Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Commentary - Visualizing the world in 2050


What will the earth look like in 2050? 

Predicting the future is believed to be the domain of shamans, soothsayers, astromancers, druids who practiced divination by reading animal entrails, and a myriad other prophetic communal leaders. Predicting the future of our planet in non-spiritual terms, however, is the domain of any logical being willing to look at facts and drawing objective conclusions from them. In my view, by 2050, changes will become evident in areas such as the environment, energy and natural resources, demographics and technology. Ultimately, this will have an impact on our attitudes and behavior as human beings.

Reading Ulrich Eberl's 2011 book Life in 2050 is not a prerequisite to understanding and making assumptions about how things will unfold for our environment. Invasive production practices and lax legislature in the already dominant countries, namely BRICS, or in those set to dominate the world of manufacture (the N-11) are bound to ravage both ailing and pristine environments. Many would be quick to argue that laws exist to protect biomes, endangered species, water and air quality, or that protected areas have been set up and educational schemes introduced to inculcate younger generations as to how they should behave more responsibly. Brazil alone has implemented an entire array of laws since the mid-1980's to counteract environmental  destruction, but what hard facts are telling us is that despite such legislation, the destructive trend is still very much a threat. According to The Guardian, in
2017 Norway pointed out rising deforestation figures in 2015 and 2016 in the Amazon, warning they would withdraw financial support from Brazil's Amazon fund. This is a good example as any to show that despite legislature and constructive measures taken, lobbies will always affect politics and pressure governments to cut protection programs as it is in the nature of people to seek profit and prioritize it over intangible immediate gain.

In addition to this, the rate at which we dump waste, be it household waste, factory run-off, demolition waste, to name a few, is inconceivable, and this is not likely to change for the better by 2050. By simply looking at the categories into which waste can be subdivided, and multiplying that mentally with the number of people living in urban and rural areas engaged in activities on a daily basis that produce waste, one would be led to conclude that the planet is incapable of recycling all this refuse at a rate that would ensure its survival and ours. If recycling is present in several countries, it is not in others. If it is moderately viable in some communities, it is hardly imaginable in poverty-stricken areas. The brunt of this is that poverty-stricken areas are not only prevalent in heavily industrialized nations but that such areas exist in so-called developed countries whose standard of living is well above the poverty level, meaning that the danger of turning our planet into a giant landfill is imminent. Statistically speaking, poverty rates in the developed countries are low, but what those numbers mean in real terms is something that politicians would have us ignore. France, to take an example, had 14.2% of the population living below the poverty line in 2015. France's official national statistics institute, Insee (Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques), which provided this figure applauds the fact that this is one of the lowest rates within the European Union but fails to convert the percentage into actual individuals. Given that France's population was approximately 64.5 million in 2015, this means that in a country many would generally associate with affluence, over 9 million people struggled and are quite possibly still struggling to make ends meet on less than €1,015 per month alongside those who lead a relatively comfortable existence (rent for a one-bedroom flat in a city would account for more than half of that €1,015). To what extent are such people expected to worry about environmental issues and act in an environmentally responsible way? To what extent are poorer communities required to set up sustainable housing schemes, recycling or waste disposal, provide cleaner air through public transportation programs or shift to alternative forms of energy consumption? I am afraid that because of tight finances, both individuals and communities will not have much time and energy or even will-power to drastically change the face of the earth for the better -- pollution will continue to exist in all its forms well into the second half of this century.

Another fact to bear in mind is that in 2013 according to the World Bank, 10.7% of the world's population subsisted on less than US$1.90 a day. So, how many lived and are still living on less than US$5 or US$10 per day? If a part of the world's population is not included in the category of extreme poverty, can we say that they are getting by and accept the fact? What is evident is that poverty statistically has fallen because of population control. Demographics is changing the face of this planet and by 2050 the ratio of young to old will disproportionately lean towards the latter in Europe, North America, Oceania, and Central and South America, as birth rates are relatively stable or decreasing, while the population of African and Asian nations is predicted to grow. This seems logical as many cultures and regions in these latter areas are more conservative vis-à-vis abortion and birth control, or may not have had the necessary reproductive health education provided in, say, European or American schools. In this respect and due to people's natural tendency to seek better job opportunities, migration will increase and countries will exhibit a more cultural heterogeneous profile by the middle of the 21st century.

The migration of populations will also be the result of crises brought on by the scramble for natural resources and alternative forms of energy. Oil companies have already invested in deep sea mining and though by 2050, under UN exhortation, nations will have passed laws making people shift to cleaner energy, those with vested interests, like those mentioned earlier who pressured the Brazilian government to reduce conservation funds, will push for favorable treatment or postponement of restrictions in the name of economic stability. Already, alternative forms of power are being denigrated either as being too costly or too harmful to the environment. Wind turbines have been criticized for using up too much land, impacting wildlife and, if placed in proximity to residential areas, inducing inhabitants to complain about the noise and vibrations the turbines produce. Nuclear energy is another form which suffered a barrage of insults in the 1970's but has continued to thrive through the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. All this is not likely to change by 2050, as corporate powers will continue to shape energy consumption and prevent a rapid shift to alternative energy resources, something which will have a detrimental effect on the environment. What will change, though, is the location of the continued extraction and processing of resources as countries rush to secure dominance of key exploitation zones, inevitably leading to conflict that will induce further migration.

So far, we have touched upon the changes that will affect the environment, aggravate the race for natural resources and induce migration due to changing demographics. A final area that will impact life in 2050 is technology. Many futurologists foresee a growth in the acquisition of robots, which will become the new prevalent household appliance, or elaborate on the different designs of phones, televisions and computers. To my mind, these are all understandable, standard evolutionary phases that need not be expanded on. The eventuality connected to the future of this century is that technology will develop to encompass every aspect of daily life. What must be discussed is the impact of such technological integration from a social, physical and mental standpoint, which in the present discussion is too vast a subject to address. We have already become accustomed to phenomena conjoined with virality, addiction to social media, isolation from one's immediate surroundings, and increased aggression towards others on social platforms. What this translates into as the years pass is the alienation of undesirable individuals based on what the media promotes and people accordingly conform to, which in turn results in the polarity of societies into extremes. This has already been in play for decades, but now and in the future will become adamantly instituted as online users grow in number, and today's youth become intransigent adults. Communities which are now going wireless will be drawn into this maelstrom and eventually society will become a melting pot of similar ideas. This is purely an opinion based on observation, but the prediction is that the dichotomy of societies will be one which separates conformists from non-conformists, further pits conservatives against progressives, pushing people to act. In the distant past, this one-on-one antagonism was less marked as exposure to others was minimal, confined to a more delimited social environment, usually consisting of people one had known throughout one's life, and where social order was clear and respect between the older and younger generation was unequivocal. Since the Industrial Revolution, the rise of labor unions, disenchantment after World War I and a shift in focus on the individual and individuality culminating in the 1960s, conventions have disintegrated in a dog-eat-dog society where uniform role models are promoted but in contradiction individuality is lauded in a juxtaposition of audiovisual images. As people push to stand out in a digital jungle that generates prime specimens to emulate, indulgent behaviors will push the boundaries of acceptance and acceptability, but will also create a backlash.   

We are trapped between insignificance and salience in a disintegrating world full of promise and insecurity. By the middle of this century, the condition of the world's air and seas will not have tremendously improved, the economic situation will have created fluctuations tied to the triumphs and defeats of conglomerates to harness the earth's resources and the social reality will be appalling if the world's leaders are not able to ensure employment, health insurance and pensions. Automation will see to it that job openings decrease, unemployment will tighten the purse strings causing discontent which will find an outlet in the World Wide Web but will be anesthetized by the decreasing number of media companies offering escapism and selective distribution of news. You may disagree with this pessimistic outlook, but know that I would be more than willing to agree with opposing viewpoints, as there are many more factors in this equation which could be game changers, for our world is the sum of more than the few aspects mentioned in this discussion.

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