“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, 2031 to 2035 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 2031-2035
Much of Bangkok Abandoned Due to Flooding
By the early 2030’s, Bangkok, a city of 12 million, is sinking further into the ocean. Slowly sinking for decades, the metropolis now faces an unprecedented disaster.
A city built on clay, Bangkok originally was founded in a region of swampy coastline. Today it is a modern city of skyscrapers, highways and other urban development. The weight of these massive urban structures have caused the city to sink by over 10 inches per year. By 2010, large parts of the city were already below sea level, a trend that accelerated in the following decades.
Illegal tapping of ground water, water that played an important role in ground stabilization, combined with rising sea levels, increased monsoon flooding and burgeoning populations all contributed significantly to the rapid subsidence of the city.
Though many efforts were exerted to save Bangkok, and some of it’s treasured temples and artifacts were saved, the city itself was doomed. By the dawn of the 22nd century, Bangkok was abandoned, relegated to be another artifact of humanity’s failure to live within the framework of nature’s pattern.
Peak Phosphorus Reached
Playing a vital role in RNA and DNA, phosphorus is a basic building block of life. Phosphorus is essential for the transfer of energy within the cells of plants and animals. As a main component of fertilizer, it helps plants withstand temperature changes, water changes and water deficiencies. This makes phosphorus fundamental in growing crops.
As a scarce and finite resource, it cannot be replaced by anything else. For a long time, governments had a complacent attitude, assuming the mineral would be around for centuries. Most government focused on the polluting effects of phosphorus, not it’s scarcity.
Studies in the early 21st century revealed that supplies were decreasing more rapidly than thought. By 2033, worldwide production of phosphorus has peaked. This was caused by emerging economies of China and India, where the demand for meat and dairy caused an increase in feed crops.
Some of the first impacts were a rapid increase in the price of food, along with the nationalization of remaining phosphorus stocks. This cased food rationing and famine in some regions, while the price increases were piled on top of an already doubled food price.
Richer nations suffered less, but still had to re-adjust. New methods of recycling were introduced, including restructuring of sewage systems to capture phosphate-rich urine. Seabed mining is being explored, but is still technologically and financially challenging. With populations still rising, solutions for a substance that can replace phosphorus become more and more important.
Economic Decline in the Middle East
As a driver of the world’s economy, oil undergoes a major fall in production. After years of disruption and a seeking to avert catastrophe, viable alternatives for humanity’s energy needs become available. Algae bio-fuel is a leading technology. Solar, wind and ocean turbine forms of renewable energy have come to the fore. With nanotechnology being applied to panels and surfaces, together with falling costs, solar technology becomes pre-eminent.
Energy storage systems have made progress also, allowing solar power to be used at night. Electric cars are widespread, accounting for half of the new vehicles on roads in the United States. No longer funded by the West’s demand for oil, the Middle East is becoming a largely poverty ridden, internally feuding region. A “brain drain” is pushing it pack into relative insignificance. Several countries have engaged in a nuclear arms race that further destabilizes the region.
Final Collapse of the European Union
As the severity and frequency of climate disasters increase due to rising global temperatures, Europe is experiencing a wave of unrest with the union splitting along north-south lines. Britain has completely withdrawn from the European Union, focusing on other domestic issues, including food self-sufficiency.The EU has split with France, Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia and Poland forming a “Northern Union” and closing their borders to their southern neighbors to stop a surge in migration.
Famine stricken Mediterranean countries are now overrun by refugees from North Africa. Russia has become a new “food superpower”.
Russia is A Global Food Superpower
With the Earth’s population steadily moving towards 9 billion, the world requires 50% more food than it did in the year 2000. At the same time, peak phosphorus has become a problem while climate change accelerates relentlessly.
Africa continues to experience increased desertification while India and southeast Asia are hit by more violent and irregular monsoons. Pakistan is receiving less water from receding Himalayan icecaps. Farmers in South America are also negatively impacted by icecap loss in the Andes. The United States mid-West has seen the return of dustbowl conditions with a severe loss of topsoil. The European countries bordering the Mediterranean experience chronic drought.
A number of areas throughout the globe are prospering, including Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. Melting permafrost and retreating icecaps have opened up vast tracts of land in the extreme north. Russia benefits most from this, with vast tracts of arable land being bought up and divided into farms.
As Russia’s land opens up, their attitudes toward genetically modified crops change, allowing the country to increase their food production markedly. Reduction of ice on Russia’s northern and western coasts allows a huge increase in available fish stocks, further increasing Russia’s dominance in the worldwide food marketplace.
Along with food, Russia also becomes secure in terms of fresh water. Along with Canada, Russia now holds an increasingly large percentage of the world’s available fresh water. Now that it is able to be self-supporting, Russian food is in great demand, especially in Europe and Central Asia. This causes Russia’s influence to grow markedly in the 2030’s.
One side effect of this is a large number of refugees are attracted to Russia’s new found resource wealth. Due to it’s sheer size, it is impossible for Russia to completely close it’s border, especially the border with Mongolia and China. Soon Russia’s population begins to stabilize due to food security and increased immigration.
Global Reserves of Lead Running Out
An element of surprising scarcity, lead is an element of many industrial uses due to it’s malleability, softness and ductility. Lead has been used for thousands of years, with large scale extraction beginning during the Roman Empire and playing a large role in the Industrial Revolution. World production doubled from 1850 to 1900, doubled again from 1900 to 1950, and doubled yet again from 1950 to 2000.
Because of it’s density, lead has been used as weight or ballast, firearms projectiles and later radiation shielding. The bulk of lead is now used in producing car batteries electrodes and high voltage wires. The primary producers are Australia, Canada, China, Kazakhstan and the United States.
While undeniably useful in industry, lead is also a pollutant and a health hazard, infamously gaining notoriety for it’s use in paint and as a fuel stabilizer. Lead levels in the environment increased more than 1,000 times from the 18th to the 20th centuries. This caused it to become one of the greatest problems in global environmental toxicity. While reduced or eliminated in developed countries, many developing countries still allowed it’s use.
Lead resources begin to be exhausted by the early 2030’s. The increase in demand comes from increased automotive use and manufacture in the BRIC countries. As half of the world’s lead supply comes from recycling, recycling programs are improved to reclaim even more of the metal. While zinc, copper, iron and tungsten can be used as replacements, some of these metals will be facing shortages also, causing an acceleration of programs to find artificial replacements. This crisis in lead causes recycling efforts for all materials to be redoubled.
Stem Cell Pharmacies Common
Stem cell pharmacies are now commonplace in cities offering high end medical treatments. The pharmacies offer walk-in diagnosis, stem cell collection and banking, with the ability to preserve cells for future medical situations. Inexpensive, personalized and specific treatments are available for rapid regeneration of body parts and organs. These establishments are very similar to the for profit, twenty four hour emergency clinics that became widespread at the beginning of the 21st century.
Terabit Internet Speeds are Common
As Web standards improve, connection speeds have to keep pace. Bandwidth is growing by approximately 50% each year. Many homes and offices in the developed world now have a terabyte connection. Many of these connections are now appearing on people themselves, in the form of wearable or implanted devices.
Fourth Generation Nuclear Power
By the early 2030’s, fourth generation nuclear power stations begin to come on-line. Utilizing a system of fuel balls instead of rods, this represents a major increase in safety for the following reasons:
-the structure of fuel makes a meltdown an impossibility;
-the uranium is only 9% enriched, making it impossible to weaponize;
-the nuclear waste is easier to dispose of;
-the power plants are highly economical, generating power more cheaply than oil or gas, even considering decommissioning.
These breakthroughs cause nuclear power to become a very lucrative industry for the remainder of the century. The new global powers, the BRICs take advantage of this power source.
While this is a breakthrough, solar and wind power have greater potential due to the finite supply of uranium.
Holographic Wall Screens
Movie theaters, conference halls and stadiums, along with other sizable venues are now using holographic wall screens. These screens are essentially scaled-up versions of TV projectors that have been used since 2020’s. While too expensive for most people, they are common in places such as Times Square in New York, Piccadilly Circus in London and Shibuya in Tokyo. These screens feature incredible advertisement displays which immerse the viewers in a graphic rich world almost separated from the regular environment.
Exabyte Storage Devices Available
An Exabyte (one million terabytes), is now the available standard for storage capacity. In reference to the past, this might seem excessive, but by the standards of the mid-2030’s, it is necessary due to the exponential growth of information technology. Day-to-day life for people in the developed world requires gargantuan amounts of data collection; especially for those with neural interfaces or biotechnology implants.
Robots Are Dominating the Battlefield
The battlefields of the mid-2030’s see the commonplace deployment of highly capable autonomous robotic fighting devices. Highly mobile, highly accurate and equipped with a variety of powerful sensors, GPS and thermal vision, these units can be deployed for weeks at a time, without need for maintenance or rest. With no fear or other human “weaknesses”, these robots spread terror and confusion through the enemies they face. The most advanced robotic warriors come equipped with self-repairing nano-systems and the ability to become invisible due to special exotic materials.
Used against poor and desperate human soldiers, these mechanized fighters allow declining nations like the United States to maintain a qualitative advantage on the battlefield. This translates into a retention of some “influence” in global affairs.
China’s Space Station De-Orbited
After a decade of onboard research, China’s first space station has reached the end of it’s ten year life span. The station is abandoned and sent into a decaying orbit. A new, larger and more advanced space station is now in the process of being constructed.
Manned Mission to Mars
Six decades after the Apollo landings on the Moon, a manned mission to Mars is undertaken in 2033. Technology for space faring has greatly increased and improved, from computing to telecommunication, to materials sciences and knowledge of physiological effects.
With a new heavy-lift launch vehicle and a crew vehicle based on the defunded Orion program, the mission is undertaken. The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is designed for four astronauts for 21 days, however, for the months long Mars mission, several other modules are attached to provide both consumables and radiation shielding.
Mining Operations in the Main Asteroid Belt
Asteroid mining became a reality in the 2020’s due to startups like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. Once considered science fiction, critics and naysayers doubted that such operations were feasible, pointing to huge costs that would be incurred. Cost turned out to be lower than expected, due to the fact that most of the material mined was used in space, thus avoiding expensive fuel costs caused by interacting with Earth’s gravity field. Expenses were reduce further by companies contracting to repair satellites. Finances were further supplemented through public support, such as crowd funding and the availability of highly experienced ex-NASA staff.
While initially confined to near-Earth asteroids, operations were expanded to the Asteroid Belt by the early 2030’s. Containing billions of more times metal than Earth, and endless supplies of water-ice, the exploitation of this region became more and more profitable. Various companies are formed that specialize in different aspects of mining and exploration within the region.
Establishment of the First Manned Lunar Bases
By 2035, several government and private ventures have built lunar habitats. This represents a milestone of achievement during a period of time which has seen major technological advancements and increased commercialization in space exploration. Despite the continued struggle with the effects of climate change and other issues, the increase of information about and the hope for exploitation of space leads to increased and renewed public interest.
Over the past decade many countries returned to the Moon or completed planning for their first lunar missions. By the late 2020’ and 2030’s, both the United States and Russia had built stations in lunar orbit. After constructing robotic bases on the lunar surface, manned bases followed in the 2030’s. Construction is made easier and cheaper due to 3-D printing. With this technology, the Moon itself provides the majority of raw materials for base construction. Settlements are mostly placed at the poles due to the constant sun for solar power and the shaded craters for water resources.
Chocolate Has Become a Rare Luxury
Drought, soil depletion and diminishing harvests in Africa (where two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced) have caused the price of cocoa to soar. Cocoa crops are also competing for space with palm oils, oils that are now in high demand for bio-fuels.
Poor pay and working conditions and land abandonment are also factors. Many farmers are leaving increasingly unproductive land to migrate to cities for a chance at better and/ or higher paying jobs.
As a result of this, chocolate bars now cost between ten to fifteen dollars each.
Leatherback Sea Turtles Are On The Verge of Extinction
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles on Earth, weighing over 2,000 pounds and exceeding 7 feet in length. They represent the only remaining members of a family of turtles with evolutionary roots going back 100 million years. These reptiles can dive to depths of 4,000 feet and migrate across the Pacific from Indonesia to the U.S Pacific coast.
Once common throughout the world, the 20th and 21st century saw the population plummet. Nest numbers recorded in Indonesia saw a peak of 14,455 in 1984 to a low of 1,532 in 2011.
The problems that faced the turtles included egg predation, rising temperatures that killed the buried nest eggs, being caught and drowned by mobile fisheries and predation of both turtles and eggs by local islanders. An especially pernicious problem was plastic starvation, a condition caused by turtles mistaking plastic debris for jellyfish and eating it. Some turtles were found with over 10 pounds of plastic in their stomachs, causing starvation by displacing available area for nutrient digestion within the turtle.
One-Third of Saudi Arabia’s Electricity Comes From Solar
Into the first decade of the 21st century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia produced negligible amounts of solar power, with half of it‘s power coming from oil. By 2032, the Kingdom now generates 41 gigawatts of installed solar energy, which is about a third of the nation’s 121 gigawatts of total energy demand.
With large desert areas at equatorial latitudes, the country realizes it’s huge potential for solar energy expansion. Larger solar projects are planned, and will be combined with power infrastructure projects to provide electricity to North Africa and Europe.
As Saudi Arabia sees it’s stock of hydrocarbons decline, it transitions from energy production to the production of plastic and polymers. The farsighted increase in the Kingdom’s use of renewable energy, and it’s strong ties to Western nations, allows it to retain a higher degree of stability than it’s neighbors. How long this stability can be maintained remains to be seen.
Switzerland Phases Out Nuclear Energy
After the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, many countries questioned the wisdom of using nuclear energy to provide electrical power. Switzerland was one of the countries to do so, abandoning nuclear power after a public outcry and governmental review. The Swiss’ five existing reactors , supplying 40% of the country’s power, were allowed to operate, but were not replaced at the end of their service life. In 2034, the last plant is taken offline.
Arctic Is Ice-Free During September
The Arctic is now free of ice during the whole of September, due to global warming. The decline in coverage was observed during 2007 and this trend continued in the following decades. The ice decreased as the darker exposed surface area of the polar regions absorbed the Sun’s heat and warmed the Arctic waters.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” - Abraham Lincoln