The World In 2050
Over 9 million people seeking a place to live, South Floridians living behind tall dikes, most of Bangladesh underwater, a few conglomerates supplying genetically modified foods to the masses, universal health care and free education, burials at sea (already happening in China in 2013), the Northern latitude countries of Canada, Greenland, Sweden, Norway, Russia gaining significance due to their richness of natural resources, megacities with high-speed rail transportation linking most major cities, a water shortage and exorbitant costs for water prompting strict regulations, the California coast rising nearly 2 feet, no snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro, India and China economies outpacing the United States, the extinction of polar bears due to melting permafrost, more international cooperation and less global conflict – this is what the world might look like in the year 2050. Or it might not.
We’re looking at a more crowded urbanized world with new places holding economic power. The BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have emerged. People are older and richer across the world. Countries are searching for new sources of water and energy.
The NORC countries are water rich and are the envy of the world. Milder winters and new resources have brought scads of newcomers to their cities. Canada has become the United States’ number one trading partner and millions of Americans have crossed into Canada to find employment in the new north. Canada, Iceland, and Norway’s populations have grown by more than 20%, the highest growth in the world. People are buying fur coats again. PETA is still protesting the slaughter of animals for those coats.
Demography is defined as the ups, downs, and movements of different population groups within the human race. Its measures include birth rates, income, age structure, ethnicity, and migration flows.
In 1999 this planet produced our sixth billion person. By 2050, it is projected that this earth will have more than 9 billion people, 9.2 in fact. In the mid 21st century our fastest population growth left the OECD countries (30 highly developing countries) and went to the developing world, including India.
By 2050 our planet’s northern latitudes will undergo radical changes due to the melting of polar ice, making them a place of increased human activity and greater economic importance. New North “NORC” is where this will happen. It includes all land and oceans lying 45̊̊ N latitude or higher currently held by the United States, Canada, Iceland, Greenland (Denmark), Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Population in these countries will soar as the world seeks the rich natural resources of the region.
Sometime in 2008, we don’t know exactly when, there were the same numbers of people living in urban areas as in rural areas. Since that moment, the world has become more urban, and will continue this trend into the middle of this century. Therefore, there will be fewer farmers and less ability to feed ourselves. Thus, there is more dependence upon large corporations to produce our food to provide for our ever growing and prosperous populations. Monsanto, a multi-national corporation is producing more and more genetically modified foods.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, usually through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides. Currently, corn, soy, sugar, aspartame, and papayas are GMO foods many advise us to avoid. The future of genetically modified yellow rice is estimated to save many on the planet from starvation.
This urban shift is driving major demographic changes around the globe. City dwellers are projected to double in number by 2050, rising from 3.3 billion in 2007 to 6.4 billion in 2050. However, the geography of urbanization is not uniform. This new trend is most dramatic in the developing world, especially in Asia and Africa, the two most populous places on Earth. Asia is only about 40% urban today. But by 2050 China will be more than 70% urban. Africa will triple the size of its cities over the next 40 years. At 1.2 billion people, Africa will hold nearly a quarter of the world’s urban population.
In 2007 there were nineteen megacities in the world having populations of 10 million or more: The top 5 were Tokyo (35.7), New York-Newark (19.0), Mexico City (19.0), Mumbai (19.0), and Sao Paulo (18.8), totaling 111.5 million. By 2025, the United Nations Population Division projects that the top 5 – Tokyo (36.4.), Mumbai (26.4), Delhi (22.5), Dhaka (22.0) and Sao Paulo (21.4) – will reach 128.7 million. Of the eight new megacities anticipated over the next fifteen years, five are in Asia, two in Africa and just one in Europe.
Not all of these cities will be prosperous and good places to live. While Nigeria is expected to reach 15.8 million residents, most will live in poverty and corruption. Singapore, however, has become one of the world’s most globalized, stable and prosperous countries in the world. Its population is projected to increase from nearly 5 million people today to 6.1 million by 2030. Singapore is a good example of how rapid population and economic growth can grow a city into an enjoyable place to live. Megacities should take a page from Singapore’s playbook.
Forms of Government
Singapore’s “socialistic democracy” is likely to be a model for the more progressive nations as they struggle to find ways to remain prosperous and remain a clean and inviting place to live. Despite Singapore’s lack of natural resources, and the fact that much has to be imported, it has not only prospered in the 21st century but has become a place where multinational corporations are welcomed, and its population highly educated and richer. When Singapore became a nation in 1965 it put a prime minister in complete control. Births were limited, education was stressed, the poverty rate dropped to 0.3% (in the U.S. in 2013 it is near 20%), people were forced to save 25% of their salary, and anti-social behavior not tolerated. Interestingly, its citizens consistently report being happy and satisfied with their government making so many decisions for them. No one knows exactly what will happen to Singapore in the future if its prime ministers fail to keep control of the people, but in 2013 it seems to be a model that the world will look to in the future.
With the growing population, demand on the world’s natural resources will increase. Our natural resources include assets such as hydrocarbons (petroleum, coal, oil, natural gas), minerals, and fossil groundwater plus renewable assets like rivers, arable land, wildlife and wood.
Four fifths of the world’s land surface (excluding Antarctica) is now directly influenced by humans. The exceptions to this are very remote places like northern forests and tundra, shrinking rain forest of the Congo and Amazon, and certain deserts of Africa, Australia and Tibet. By 2050 even these remote areas will see a surge in population growth.
The 20th century saw extraordinary growth in American consumption of iron, nickel, diamonds, water, softwood, salmon, etc. This consumption is expected to happen rapidly in the rest of the world by 2050. If the rest of the world is to live as Americans, Western Europeans, Japanese, and Australians do today, then the world must provide enough natural resources to support the future population. Global modernization and prosperity are raising our demands upon the natural world now more than ever.
The findings of plentiful natural resources in the northern United States – including natural gas and tar sands – plus the enormous resources in the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding countries has produced a new-found sense of prosperity and less reliance on the need for oil from the Middle East countries. Thanks to the effects of climate change – the warming of the planet – these northern resources, though still difficult to access, are benefiting the world markets.
Globalization is defined not only as international trade and capital flows, but political, cultural and ideological dimensions. Very broadly, globalization is a set of economic, social, and technological processes make the world more interconnected and interdependent. However, globalization can have negative as well as positive consequences.
Thomas Friedman wrote in 2006 that The World is Flat or is becoming globalized. Eventually, we will all be potential rivals, as well as potential friends as the world becomes “flatter”. Today the IMF (International Monetary Fund), World Bank, and WTO (World Trade Organization) are the prime actors making and enforcing the rules of our global economy. By 2050, these institutions will be replaced by others that consider the well-being of the world – not just the poorest countries. With the expansion of trade deals with most of the world’s countries, the U.S. will discover – albeit slowly – that as countries become more prosperous and their standards of living become higher, producing goods offshore will become more costly.
The environmental damage caused by globalization in the emerging countries will take its toll, producing rising cost of goods. Manufacturing will return to the United States at levels not seen since the 1950s and 60s and companies will be clamoring for people to fill these jobs. Competition will be stiff and job recruiters will be recruiting from all parts of the globe to fill positions.
Globalization will have reached its tipping point and countries will become more protectionist. This is due partly to a shortage of natural resources in many countries and abundance in others. If tariff wars break out and global trade becomes exorbitantly expensive, countries will be forced to produce goods locally and protect their own resources. Nationalism will become popular, although, immigration will be necessary in order to fill the millions of new jobs that this protectionism and nationalism will produce.
As countries reinforce borders, enforce complex and lengthy customs clearing processes, and raise protectionist barriers, global trade will be down and technological development will be at a standstill. Scarce resources lead to more international conflicts over resource deposits. Regionalization of supply chains has emerged leading to strong regional providers, and, thus, excellent relations with government and public services.
Because of the increase in natural disasters due to climate change, there is demand for more relief operations as well as services. This has created a new sense of nationalism and community, as neighbors help neighbors, and communities help each other.
The world’s atmospheric CO2 levels in 2012 mirror those eight hundred thousand years ago. In 2050, CO2 levels will continue to be a concern because they have risen ever higher. There is no international effort to reduce the 3.5 °C temperature increase. Naysayers have failed to realize that renewable energy and new resources can produce new avenues of profits, more employment and a sense of protecting the future of the planet.
The United States continues to lag behind the world in recognizing the severe effects of climate change. This continues in part because of a stubbornness borne out of fear and distrust of change. The Kyoto Protocol, which many countries had signed on to, and pledged to reduce carbon emission, has been abolished because of a lack of cooperation between countries. However, individual countries are working to minimize the effects of what its now called global warming.
Zero-emission plants cut carbon emissions, lessening the effects of climate change. The United States has finally enacted a carbon tax on emissions and recognized that so-called “cap and trade” is a viable alternative to even harsher regulations. As emissions from automobiles have decreased, due to electric cars, the world’s air has become slowly cleaner, and climate change – global warming – has been reduced. This is the good news.
Coal continues to be produced, mostly in China, to fuel its industries and heat its homes. China, realizing that the carbon emissions from coal have severely polluted its air and is making its cities uninhabitable, has finally begun pursuing other forms of energy. China is looking towards the United States and Canada to model their energy programs. Wind power, in its infancy in the early 21st century, has reached far into the oceans where the wind currents produce the greatest amount of wind energy. Wind turbines are spotted off shore from every vantage point in the U.S. and Canada. As wind in the northern latitudes has more force, wind turbines are as common on plains of South Dakota and Montana as they are in the oceans of the north Atlantic, Pacific and Antarctica.
Solar energy, though it produces less energy than originally believed, is still widely used throughout the world. Solar, of course, produces no carbon emissions, and is relatively inexpensive. Solar panels can be seen atop government buildings across the world and are a common practice on most homes, except for those homes that use wind power.
The world continues to recycle. In fact, new growth industries have captured huge profits in recycling products. Trash has become the new oil.
High tech is now easily accessible. Cell phones, tablets, PCs, smart phones are everywhere. In 2013, the number of mobile phone accounts in use around the world is expected to match the number of people on the planet. Demand in so-called “emerging markets” is outstripping that in mature economies and driving rapid growth. The shift is accompanied by dynamic high-tech trends, which together have profound implications for the entire technology sector.
By 2050 this is what technology is going to look like: consumers create, design, and develop their own products thanks to 3D printers; airplanes can fly on solar power; all television is seen through your computer’s internet provider; no landline telephones or telephone poles carrying lines to homes.
Robots are a powerful source of concern – both because in some places enough workers cannot be found to fill the empty manufacturing slots to keep up and robots fill the void and because in some other places, robots are taking the place of workers who continue to become unemployed because a robot has taken their job.
As the debate on the future of this planet continues, the United States will remain the world’s largest economy. The United States will continue to have the world’s most capable armed forces; however, its military will be used more as a peacekeeper. Global war and violence will decline as nations have become more reliant upon each other. The natural resource shortage will encourage cooperation among nations. The world will become more tolerant of differences in ethnicity and religion and culture as people more easily communicate with each other, thanks to technology.
The future of the world is bright. Twenty fifty is only thirty-seven years away. My daughter will be 42 and my son will be 40. I wonder what their lives will look like. I’m looking forward to that day.