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Might 2013 be a better year?

December 19, 2012

It is traditional at this time of year to look back over the year, with its highlights. However in many ways this has been a depressing year, with many forecasters foreseeing a lost decade for Europe. So we thought that looking for signs that the consensus could be wrong would be helpful.
One of the authors of the 1972 “Limits to Growth” report has published “2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years” (Chelsea Green, June 2012). Jorgen Randers has set out the most likely roadmap, which has five highlights:
a) “Global population will stagnate earlier than expected because fertility will fall dramatically in an increasingly urbanised population”.
b) “Resource and climate problems will not become catastrophic before 2052”, due to increased social investment, but there will be much unnecessary suffering.
c) The short term focus of democracy and capitalism will ensure that “the wise decisions needed for long term well being will not be made in time”.
d) “global population will be increasingly urban and unwilling to protect nature”
e) The impact will differ among the five regions of the world, “the most surprising loser will be the current global elite, particularly the US — China will be the winner”.
Counter to this is Mark Stevenson’s “An Optimists Tour of the Future” (Profile Books). He concedes there are problems – helping 9 billion people make some kind of decent life in the next few decades without wrecking our planetary support systems will be a non-trivial task. He talked to innovators across the globe – Boston where he confronts a robot with mood swings, and went to Australia to question the Outback’s smartest farmer. He clambered around space planes in the Mojave desert, gets to grips with the potential of nanotechnology, delves deep into the possibilities of biotech, sees an energy renaissance on a printer, a revolution in communications, has his genome profiled, and glimpses the next stage of human evolution. And as a result he argues that with some determined innovation, perhaps we can make a success of the next few decades. This is a more popular approach to the material covered in Megachange: The world in 2050, the Economist book that I mentioned last month.
The Scientific American of December 2012 leads on 10 World Changing Ideas. I found three especially thought provoking. One is a way of cleansing dirty waste water or desalinating seawater water using a directional solvent, which could be far less expensive than existing methods. The second is “sugar powered pacemakers” – the glucose in our blood driving medical implants: so reducing the cost of treating chronic diseases. Thirdly, the impact of drones – unmanned air vehicles – over the next decades, in surveillance, crop spraying, fire fighting and warfare. While there are many safety, regulatory and privacy issues to be resolved, the impact of UAVs will be considerable in a number of areas.
With that may I wish all the eSAMI readers best wishes for 2013.

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