.
While it was once the country’s largest reservoir, it’s capacity was exhausted due to a deficit of 1 million acre feet of water per year in the Colorado Basin. Even though mitigation and conservation efforts were in place, nothing could stop the ravaging effects of the climate.
In addition to being the major fresh water source, Lake Mead provided hydro-electric power via Hoover Dam. As blackouts were imposed across the region, the power hungry Las Vegas skyline was no longer sustainable. While solar power and groundwater pipelines were laid in an attempt to stabilize the situation, major socio-economic disruption occurred throughout the region.
Biggest Refugee Crisis in World History
Rising sea levels, melting glaciers and extreme weather events such as torrential monsoon flooding have combined to create the largest refugee crisis in world history. Bangladesh and neighboring regions are seeing tens of millions of people displaced from their homes.
This monumental scale of human tragedy represents the worst environmental crisis of the 21st century so far. While several countries are effected, the epicenter of the horror is Bangladesh. With a population of over 150 million, situated in the Ganges River delta, and being highly concentrated , Bangladesh’s flat topography and low sea level offers no chance for recovery. With physical damage to it’s infrastructure, a steadily encroaching tide line and sea salt poisoned land, the country is well and truly devastated.
There are millions of casualties from drowning, looting and chaotic violence. Tens of millions of other refugees attempt to cross into India and Burma causing military conflicts in those border regions. The sheer scale of the disaster is beyond the scope of any international organizations ability to cope.
China Becoming Highly Urbanized
As it’s growing economy has led to literally thousands of skyscrapers, much of China is now highly urbanized. China now has over 200 cities with more than a million inhabitants, compared with just 35 in Europe circa 2010. Widespread infrastructure such as maglev trains, airports, bridges and tunnels form a network that reaches virtually every part of their nation. China is well on it’s way to being a developed country.
Hong Kong and Shenzhen have become mega-cities overtaking Tokyo in population and land area. Many of the world’s tallest buildings are now located in China, including many kilometer high “supertalls”.
The rise of China domestically has a huge international impact, as China’s need for steel and other building materials causes significant price increases worldwide. This causes the slowdown of construction in the U.S. and Europe as they cannot compete with China’s economic clout.
Energy requirements are soaring for China, but China prepares by negotiating with central Asian republics and utilizing fourth generation nuclear power technology. Further investments in solar and wind reap the benefits of the falling price of these technologies.
By 2025, China emerges as a pre-eminent global economic power with a concomitant military presence. How the rest of the world reacts remains uncertain given the rapidly changing environmental and technological situation worldwide.
Threat of Bio-Terrorism Is Peaking
By 2025, a single person or a small group of people can harness advanced, widespread and inexpensive technology to threaten the survival of humanity. Desktop fabrication labs, genetic databases and AI software make bio-terrorism accessible to the masses.
Previously used by criminals to create drugs and other substances without prescriptions, now terrorists can make use of them too. In the past, government agencies were able to combat bioterrorism by restricting access to pathogens themselves. Regulating lab use of pathogens such as Ebola no longer provides the security it did in the past. Once a pathogen has been sequenced, it’s blueprint is available without culturing it.
As synthesis technology advances, it becomes inexpensive, accessible and easy to use. As with the computing revolution of the late 20th century, biotech is integrating into mainstream society. With the ongoing need for medical breakthroughs, database regulations eased to allow cooperative efforts. Further, DNA sequences for pathogens such as smallpox, anthrax and botulism have been available on the Internet for decades. Given this situation, it becomes possible to produce new viruses or modify existing ones, even giving them the ability to target certain groups of genotypic individuals.
Around this time, such a weapon is released with deadly results. Casualties are significant worldwide. the threat subsides in a few years as nanotechnology, deployed in the bloodstream, are able to identify and eliminate these pathogens.
Mind Reading Tech Deployed For Security
By the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, mind reading technology is common place at airports, sports venues and other areas needing a higher level of security. This technology faced problems to begin with as false positives were prevalent. However, advances in neuroscience, software analysis and facial recognition software greatly improved their accuracy.
This system uses non-invasive tech to monitor facial expression, heart rate, respiration, body temperature and other cues. Analyzed by computer software, these factors are highly predictive of potential criminal behavior. While perceiving what is in a person’s mind is years away, this technology allows overall intent to be perceived beyond a reasonable doubt.
Wireless Electricity Reaching Critical Mass
In 2021, most of the latest electronic or electrical devices have antennas in place of batteries, drawing power from a single node mounted in the ceiling of a room. Wall sockets and bulky cables are removed from homes and workplaces. Handheld devices are now lighter and more compact.
A magnetic coil is housed in a small box, which is set into a wall or ceiling. Powered by mains, this device resonates at a specific frequency. The electromagnetic waves are transmitted through the air, which are received by a second magnetic coil, fitted into a laptop, TV or other appliance. This resonates at the same frequency as the first coil and absorbs energy, charging the product.
Developed from phone charger pads and toothbrush chargers, improved efficiency allowed energy to be transmitted across rooms. Gradually, this technology is incorporated into TV, computers and even vehicles.When a universal standard was adopted, mass market appeal exploded. Soon this industry was generating approximately $15 billion and the system was commonplace in homes and offices. Cafes, airport terminals and other public spaces became “Wi-Tricity” hotspots, which did for battery life what Wi-Fi did for the Internet. Electric vehicles benefit from being able to charge in parking spaces and on roadways.
These networks are proven to be completely safe with no hazard to humans. Eventually, this takes the place of power lines, allowing the first wireless cities. Afterwards, this technology is utilized worldwide.
The ITER Experimental Fusion Reactor Switched On
The main problem with fusion power is that it has only been produced on a small, experimental scale.Scaling up to commercial level where it is efficient, economical and environmentally benign has always been “in the future”.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor aims to be the first project to make the future now. Built in southern France at a cost of over $20 billion, it has taken a decade to construct and is second only to the I.S.S. as one of the largest scientific projects ever. This research is funded by the U.S., E.U., Japan, Russia, China, India and South Korea.
To create fusion on a large scale, the reactor must simulate conditions at the Sun’s core. To do this, it uses a magnetic confinement device known as a tokamak. This doughnut shaped vacuum chamber generates a powerful magnetic field that prevents heat from touching the reactor’s walls. Tiny amounts of hydrogen are injected and trapped into the chamber, then they are heated to 100 million degrees, forming a plasma. As the plasma fuses the hydrogen, neutrons are released creating huge amounts of energy.
After activation in 2022, it is hoped that ITER will eventually produce 500 megawatts of power, in bursts of 400 seconds or more. For comparison, in 1997 the Joint European Torus generated 16 megawatts, but only for a few seconds.
ITER will require many years of refinement before it is perfected. However it could lead to a revolution in energy production. If successful, humanity would gain an unlimited supply of clean, green energy.
Nanotech Clothing Growing Rapidly in Use
Fabrics incorporating nanotech are becoming widespread. This includes truly waterproof garments, which are now a popular choice for consumers. This clothing is made of polyester fibers coated with millions of silicone filaments, structured in such a way that water cannot penetrate. This technology is also used by the police, firefighters and other specialists to enhance the resilience and flexibility of their equipment. The military also adopts it to repel chemical and biological agents.
Brain Implants Restore Lost Memory
By 2023, it’s becoming possible to replicate small areas of the brain in order to repair damage from Alzheimer’s, stroke or injury. This includes the restoration of lost memories using “neural prostheses” and electrochemical signals from the hippocampus (involved in short and long-term memory as well as spatial navigation).
Experimentation was conducted on rodents, then monkeys, before moving to human volunteers in 2015. After eight years of clinical studies, the process can now be performed in hospitals. Electrodes are used to detect and record activity of healthy brain tissue. The patterns responsible for memory are detected and stored in a computer. these patterns are used to predict what “downstream” damaged areas should be doing. The desired activity in healthy areas can be replicated by stimulating brain cells with electrodes. The neural prostheses therefore bridges the gap from healthy to damaged areas.
A combination of these implants and drugs can treat early dementia and memory loss. With advanced Alzheimer’s the neural signals tend to be to degraded for a successful outcome. However, this treatment is a major step forward in understanding the brain. In the future, this technology is the basis for uploading the brain into computer substrates.
Petabyte Storage Devices Available
Data storage devices continue to grow exponentially, with capacities doubling every year. Nanotechnology is enabling vast quantities of information to be stored. A petabyte is one million billion bytes. Secure digital and microSD cards have been replaced by even smaller media.
Railguns In Use By U.S. Navy
Following years of research and development, the first combat ready rail guns are deployed on the decks of U.S. naval vessels. Differing from artillery, which use explosives to propel projectiles, railguns use magnetic propulsion along precisely placed rails to move a projectile out of a gun at speeds of Mach 10.
The system can deliver a five inch metal projectile, equipped with internal guidance systems, over 220 miles. Explosives are unnecessary since the kinetic energy of the round delivers more power than bombs of much greater size. New rapid-fire systems can launch about ten rounds per minute.
In combat situations, there are major benefits to railgun technology. It has greater accuracy over extremely long range. It can be used for cover fire for ground forces or defensively against incoming missiles. Ships armed with these weapons are able to attack with impunity, safe from almost all weapons. By 2030, this technology is adopted by many other navies.
Medical Nanobots Are Being Developed
Nano-scale robots are being developed to improve healthcare. By 2025, they have reached the human trial stage and will soon be approved by governments.
The most important breakthroughs will be in the treatment of cancer. Using nanobot, it will be possible to detect tumors earlier and target them with greater precision. Patients previously classified as terminal will be able to be saved. Monitoring of many chronic health maladies will be improved dramatically. Combined with stem cell technology, a new generation of medical treatment will reach heightened levels of sophistication and efficiency.
China’s First Space Station Completed
China’s efforts to develop a low Earth orbit (LEO) space station began with three “Tiangong” modules launched in 2011, 2013 and 2015, respectively. these were prototypes for the development of a much larger space station.
By 2020, a larger, modular space station begins to take shape, arranged as a Core Cabin Module, two Laboratory Cabin Modules, a “Shenzhou” crewed vessels and a cargo craft for supplies and lab facilities.
By 2022, The station is complete. It weighs about 130,000 lbs. and supports a crew of three for long term habitation. It is expected to last for at least ten years.
Asteroid Return Sample Mission
The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS REx) is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission. Launched in 2016, it is sent to 1999RQ36, a carbonaceous rock approximately 1,900 feet in diameter and classified as an Apollo asteroid. These are near-Earth asteroids whose orbits cross those of the Earth. Astronomers are interested in this one particularly because it has a chance of impacting Earth between the years 2169 and 2199.
Arriving in 2019, the probe carries a variety of scientific instruments. When it returns in 2023, the samples it carries reveal information on the formation of the Solar System, early planet formation and the source of organic compounds that led to the formation of life.
First Probe To Fly Into Sun’s Outer Atmosphere
In 2024, Solar Probe Plus makes history by becoming the first instrument to fly into the Sun’s outer atmosphere (corona). The probe will travel to within 3.6 million miles of the Sun’s surface.
In such close proximity, the spacecraft utilizes a shield made of reinforced carbon-carbon, able to withstand 2000 degrees centigrade. At it’s closet approach, Solar Probe Plus moves around the Sun at 450,000 miles per hour. This is fast enough to go from Philadelphia to Washington in one second.
The missions goals are:
-To determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the source of the solar winds.
-To trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind.
-To determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport solar particles.
-To explore dusty plasma near the Sun and determine its inflorescence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.
Solar Probe Plus revolutionizes our knowledge of physics and the origin and evolution of the solar wind.
Contact With Voyager Probes Lost
As the farthest man-made objects sent from Earth, Voyager I has traveled more than 14 billion miles. or 150 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Both Voyager I and Voyager II have remained operational for nearly 50 years, transmitting data back to Earth. By 2025, onboard power is finally starting to wane and instruments begin shutting down one by one, until eventually contact is lost.
Each probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disk, in case either spacecraft is found by intelligent life forms. These discs carry images of Earth and it’s life forms, scientific information, along with “Sounds of Earth”, which includes many different terrestrial sounds including greetings in 60 different languages.
Water Is Becoming A Weapon of War
Rapid growth, a lack of fresh water, social tension and weak governments Combine to cause even further regional instability in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Increasingly severe climate change is producing longer droughts and more severe flooding. This causes greater tension in shared water basins.
Upstream countries are now using their control of water flows as economic and political leverage over their downstream neighbors. Simultaneously, reservoirs and hydro-electric plants are coming under attack by terrorists and disaffected states. Fear of these attacks are causing greater resources to go into the protection of the vital resources.
Area’s affected include the Nile; Sudan and other southerly nations; the Tigris and Euphrates basin(including Syria and Iraq); the Mekong in China; the Jordan river; the Indus and Brahmaputra as well as the Amu Darya in Central Asia.
Recent advances in desalinization have made it easier to filter seawater. However, these methods are patented and guarded by Western corporations. Just as food demands were exploited in the previous decades, the emerging water crisis is now used as a means of exploitation and blackmail. A few developing nations are sued for attempting to make cheaper desalinization mechanisms for themselves.
Borneo’s Rainforests Wiped from the Map
Borneo, the world’s third largest island, was once home to an incredible array of biodiversity covering hundreds of thousands of square miles. Sadly, by 2023, this is no longer the case. The verdant rain and cloud forests have all been logged off. Many rare species are declared extinct, including the Orangutan, one of the most intelligent of the great apes.
Gorillas Going Extinct in Central Africa
Rampant and uncontrolled poaching, in combination with large scale deforestation, agriculture, mining, pollution, disease and militia activities have led to the terminal decline of gorilla populations. By 2023, only gorillas in captivity remain.
African Elephants Going Extinct in the Wild
Despite efforts to curtail the ivory trade, vast numbers of elephants continue to be poached throughout Africa. Their population, which stood at 600,000 in 2009, declined by 40,000 each year. By 2024, they are on the brink of extinction, with no reported sightings in the wild. Zoos and parks work to maintain a viable genetic population for future rewilding.
Vertical Farms Common in Cities
As world population approaches 8 billion, food demand continues to climb. Simultaneously, climate change and other environmental factors are limiting the availability of arable land. As an example, the United States, for example has been losing almost three tons of topsoil per acre per year. This is 10 to 40 times the natural rate of replenishment, meaning that by 2070 all topsoil in the United states would disappear. As food prices soar, the entire world faces a major crisis.
A major response to this dire situation is vertical farming. Singapore opened the first commercial vertical farm in 2012 and by the mid 2020’s the are widespread, with most major urban areas using them.
Vertical farms are structures that cover approximately 1 acre and rise up to 30 stories tall. It is estimated that 150 of these buildings could feed the population of New York City. Genetically modified crops are more suited to this environment, and as such, become more widespread and accepted. Other benefits include reduced energy cost due to less transport costs, while giving urban dwellers increased access to fresher and more organic produce.
U.S. Fuel Economy Standards Continue to Rise
By 2025, road vehicle mileage continues to improve, with passenger vehicles reaching almost 55 miles per gallon and truck reaching 39 miles per gallon. This represents a virtual doubling in mileage within the U.S. automotive fleet.
The increase in mileage, enacted by the Obama administration, was prompted by energy security and reducing the nation’s dependence on imported oil. Another concern was the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. Light duty vehicles were averaging 34 mpg by 2016 and these advances continued into the 2020’s. Almost 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases have been curtailed by this program, more than the total CO2 emitted by the U.S. in 2010.
Electric and hybrid vehicles continue their rapid growth thanks to falling prices and improvements in battery life. By the 2030’s, they account for the majority of new vehicles on the nation’s roads.
Kivalina Has Been Inundated
A small Alaskan fishing village, Kivalina was located on the southern tip of a 7.5 mile barrier island in Alaska. Home to around 400 indigenous Inuit, it’s people have lived here for countless generations. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, retreating Arctic ice left the village exposed to coastal eroision and storms. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built a retaining wall, however, it failed to halt the remorseless onslaught of the ever encroaching sea. By 2025, Kivalina has been abandoned, it’s buildings left to the turns of time and tide.
The Alaska region has been warming at twice the rate of the rest of the United States as a whole, affecting many of it’s islands. At the same time, warming has allowed further exploitation of hydrocarbon resources within Alaska.
"Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting."-Haruki Murakami