The Future

A broad prediction for the next couple hundred years.

  • Severe climate change will happen. The period from 1980 to ~2050 will be derided by future generations as a great waste of time, time during which we could have preserved a climate much more hospitable to our civilization but instead played games to see who could burn the most oil.
  • Various geoengineering schemes will be tried. They will fail, possibly making things even worse in the long run.
  • As the climate shifts, we will see things like failed monsoons, extended droughts, persistent severe storms, and sea level rises. These will lead to mass migrations, especially in poor areas that cannot adapt or in rich countries that are too stupid to adapt.  There will be ethnic guerrilla wars, resource wars, and likely billions dead when all is said and done.
  • There will be a retreat into cities, more so than has already occurred in developed countries. We will become an exclusively urban species.
    • Cities are increasingly controlled environments and will become shelters from a malevolent climate.
    • Cities have resources. They are precisely large accumulations of natural resources processed into technology to support human life.  These resources can be mined and re-used quite easily if the appropriate methods are developed.
    • Cities are now points of elite control, which means the elite will be on board with this, which means it will be allowed to happen. It won’t be pretty for the rest of us, but it will allow us to survive.
  • Rapid urbanization can be seen as the accumulation of naturally sparse resources into very small, concentrated areas on Earth’s surface. Start mining cities and their citizens for resources.  Create closed loop industry.
  • Eventually create closed-in environments. Intensive urban farming, natural preserves shielded from the transformed climate.  The ideal technological infrastructure takes high quality energy as input (fusion, fission, renewables) and emits only waste heat.  Recycles all other materials inside.
  • Cities become arcologies, bastions of human life and the old climate and ecosystems, designed to preserve into the future. We must learn how to create and sustain small, artificial ecosystems.
  • We will colonize another world without leaving Earth, and in the process we will develop the technologies necessary to truly colonize other planets.
    • In the worst case scenario, total collapse of the oxygen cycle, our cities will inhabit a barren world little different from (e.g.) Mars.
  • States and governance. Those parts of the world with a head start on capital accumulation will tend to do best, but there is no guarantee.  Rotten governments and societies may fail to adapt and crumble, even given a huge head start.
  • States and empires are designed to extract resources from rural hinterlands and defend access to these resources. If most necessary resources are now concentrated in cities and can be mostly recycled, the need for the territorial state will weaken.  Collections of cities may become more important, aside from some regions where special rare resources remain available, or where there are strategic land/water/etc. access points.  Something more akin to the Greek city-states.  Note this doesn’t mean that states and empires will disappear, only that the modern arrangement of well-defined and long lasting state borders may diminish and we’ll go back to something more fluid.  The median area controlled by a polity will shrink.
  • At some point in the future, someone may construct the following historical narrative: Nation states arose in Europe as a means to create loyal populations and claim natural resources that were both fed into domestic production systems, the outputs of which were then used to acquire further resources and land through advancing military technologies and healthier, more capable populations (and, therefore, soldiers).  Nation states fed industrialization by establishing firm control of large, contiguous tracts of land and associated resources.  They were organized methods of centralizing resources into city areas and for violently breaking old social institutions that kept labor out of the newly emerged and state-promoted science/technology/military industry complex that required these cities to function.  This process, driven largely by the urge for power and military dominance, grabbed the easiest and most potent sources of energy, namely hydrocarbons, without understanding the full implications of their use over long periods of time and at scale.  The coupling of hydrocarbon resources to military competition and technological progress, particularly in the 20th century, led to drastic climate change, mass extinctions, and war in the 21st and 22nd centuries, all of which challenged the science/technology/military industry complex and provided the driving force for its maturation beyond its disastrous, inefficient, and largely hacked together capitalist phase.  The simple need to survive led to the development of contained environments to preserve human civilization and the old ecosystems.  The 100 years from 2050 to 2150 are widely acknowledged as a second upheaval, an order of magnitude greater than the Industrial Revolution in both costs and eventual benefits.  Billions died and much of the Earth was ruined, but the societies that came out of this difficult period possessed the ability to live in hostile, barren environments and soon colonized other planets, asteroids, and moons.

In summary, imagine that we’ve been participating in a centuries-long process of concentrating resources and developing technology to fight each other, the side effects of which will be the devastation of our natural environment and the development of the means to live on devastated worlds.

Given that severe climate change is a foregone conclusion at this point, I believe this may be the best future we can work toward.  If we don’t make it, then its Mad Max, or possibly outright extinction.