“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, 2041 to 2045 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 2041-2045
Global Average Temperatures Have Risen By 2 Degrees Centigrade
In 2009, scientists at the Copenhagen Summit advised the world’s government that 2 degrees Centigrade was the maximum allowable “safe” limit for temperatures impacting global warming. In the early 2040’s, this point is exceeded. Even though crude oil production has plunged, CO2 emissions from past decades have yet to fully impact the present climate. At the same time, other hydrocarbons, including coal and “unconventional” oil (i.e. tar sands, fractured oil)saw increased use in the years following peak oil. Global warming maintains it’s menace to civilization, even though the transition to clean energy is being achieved. In the future, any increase above 2 degrees C will lead to runaway positive feedbacks, outside of the ability of humanity to mitigate.
While 2 degrees doesn’t sound significant, this is merely the global average. At the poles, the average temperature increase has been much higher. The Arctic is now ice free for several weeks of the year, while Greenland has reached a tipping point of irreversible melting, with the expectation of adding 1 foot per decade of sea level rise.
In the United States, desertification has now extended into the southeast portion of the country, cutting soybean and sorghum yields by 50 percent. Invasive insect species, such as the bark beetle, are moving further northwards, destroying forests and creating fuel for massive wildfires as well as displacing native animals due to loss of habitat.
In Europe, the Alps have become free of snow, for the first time in millions of years. Recognized as the “water towers of Europe”, this is having a devastating impact on water supplies. The Rhine, Rhone and Danube, which rely on the snow of the Alps, see significant shortfalls. This impacts European countries ability to generate power as well as transport goods. Switzerland is severely affected, with much of it’s electricity derived from hydroelectric power. Record heat waves across the continent are causing wildfires on historically unprecedented scales. In the Mediterranean region, six extra weeks of heat wave conditions in combination with loss of 20 percent of it’s rainfall have caused significant problems. At the base of the Alps, rock falls caused by melting permafrost are obliterating villages and towns. Tourism is destroyed, as skiing no longer exists in most of the region.
In South America, a similar predicament is coming to pass. The disappearance of the Andean glaciers have caused water shortages for tens of millions of people as well as decimating the Amazon river basin ecosystem. Refugee movements are a major concern for the region. Columbia, one of the world’s major coffee producers, experiences large declines in the coffee harvest. Coffee now joins chocolate as a luxury food, unavailable to many.
In Asia, lack of water reaches crisis levels. Pakistan’s three major rivers, the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, now deliver less than 50 percent of their historic water volumes. Pakistan and India are now at war, over water and other resources. With both countries being nuclear capable, this further strains tensions in the region and the world. Monsoon rains are less and less predictable, while the rising sea further devastates Bangladesh, which has not recovered from the disasters of two decades previous.
The African continent experiences widespread devastation. Droughts on a massive scale destroy the continent’s ability to produce food for it’s increasing population. Unprecedented famines, causing national migrations, become the norm rather than the exception. In Mali, an estimated 75 percent of the population is starving.
Low lying islands in the Pacific are washed away, displacing whole nations. Countries throughout the world seem hard pressed to accept the climate refugees.
Global Population Reaches 9 Billion
For most of human history, the Earth’s population stayed below 100 million people mostly due to the short life span of subsistence existence. Between the mid-19th and early 20th century, human population exploded. This was due mostly to fossil fuels providing cheap, abundant energy which drove the largest economic boom in the history of humankind. Between 1812 and 1930, the world’s population doubled from one to two billion. Thirty years later, a third billion was added. Fourteen years later, the population stood at four billion. The maximum growth of population was achieved in 1963, at 2.2 percent per year. Across the world, there were vast improvements in mobility, personal income and quality of life.
However, the economic boom times after World War Two began to run down in the 1960’s leading to stagnation in the following decades. This was caused by major petroleum shortages in the large industrial nations, followed by the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution. The U.S. reached it’s peak oil production in the 1970’s, as predicted by many experts, and became a net importer by the 1990’s. While improvements in efficiency and conservation were made, the U.S. would never achieve it’s all-time high of 9.6 million barrels per day. In spite of this, oil prices fell again, economies recovered, and the global population continued it’s ceaseless upward trajectory.
Oil would become an issue again in the first decade of the 21st century. By this time, major proven oil fields were beginning to run dry, while discovery of new fields were declining. In 2005, global production reached a plateau, leading to a price spike in 2008. This coincided with the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression-caused by excessive debt, irresponsible lending, a housing bubble and regional liquidity crises.High oil prices merely inflamed the situation.
The fact of the matter was the world had been living beyond it’s means for decades, as demand for resources outstripped the Earth’s ability to replace them. The eco-movement of the 1970’s was heralded as a wake-up call for governments, yet policies remained largely unchanged. The 1980’s saw the population’s “footprint” exceed the planet’s bio-capacity for the first time, yet policies remained largely unchanged. Governments, businesses and consumers gorged themselves on easy credit, while financial systems continued to create money out of thin air. Although new sources of oil were found, their recovery took more energy than the energy they provided. The Deepwater Horizon disaster as well as the Iraq War were showing the practical limits of oil exploitation. Renewable sources such as wind and solar were showing great promise, but remained marginalized due to lack of investment combined with political and financial hostility of entrenched interests. Renewable resources would take years of investment to become viable.
In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. This marked the high point of real economic progress, afterwards sluggish economic growth in fits and starts would become the new norm. Although regions such as China grew rapidly and the U.S. experienced a brief “recovery”, this was a mirage created by the shimmering haze of greater debt. Oil prices remained volatile as the market hit the wall of supply versus price. International tensions in the Middle East only exacerbated the volatility, triggering supply shocks and economic difficulties. By the end of the 2010’s, Depression-era conditions returned to the economic markets of the world.
As food prices soared, unemployment reached record highs and people around the world saw a decline in living standards, governments took extra-ordinary measures to avert a catastrophe. In many countries, food, water and energy were severely rationed. Greece, Yemen and some Middle Eastern countries were indistinguishable from chaotic anarchy. As countries desperately sought new energy resources, exploration and drilling occurred in areas previously reserved as sanctuaries. As the Arctic regions became ice free, nations bordering on those areas had strained relations as each tried to maximize exploitation of the remaining dwindling resources. Wind and solar grew exponentially, but were still limited to a minor portion of the energy system for the same reasons of the past.
The 2020’s witnessed further tragedy and suffering as global warming began to have a major impact on food production. The U.S. was particularly hard hit, with the return of the dust bowl to it’s breadbasket and the intense water crisis in it’s southwest. Civil wars, famines, escalating nuclear tensions in the Middle East and increased major terrorist attacks all marked the deteriorating global security situation of this period. The world economy sputtered along, with growth in only a scattered handful of regions.
By the 2030’s, many of the world’s metals and minerals were becoming scarce, including phosphorus, while the damage from climate change only worsened. Fortunately, technological breakthroughs were now emerging. Liquid hydrocarbon substitutes were developed that could economically replace oil. At the same time, hybrid and electric vehicles were rapidly reducing the demand for hydrocarbon fuel in the transportation sectors of the economy. Solar photo-voltaics had grown to such a scale that they became the primary method of energy production. GM crops, vertical farms, in vitro meat, aquaculture and other methods were boosting food production as Canada and Russia came to the fore as food producers due to the retreat of permafrost and icecaps caused by global warming.
By the early 2040’s, orbital solar power became available, with the first commercial fusion plants just a few years away. Economic growth and prosperity still lagged due to new problems related to financial, environmental, demographic and other issues. Automation had forced millions from gainful employment with no viable alternatives to utilize their talents. Combined with the unemployment problems, many countries had staggering systemic debt. The consumerist capitalism economic model was entering it’s twilight phase. The shadow of humanity’s populace was casting such a pall upon the future, it became more and more obvious that the materialistic culture of the past was unsustainable. The world seemed to reeling from the hangover of it’s two century soiree.
In spite of all the turmoil, by 2042 the world reached a population of nine billion. Though life was increasingly difficult for many, people and communities adapted to each crisis. Many became self-sufficient in food production, while at the same time creating and mandating stringent recycling policies. These policies went beyond the volunteerism of previous decades, and included strict and severe penalties for wastage. Perhaps no resource more so than water. In addition, stringent immigration quotas became the norm, ensuring societies only accepted “value adding” immigrants and excluding everyone else.
The beginning of the 2040’s saw a new idea of social organization. With the lapse of global trade, financial, energy and other networks, people used information and social media technology to form smaller enclaves, decentralized and focused on long term sustainability. In areas not devastated by ongoing resource wars, these groups laid the foundation for a potential reorganization of the global human community.
White People Are A Minority in the United States
The U.S. is a country founded by immigrants. Following the 1965 immigration reform (which grew from the civil right movement), the number of non-white people increased dramatically. this was particularly true if Latinos, who went from 6.3 million in 1960 to over 50 million by 2010.
By the early 2010s, non-whites had already begun to outnumber whites in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas and Washington D.C., while nearly half of all the children in the nation were non-white. This trend continued over the subsequent decades. By 2042, white people themselves have become a minority.
The rapid change in demographic make-up has significantly altered the political disposition of the country. Latinos, blacks and other minorities tend to be left of center. Other factors have influenced voters preferences-such as the urbanization of the country, with cities tending to favor more liberal and progressive policies than smaller, traditional rural communities. Generation X and Y (the latter now entering middle age) have also shaped the political stage, most of them favoring left of center policies and politicians.
These and other factors have converged to make the old-style Republican Party unelectable. By now the GOP has been forced to drastically moderate it’s policies and rhetoric compared to earlier decades. Those who could not were severely marginalized, to the point of political nonexistence.
The Last Veterans of World War 2 are Passing Away
During this decade, the last veterans of WW II are passing away. A few of them have lived to their 120th year, allowing them to attend the 100th anniversary commemorations of D-Day, on June 6, 2044.
On this date, a time capsule is opened at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, close to the site of the Normandy landing where many lives were lost. The capsule contains press articles from the time-including a message from President Eisenhower to future generations.
Humans Are Becoming Intimately Merged With Machines
By 2045, the pace of technology has become so fast humans can no longer comprehend it without augmenting their own intelligence. This is especially true of computing, nanotechnology, medicine and neuroscience, all of which have seen exponential progress.
The typical home PC of 2045 has the integrated AI equivalent to over a billion human brains. This machine can think for itself, communicate with it’s user and suggest new ideas in ways that surpass even the greatest minds on Earth. Due to the massive amounts of date being exchanged on the Internet and elsewhere, these machines receive literally millions of communications every day.
The only way for a user to interpret this avalanche of information is to merge their consciousness with that of the machine. A growing segment of society is now turning to on-person hardware to achieve this. The most advanced method involves the use of microscopic, wireless, implantable devices linking neural activity directly to electronic circuitry.
People are merging with machines in various other ways, too. Aside from computer interfacing, nanobots can boost immune system, helping eliminate pathogens. They can also regulate blood pressure, or repair some damage caused by the aging process, or accelerate the healing of wounds. Cybernetic organs are now available that almost never fail and can filter deadly poisons. Brain-computer interfaces are increasingly used in middle class homes to open doors, control lighting and operate everyday appliances.
The most extreme case of enhancement involve people opting for decentralized circulatory systems, as well as a form of synthetic blood, reducing physical vulnerability further. This particular option is only available for the wealthy at this stage, as it involves highly complicated procedures that radically alter the internal anatomy. The end result is that a person could survive multiple gunshot wounds and other internal damage relatively easily. Politicians and a number of famous celebrities are taking advantage of this. It is also popular with gangsters and career criminals. The line between man and machine is starting to blur. Later this century, there will no longer be a clear distinction.
Air Accident Fatalities are Virtually Eliminated
Recent decades have seen an explosion in the level of computer controls in vehicles of all types, greatly reducing the need for human involvement. This includes the aviation industry, which has become highly automated. Although manned crews may still be present, their roles are limited and supervisory, with only minimal if any need for intervention in the flight process. On the ground, airport infrastructure and navigation systems have seen major overhauls, leading to vastly improved traffic management and safety.
Revolutionary new materials (such as graphene), in combination with self-healing, nano-sensors and other systems embedded throughout the wings and body, have largely eliminated structural failure issues that plagued earlier generations. Most aircraft run on electrical systems, avoiding the need for dangerous and combustible fuels.
Hijacking and violence are practically impossible, given the sheer level of surveillance and security in place. Quantum encryption makes the hacking of navigation systems difficult if not impossible.
As a result of these advances, air crashes involving passenger deaths in large commercial aircraft are now almost unheard of in the news. The age old phobia of flying will become a thing of the past. In addition to safety, the rise of computer intelligence in aircraft design is leading to improvements in overall comfort experienced by travelers.
A Trans-Global Highway and Rail Network Has Emerged
Midway through the 2040s, practically all major continents were connected to each other by road, rail and tunnel. This trans-global highway, as it comes to be known, was never a definite goal nor an individual project. It was instead formed by long term, incremental steps, as countries across the world reached across their borders and waterways to formerly distant neighbors. Over the years, from the mess of highways and railways criss-crossing the globe, a specific route began to emerge, uniting every populated continent with the exception of Australia.
By 2044, people can travel to all corners of the globe using direct road or rail links. However, geopolitical stresses are beginning to slow the expansion of new connections. Resource wars have made the opening and closing of national borders increasingly frequent and unpredictable, at times cutting of whole sections of the network. Despite this, it continues to be largely operational as a whole, due to it’s sheer size and extent. In a world racked by environmental catastrophe, it serves as a lifeline for many countries-since food, water, metals, minerals and other natural resources can be moved from more prosperous regions. Although the trans-global highway is stagnating in growth, it remains a vital piece of infrastructure for years to come.
Orbital Solar Power is Commercially Feasible
Space based solar power, after many years of development, is now available to the grid. Conceptualized in the 1970’s, advances in nanotechnology and transmission efficiencies finally make it commercially and technically feasible.
Initially financed by government and industry consortiums, a system of large geo-synchronous satellites is established. Very large, nanotech-based surfaces (½ to 2 miles in size) on the satellite’s solar arrays capture sunlight and beam it’s energy down to Earth in the form of microwaves or laser light. The terrestrial ground station then converts that energy to electricity.
The system benefits from a high collection rate due to lack of atmospheric or terrestrial interference, which allows for uninterrupted 24 hour energy collection. The system can also redirect it’s energy to an area that is having a peak demand situation.
This approach to power generation is lauded for it’s lack of greenhouse emissions, allowing it to proceed in development, even though initially being quite expensive. The issues of space debris and solar panel degradation caused their expense, but as the technology improved, cost issues resolved themselves.
These efforts pioneered a greatly successful industry in the late 21st and early 22nd centuries. These satellites are used for both lunar and Martian colonies, greatly enhancing their available power and hence, their success. In the next two centuries, this technology expands to the point that almost all the available sunlight is harvested for transmission to Earth.
Slovenia Closes Down It’s Only Nuclear Plant
Located in Krsko, Slovenia, the Krsko Nuclear Power plant was constructed between 1975 and 1983 as a joint venture of Slovenia and Croatia when both countries were united as part of Yugoslavia. With a generation capacity of 730 megawatts, it provides 25% of Slovenia’s power and 15% of Croatia’s power.
In 2008, a coolant leak was reported, triggering fears of a Chernobyl type nuclear disaster. This prompted an E.U. wide alert, and generated significant media attention for what turned out to be a false alarm.
The retirement of this plant was scheduled for January 14, 2023. However, in order to secure the energy resources of this plant, a twenty year extension was made. The plant would now be decommissioned in 2043.
A Tipping Point for Permafrost Melting
Scientists had warned that a global average temperature rise of 2 degrees C-occurring in the early 2040s-was the maximum safe limit, beyond which climate change would race out of control. In the earlier decades, tipping points were already being reached, such as the Arctic becoming ice-free during summer. By 2044, an even greater and more serious threat is emerging in the form of greenhouse gasses from melting permafrost.
The quantity and extent of permafrost-defined as soil at or below 32 degrees F for two or more years-had been well documented. It is known that enough carbon lay trapped in Arctic ice to effectively double the level already in the atmosphere. Vast stores of methane, a greenhouse gas over 25 times more potent than CO2 and 72 times more potent in the first twenty years, were also present, with the potential to drastically alter the climate.
Studies found that in many places, long-frozen soils were collapsing as they melted, forming erosional holes and landslides that revealed larger areas of permafrost beneath. This was accelerating the process of melting and greenhouse gas release, since these larger areas were then exposed to direct sunlight. Alongside this finding, evidence from Siberian caves suggested that a global temperature rise just 1.5 degree C (2.7 F) above current levels would see permanently frozen ground beginning to thaw over a vast area, representing a major tipping point.
With large scale permafrost melting underway, global temperatures are now on track to reach 3 degree C (5.4 F) above the 20th century average by the mid 2050s. A genuine catastrophe is looming, threatening billions of lives.
Gulf Coast Cities Abandoned Due to “Super Hurricanes”
The growing concentration of atmospheric CO2 has led to rising sea levels, a warming of coastal waters and a more volatile climate system. In the Gulf of Mexico a new category of “super hurricane” has emerged. This is becoming a regular occurrence by now.
These extreme weather events are nightmarish in scale and intensity. At their peak, winds of nearly 200 m.p.h. bring untold devastation. Trees are uprooted and hurled like matchsticks, while skyscrapers visibly sway. Storm surges and flash floods travel up rivers with surreal speed, overwhelming defenses and bringing waves 30 to 40 feet high.
Damages from these various disasters has run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. A number of Gulf cities are being permanently abandoned during this time, including Houston and New Orleans.
Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future. - Kathleen Norris