Note- Nextbigfuture does not believe that the Limits to Growth Models are correct. Improvements in technology can radically increase the capacity of the planet. There is a great deal of emphasis on CO2, yet human created CO2 is a side effect of technological industrialization.
Business as usual improvements to agriculture (better crops with genetically guided plant breeding, precision agriculture and other measures) we can reduce water usage in half and increase crop yields by double over 2-3 decades.
Greenhouses can use 1/6th the water and 1/10th the land to produce the same amount of crop.
Hydroponics can use 1/20th the water. Aeroponics used 65% less water than hydroponics. NASA also concluded that aeroponically grown plants requires ¼ the nutrient input compared to hydroponics
There have been proposals for large scale hydroponics adoption.
Mass produced skyscraper technology is already being deployed in China and the tallest building in the world is in progress and could be completed next year. It will have 930,000 square feet of indoor vertical farm. As a greenhouse it would produce the equivalent of 200 acres of farmland. It has a footprint of about 4 acres.
2052 Limits to Growth Forecast
In 1972 The Limits to Growth report to the Club of Rome raised the question about whether growth can continue indefinitely on our finite planet. The book presented 12 scenarios for the world future to 2100. Six were negative – portraying various types of “collapse”, and six were positive – portraying various degrees of “sustainable development”. But The Limits to Growth (LTG) was unable to tell which of the scenarios was the most likely, simply because there was not enough information available in 1972.
The 2052 forecast is the sum of individual forecasts I made for five regions.
The regions are
1) the USA,
2) the rest of the industrialized world,
4) the 14 largest emerging economies, and
5) the rest of the world (some 140 countries).
The forecast is based on the general world view represented in the most recent World3 computer model of the LTG study. It is also based on the assumption that technology will advance at the same rate as during the last forty years. And that there will be no change in fundamental values and preferences: society will continue to pursue income growth. There will be one important change, however. Over the coming decades global society will be facing a strengthening barrage of problems: depletion, pollution, climate change, inequity, social strife etc. I assume these problems will finally be met with increasing investment in solutions. But not before the problems become intense, only afterwards, when repair costs are unavoidable.
The 2052 forecast predicts China will increase per capita income by 5 times and that the rest of the emerging markets will triple per capita in come and the rest of the world will double per capita income.
2052 forecaster summary – Even this guy agrees that a far better future is technically possible and affordable
2052 forecasts a decline in well-being before the middle of the century – in most regions. Disposable income will stagnate or decline, increasingly erratic weather will cause problems, and so will distributional inequity and social tension. The natural and cultural environment will be increasingly damaged and provide ever less comfort.
I believe the next forty years will resemble the run up to the “pollution collapse” in LTG scenario 2. Life will become increasingly less attractive as a result of the warmer and more variable weather, but with huge regional differences – in some regions the new problems will be masked by rapid income growth. Social tension, unrest and regional wars will exist – much like today and for the same reasons – and be accentuated by climate migration. I don’t believe these regional conflicts will evolve into global wars that stop the world. The situation will be like today, when the wars in Afghanistan and Syria do not disrupt daily life elsewhere.
Finally, the exploding inequity in the distribution of jobs and income will be checked – through peaceful (and some cases violent) means. I don’t think the underprivileged classes in the rich world will accept continuation of current trends for very much longer. They will act and defuse this potential bomb through forced redistribution.
In sum I don’t think the next forty years will feel like global collapse, because all the effects mentioned above will reduce public opposition to what will be going on. But some unlucky regions may collapse, and the prospect for the world in the second half of the century is less promising.
Notice that, other analysts are more pessimistic. They believe that the globally interconnected system is more unstable than I think. One reason for my optimism is that I think the rich world will prove surprisingly willing to accept welfare loss, as long as it strikes all. When certain goods and services are no longer available it is a crisis in economic terms, but not in reality. Most people simply get used to not having these goods and services at hand. Full crisis only occurs when the poor can no longer afford minimum food, clothing and shelter. But the poor world is used to loosing out and cannot do much about it.
No global collapse by 2052
Thus, in 2052 some people (today’s elite) will argue that their world has collapsed or at least lost its brilliance. Others (the new and old middle class) will argue that their world is about to collapse. Another big group (including many Chinese) will argue that the last forty years have been very good and expect continued progress. And many poor will argue that their small income raise since 2012 has been counterbalanced by new problems in other dimensions.
An external judge – looking at world statistical averages – will see a global society with a shrinking population; stagnant after-tax per capita income; increasing climate damage; much unavoidable public spending on adaptation; and un-reassuring answers to the question: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you today?”
In summary: Only current elites will see the next 40 years as collapse. Much of the current middle class will have seen erosion of their well-being. But huge adaptation efforts will be in swing and provide some hope. Regardless, most will be worrying about things getting worse in the second half of the century.
Help make the 2052 forecast come untrue
Obviously, I don’t like what I see in my global forecast. A much better future is technically possible and not impossibly expensive. But to get there will require decisions that are unlikely emerge in market democracies
Nextbigfuture comments on 2052 Forecast
So in spite of seeing that there are many technically possible and affordable improvements that are possible the top one of five recommendations is still to reduce population. Even though the forecast is only projecting 10% more population from todays 7.2 billion to 8 billion.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.