the future is really the present with tweaks
Thesis: the apocalypse, the End of the World as We Know It, will be a continually unfolding present phenomenon, not a future event or a revelation of inner truth.
Here’s a prediction of what the future looks like, till the middle of the 21st century anyway (to re-read in 30 years):
Oil will not run out, production will decline but not enough to cause oil shock.
Available natural gas will peak in 10-15 years or so and decline rapidly. Water tables will be decimated or poisoned for much longer.
The nuclear industry will continue its slow decline. No one will ever figure out any “safe” way of storing the waste. Accidents, cancers, corruption, all will remain intrinsic to the industry. Cold fusion will remain an EROI failure.
Renewable energy will grow but it will not be cheap enough to replace more than about 25% of fossil fuel use. Some large-scale renewable energy projects will be launched. They will have their own negative side effects, decreasing biodiversity, furthering land grabs.
GHG emissions will not be drastically reduced by anything but severe global financial crises. Otherwise they will level off but at a rate that locks in climate disruption and warming for centuries, possibly millennia.
The automobile will not disappear. Cars and roads may become “smarter” in some heavily populated parts of some rich countries (robotics, temperature and traffic sensors, blablaba), but it’s unlikely there will be any massive transformation of the road system anywhere, except to massively expand and modernize it in industrializing countries.
In the US, we might finally get a few new long-distance trains.
Power outages and water shortages will increase everywhere.
The waters of the ocean will rise, and some towns, villages and islands will become uninhabitable. More big cities will build sea walls and dikes. Large-scale desalination projects will become more common.
The Sixth Extinction will continue, but few charismatic species will disappear altogether during this time period. Most people in industrialized countries will notice little of the ongoing disappearance of species until it is very far advanced, as it will mostly be made up of species they never even knew existed or only saw on television. With the exception of the sea life that they ate and the mammals they took pictures of on vacation, and perhaps some of the songbirds they used to see.
The storms will grow more frequent, and more intense; the droughts will grow more frequent, and more intense. Deserts will spread, forests will decline. Seasonal weather will be increasingly erratic and unpredictable. The Arctic Sea will be ice free in summer.
Some people will still live on small farms, and in villages in remote places. Their numbers will continue to decrease, but they will not disappear. There will be a tiny trickle of out-migration back to a small number of rural areas that have a stable enough land base and climate.
As much as 1/20 of the world’s people will live in slums, and the slums will develop their own mostly informal economies and class structure.
Some suburbs will become slums.
Some towns and localities will become more self-reliant, supporting local cooperatives and sourcing more of their goods, energy, and food locally, and they will prosper, relatively speaking. But most places will not have the wherewithal, the right geography, enough of a productive base or the foresight to go that way.
Some cities will boom, others will decay. Some will do both.
There will be endless wars in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
There will be internal battles over resource extraction almost everywhere in the world, pitting residents of poisoned or sacrificed places against extractive industries and governments.
Tourism will eventually decline among Europeans and the US Americans, and grow in Latin America and Asia. Flying will become far more expensive relative to most peoples’ incomes, as will cruises, and “extreme” weather will disrupt travel more and more. Slow travel, food, cities, etc., will remain niche concepts, accessible to those with the disposable income to afford them.
Marijuana will be legalized in most developed countries. Addiction will not abate much.
Populist fascism will make a resurgence in Europe, the US, and Japan. Coups may even be attempted, but they will be short-lived.
In the US, the internet will have become exactly what cable television is now, except with the capacity for email and social networking. However, space-based wifi may provide a new way for alternative and scholarly information to be disseminated. Alternative ISPs operated by hackers may provide a tiny minority with access to non-commercial, non-entertainment-focused, uncensored, traffic.
There will be more frequent viral epidemics and pandemics, but they will eventually burn themselves out without reducing the overall population much more than they do now.
Population will continue to grow fastest in the poorest countries, but many people will be forced to flee those countries in order to survive. However, they will increasingly be deported back by draconian immigration policies, creating internal strife and social upheaval, and the cycle will continue.
European-descended Americans will cease to be the majority population in the US. It won’t make much difference in how the country is run; rich mostly white male capitalist boosters will retain the reins while there is anything left to steal, though their grip may begin to weaken after the largest financial crisis. And of course the new majority will be more favorable to mild liberal reforms and social democracy than its predecessor.
Biotechnology will produce all sorts of designer options for life enhancement, but relatively few people will be able to afford them. There will be some nifty consumer projects too, but there will also be some toxic failures, and a backlash against the industry in some countries.
Robotics will advance in richer countries, but artificial intelligence will remain at a relatively primitive level. There will be some consumer robotics, but use of robots will mostly grow in high-end design and health care. Robots will not either save, destroy or become us.
The nature of consciousness and the origin of life on earth will remain mysteries. Evidence for exogenesis will increase, but remain inconclusive. No life will be conclusively discovered elsewhere in the solar system, more for lack of resources for exploration than for lack of its existence.
Space programs will get as far as an outpost on the moon, and possibly one on Mars, and then run out of money to continue. Eccentric billionaires may try to set up their own space programs, but they will mostly be a joke.
Physics will continue to be unable to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity. Abstract mathematical hypotheses will be promoted but never proven. However, the observable universe will continue to be an increasingly interesting place. Evidence that the “laws” of nature and its constants may not be fixed may be discovered.
There will be more severe economic recessions, and at least one major worldwide depression. Overall GDPs will begin to climb again afterwards, but never really grow back to what they were before. In some places financial collapse will generate regime change, in other places revolution, in others limited progressive reform. Some countries will disappear, others will emerge.
The world’s fishing industries will be reduced to shells of their former selves. We will eat mostly farmed fish, and a lot less of it. Beach communities will have to carry out periodic jellyfish culls, withdraw buildings and structures from the shoreline and rebuild their beaches after storms to retain their tourist base.
We will also eat less meat, as big ranches and feedlots run out of water in some producing countries, and erratic weather, superbug epidemics and labor revolts drive some producers out of the business. Lab-grown meat will be produced and find a niche market, but it won’t become popular.
More people overall will be poor, but desperate poverty will continue to decline slightly in most places where resource extraction boosts GDP and some kind of redistributive system is in place – until the Big Depression. Extreme inequalities of wealth within societies will keep growing, diminishing minimally after each major financial crisis. Low-wage workers will continue to fight collectively for better living conditions in many lands. Indigenous peoples will continue to defend what remains of their traditional homelands, but they will only win permanent rights if the land is not profitable enough to be successfully exploited once the level of resistance is taken into consideration. Younger people will continue to mobilize for social justice and ecology, but aging populations in many developed countries will mean their struggles will not be transformative there. Industrializing countries with a large percentage of people under thirty may experience revolutions and counter-revolutions.
Ongoing mechanization, over-population, and continuing increases in technological sophistication will prevent any serious challenge to capitalism arising. But social democracy may increase in some places, if the non-rich unite and mobilize, and elites are weakened enough by financial chaos.
Cancer, respiratory diseases, and neurological diseases will spread in industrializing nations. More successful and less debilitating treatments will be available for many cancers, if you can afford them.
More people who eat a diet of primarily industrialized food will become fat and sick.
The middle class, wherever it exists, will continue to live in general befuddlement, slake its neuroses and its children’s pathologies with drugs, fear the poor and envy the rich, and be an avid consumer of the latest personal technology.
The apocalypse, the End of the World as We Know It, will be a continually unfolding present phenomenon, not a future event or a revelation of inner truth.