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The Future

I am not in the shiniest of moods right at the moment. Nothing is wrong in any major way, but an accumulation of minor things - work stresses (largely other people's), the icy-slippy-surface-but-no-longer-snowy weather, the fact that the water is still off here three days after we first noticed, and the difficulty of scheduling games, among others - are putting me into a state where I'm more easily annoyed than usual. So this thinking about The Future goes under a cut tag, because it's probably rather bleak for most people's tastes.

This is about The Future as a whole, big speculations, not anyone's personal future. Even amidst not-so-great expectations for the world, I regard my own future as a positive thing. I have my gods on my side, I know the things I want to do, and I have the skills and attitude to do well in the world I think is coming in the next five decades or so.

So, here are the things I think will happen. Climate change will continue; there will be more extreme weather across the world. The Gulf Stream may stop flowing as far north as it does, or may shift to the other side of the Atlantic, as apparently happened in December. Sea levels may rise. Oil will run out, or become so difficult to access that it makes no difference, gas and coal will follow. Water shortages will become problematic even in the British Isles. Any major volcanic eruption will have enough long-term effects on crop growth world-wide to cause food shortages - or these may happen due to crop failures, or even transport issues. There will be some evolution of some disease that will kill a lot of people. Some of these events will lead to large political and economic changes.

These things are not guaranteed to happen at any given point in time. I've chosen the next 50 years as an arbitrary period that I have every intention of seeing all of, and I don't really think all of them will happen. But some of them probably will, and it is enormously unlikely that none of them will.

There will undoubtedly be good developments as well. When it finally sinks in that there is a limit to oil, solar and wind energy technology - already under development - will leap forward. Travel and transport by sea, in sophisticated sail ships, will become more common. Canals may become important again. Internet and mobile communications technology will become even more important, and there will probably be cures developed for some of the diseases and conditions that affect us in the present. But this, too, will all be change, and people don't deal all that well with change.

View, for instance, the recent bout of winter weather here in Ireland and in the UK. Panic buying happened in supermarkets all over. Water shortages - probably caused by people leaving taps running so they wouldn't freeze - are affecting wide areas of Ireland. Transport systems locked up, and there was not enough suitable grit in Ireland to keep all the roads open, had the weather continued thus for even another 24 hours. I sincerely hope that more grit is being prepared, as this is unlikely to be the last cold snap of the winter, but I honestly doubt that it is. This was not a major weather event in real terms. There have been worse snows in my memory, and much worse in recent history. it is inevitable that there will be a worse winter in the next fifty years, unless runaway climate change forces the tropics north.

Of the possible events I listed above, the one that will cause the most change in Ireland - and Western Europe in general - is the possibility of the Gulf Stream stopping. It's well known that Ireland is on the same latitude as Moscow and Labrador. If the Gulf Stream stops, we'll get an appropriate climate. If the Gulf Stream changes to flowing up between Greenland and Canada - as seems entirely possible - we will at least get much more severe winters than we're accustomed to, and probably more in the way of storms. Ireland, obviously, is not set up to deal with this, and it won't be an easy change.

Rising sea-levels would have nasty effects on a number of low-lying nations, and a large number of global capitals. New York, San Francisco, London, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Sydney, and of course Dublin and Cork, among many others, are at sea level. This will obviously cause massive migrations of population, and have major economic impacts.

If oil runs out, then the whole world changes. Long-haul travel becomes very difficult. The existing transport networks - largely dependent on many individual vehicles moving wherever they want - become less useful, and trains, canals, and other systems come into focus again. It is entirely possible that we will see animal-drawn vehicles become more common again in our lifetimes. It will become much more difficult to transport food long distances, so we'll have to learn to eat seasonal foods again. No more apples from New Zealand or summer fruit in December, unless it's preserved in some way. The internet will become enormously important, especially as we make the transition to a more sedentary lifestyle.

Food shortages. water shortages, and diseases can all make living away from urban centres a lot more attractive. At least then you can grow your own food, have your own well or rainwater collection system, and hope that not too many infectious people come close.

The long-term question, then, is what we - any of us - can do about this. If we can't prevent this kind of future, what can we do to deal with it? I have my own ideas on this, some of which appear by implication above, but I'd like to hear some from other people as well. Or alternately, if you think none of these things are going to happen, and everything will be shiny and happy and urban, let me know that too, and present your reasoning.

This entry is not f-locked, and I'd welcome contributions from people not on my friends list. Anonymous, untracked comments are enabled, as usual, although I'll be keeping an eye on them.

Incidentally, I feel much better for getting that entry out of my system.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
Climate change: The "little things" will stop being optional stuff done by 'long-haired tree-huggers' and will become mandatory. In my job, we have a Green Group which suggested a year ago that people should switch off lights, PCs, etc., when they leave. Their email today was one-part "Well done, here's our energy consumption for the last year compared to the year before and we used about 6% less [they may not have factored in that we've also lost about 6% of our staff...], and another part "But Jebus, people! We walked around the building last night and all this equipment was left switched on [big list, floor by floor]. Cut it out now!"

More people will eventually cop on that shipping lamb from New Zealand or beef from Brazil may not be the most environmentally efficient way of getting meat. But they won't give up on non-native fruit.

Eventually, someone may ban stupidity - such as French bottled water being sold in Ireland. Or Irish butter in Germany. A reversal, to some extent, of the globalisation trend.

But before any of that happens, the battle against the climate change deniers will need to be won. And that's not going to be today or tomorrow.
Jan. 11th, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
Localisation is already a big thing here, but Portland Oregon USA may be the hippie capital of the world. We do our very best to eat from within a 100 mile radius, but fruit is one thing I still get out of season/out of area.

Jan. 11th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
From what I've read, and I'm open to correction, the likelihood of the Gulf Stream moving or being fully switched off is extremely remote (Daily Kos notwithstanding). Of all the doomsday scenarios I worry about (and I worry about a lot of them), it's not one that keeps me up at night.

Global warming and peak oil are a lot more worrisome, although if peak oil _really_ kicks in hard, then global warming might be avoided (Reduce carbon emissions by total economic collapse!). I think Peak Oil is going to be bad, but not necessarily back-to-horse-and-cart bad. For all its faults, capitalism is good at fostering solutions to clear problems. The first company to crack, say, workable fusion or commercial thorium reactors will make zillions. I think society will change greatly, and I can imagine a world where international trade and travel are a hell of a lot slower than they are today (virtual tourism and teleconferencing will become a lot more common).

Caveat: It's not just peak oil, it's peak pretty much everything. We're running low on a lot of minerals, even common stuff like copper. This may or may not screw us over; I'll be optimistic and assume that we learn to do really clever things with silicon and carbon.

When I get really worried about peak oil, I remember that at the end of the last century, a lot of economists were predicting the end of civilisation on the grounds that they'd hit Peak Timber.

As for global warming - again, I don't think it'll hit end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it levels. If all international agreements and efforts at mitigation fail, there's always geo-engineering. Again, I have faith in humanity's ability to deal with immediate crises. They'll cloud the skies with sulphur before they let New York sink.

(I'm not quite sure how confident I am about any of the above, but it keeps me going.)

I do believe the future will be more urbanised. The thought of back-to-the-land communes where we all farm organic vegetables (optionally, while repelling scavengers from the walls of our commune's fort) is appealing, but I don't think it's that likely. Humanity will muddle through somehow.
Jan. 11th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
I think that quite a lot of the upheaval will be temporary, as people will have to cave in and alter their behaviour. Oil will become prohibitively expensive before it becomes wholly unavailable, for example.

I really do think urban living will be how it goes. Urban living with vegetable gardens, yeah, but I think people will have to come together in large groups to pool resources. I don't think rural idyll alternatives will be viable for the majority, ever.

The fortress-guarding one is the one which frightens me most. I also think it's the least likely, unless there's some sort of war I find hard to imagine at present.

Oh, and rich countries will have to landfill-mine, like everyone else, for minerals.

Edited at 2010-01-11 10:31 pm (UTC)
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
I think you are waaaay too pessimistic.

People are assholes, absolutely, and there are enough dedicated evil, selfish gits in the world, that 'good' change will be hard to engineer, but change will continue apace, and just as rapidly as it has in the past 50 years. I honestly have no idea what the next 50 years will hold, but you can be sure of one thing, technological change will continue to dominate.

It is possible that a virus will rear its head, and cause widespread problems. But there is not alot we as individuals can do about that except take what we learned from swine flu and keep going with it.

Peak oil is a ridiculous notion. Yes there will be peak oil production, and $200 oil and more, and people won't bat an eye lid. Those who can afford the energy will pay for the energy, those that can't will learn to use public transport. Time is definitely on our side on this one. My prediction is an expansion of nuclear power and greener energy. There really is no excuse for an energy shortage it is in ample supply, and we'll step up when we have to.

I'm more Malthusian on food production, as there is obviously a limit to how much we can grow cheaply to feed the poorest people around. (Its why I hate ethanol and the common agricultural policy). But again, we'll work it out (though there may be some suffering, but probably not by us.)

Political change, and extreme event climate change is incredibly difficult to predict and open to sensationalism. Who would have believed hurricane Katrina could have happened in the richest country in the world? There will undoubtedly be more events like this, but again, technology and resources (perhaps recycled) will make these things a problem for localities not majorities. I predict more balkanisation of africa, and perhaps parts of Asia. China is the big one. Will the inevitable collapse of the communist party lead to the fracture of the country as a whole? Will someone use a nuclear weapon? What will be the fallout?

I really do believe that we'll trundle thru this century as we have the end of the last one. And that we'll look back on life in the naughties and wonder how anyone ever lived like that... It is possible that something really nasty will happen, but there really is no point in worrying about it unless you plan on doing something to stop it. As most of us have nice pointless lives working in services sectors and such, we should count our blessings, and just concentrate on being good people ourselves.
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)
Ooh, Balkanisation of China - thanks for bringing that up, it's something I've been thinking about quite a bit since visiting that country. Obviously everyone knows the issues with Tibet, but not too much is heard about Xinjiang, which is in a not dissimilar situation. China proper is rather small when you take away Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria, all of which have been 'acquired' relatively recently (Manchuria kinda in reverse, but still!).
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
Peak oil is a ridiculous notion. Yes there will be peak oil production, and $200 oil and more...

Peak oil is peak oil production, at least by my understanding. Is there some nuance that I fail to pick up on?
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
There is PEAK OIL and there is peak oil. When people usually refer to this hysterically it has apocalyptic undertones. Obviously oil production will peak, I just don't think that it will be that big a deal. It is quite possible that oil production will peak and then fall off because of falling demand rather than availability... There is plenty of oil that is just expensive to get to or process rather than unavailable.
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
Personally I doubt that disease, in terms of the annually predicted pandemic of some variety or other, will be much more of a problem than it is now. People will get sick, but very small percentages will actually die, simply because we're much better at dealing with epidemics now than we were in say, 1918-19.

The thing that worries me far, far more than anything else, is our surging population. We are going to run out of space and food very very quickly at this rate. I'm really hoping that at some point, the very idea of having more than two children becomes unthinkably selfish. There'll probably be some sort of capitalist angle on it in a similar line to emissions trading, which is an amusing (if somewhat disturbing) thought.
Jan. 12th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
Regarding my previous post in your journal, I could say "told you", but in fact, I was only joking..... right? When I said "stopped" I meant "slowed down a bit", " got a bit sluggish over the years", not "upped and went to Greenland for vacation". Eep. I really hope this is not a sign of things to come or we are seriously $%&/%ed!

I am hoping it will not come to any of this, but I am slowly but surely running out of hope.
Jan. 12th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)
No one knows what will happen when. The dramatic results of runaway climate change isn't something I want to worry about, simply because there are immediate issues that need addressing right now.

The world is warming, this results in tremendous losses of glaciers and arctic ice sheets, the former causing problems for water supply in places like South East Asia which contains at least a third of the world's population.

As far as the west is concerned, our attachment to a lifestyle based on overconsumption the consequences of which we fail to address is one of the key issues here and whilst much needs to be done on a legislative level, there is also a significant amount of things we can do from our individual day-to-day perspective.

I recently started looking into the Transition Towns movement as a way for communities to address the problem of Climate Change. I've also made drastic changes to the way I consume, I'll favour organic / fairtrade produce (unless there is a locally produced equivalent, though figuring out which one has the largest carbon footprint is difficult). I'm also preferring things made from recycled materials or which are easily recyclable, forego products which are stupidly over-packaged and stick to what is strictly necessary.

In my perspective worrying is counter-productive, I prefer taking action :)

Oh do you guys have 10:10 in Ireland?
Jan. 12th, 2010 10:15 am (UTC)
A thought-provoking post. While I agree with the thrust of your worries, we probably disagree on the solutions. A big carbon tax, applied worldwide, would address a lot of these problems. We shouldn't ban imports, or long haul flights. We should make their price reflect their true cost. If New Zealand lamb doubled in price, or a flight to Australia cost €50,000, people would change their behaviour.

The big problem I have with what you are talking about is that vested interests will use your feelings as a vehicle to continue to screw over the rest of us. If Irish lamb farmers started a campaign to say that buying imported New Zealand lamb was bad for the environment, do you think that they would be doing it out of concern for the environment or to shield themselves from competition? There is precedent for this. See the 'health warnings' about Brazilian beef.
Jan. 12th, 2010 11:48 am (UTC)
Jan. 19th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Minor point, but the Gulf Stream effect is a myth. (There's lots of Science in that article, but the obvious starting point is that Vancouver has much the same climate as London, without any Gulf Stream.)

Giftederic says just about what I'd say about the rest of your post. We’ll muddle through; this isn’t going to be nearly as bad as the World Wars were for most of Europe, or as bad as WWIII could have been.
Feb. 4th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
Try this...
... as a pool of resources and ideas for preparing for the future:
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


The Wizard of Duke Street
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