Back To The Future
New Internationalist Issue 269
THE FUTURE - THE FACTS
What will the world be like in 2025?
Here is what may happen if we follow current trends.
- The world's population is projected to increase from 5.7 billion in 1994 to 8.2 billion in 2025.1
- Population and plant growth
In 1995 humankind is co-opting 40% of plant growth each year, leaving 60% for all other species
- Africa's sub-Saharan population is expected to increase from 500 million to 1.2 billion by 2020 while the region's ability to support its people is expected to continue declining.2
- Polio, leprosy, guinea worm will be eradicated by the year 2025 - and measles will have been eliminated as a public health problem.3
- If current trends persist tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS/ HIV will be major scourges.
- Using biotechnology, all human ailments that have a genetic link will be identified and mapped by 2025.
- Tropical forests are being destroyed so fast that in 25 years they may have disappeared, except in the most remote areas. The Himalayan forest is expected to be gone by 2015.2
- Between 70 and 95% of the Earth's species are contained in the world's disappearing tropical forests. Today we are losing 50 species a day. By 2020, 10 million species are likely to become extinct.2
- The gap between rich and poor is widening: the rich in the 'rich world' are richer and the poor in the 'poor world' are poorer than they were in 1970.2
Unemployment is growing worldwide.
- North America and Northern Europe have the richest countries in the world, but East Asia has more vibrant economies. The economies of the former Eastern bloc have collapsed and Germany is carrying the cost of re-unification. The poorest countries in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa.4
- The power of multinational corporations continues to grow. The top ten multinational corporations have combined annual sales of $850 billion -five times greater than the GNPs of sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa.2
China will be the world's largest economy, surpassing the US and Japan. The economists of Argentina, Hungary and Malaysia may be vibrant, but sub-Saharan Africa will still be struggling.6 The information Revolution will have established information as a leading resource. New work patterns - fewer working hours combined with information technology - will have made the workplace more open to women, peolpe living in remote areas and disabled people.
Sustainable future: To achieve this by 2025 the world needs to :
- Reduce coal use by 73%
- Phase out nuclear power
- Reduce oil use by 20%
- Use wind and solar energy as primary source5
Energy will be a huge political issue, with invested interests fighting to push their favoured energy path. Green politics will play a leading role, gaining strength and influence worldwide. Renewable energy sources - solar and wind power - could emerge as major assets of the south which may develop these new paths at a faster rate than more industrialized nations.
- Greenhouse-gas emissions cause global warming and pose a serious threat to life on earth. To stabalise emissoins of these gases in the atmosphere industrial nations will have to reduce their fossil fuel burning by 20% by 2002, 50% by 2015 and 75% by 2030.5
- By the mid-2000s the average global temperature is predicted to rise by an estimated 3-5°C. A 4°C average temperature drop was enough to trigger the onset of the ice age. While the tropics are likely to see the little increase, the temperature zones may witness a rise of 5-7°C and the poles 6-12°C2
- Sea levels will rise. Coastal megacities like Shanghai, Calcutta and Lagos will start to disappear - as will London, Tokyo, New York and Rotterdam. Entire regions and some nations will be at risk of submersion. Combined drought and flooding may trigger an exodus of 400 million environmental refugees.2
Western governments will start taking real steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases when cancers in their own countries and rising sea levels produce widespread public concern and pressures for change. An industrial pollution tax will be seen as a way of paying for environmental repair work - with credit initiatives for claen businesses.
- Green politics, feminism and community-based politics are growing forces.
- So are the reactionary forces of fascism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism.
- Most conflicts in the world are civil wars - dominated by militarism and chauvinism.
- There's growing pressure for the United Nations to reform and play a more active and democratic role in peace-keeping and world leadership.
By 2025 a reformed and strengthened United Nations will increase prospects for world governance and peace-keeping, while the US plays a smaller role in international affairs. The US may revert to its Cold War mentality - this time in relation to China. Environmental crises will strengthen the case for sustainability - as opposed to economic growth and consumerism - as the dominant philosophy.
SOURCE1 The State of World Population 1994, UNFPA (New York).
2 The Gaia Atlas of Future Worlds, Norman Myers (Gaia 1990).
3 World Health Organisation, Geneva 1995.
4 Human Development Report 1994, UNDP (OUP, Oxford and New York).
5 Power Surge, Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen (Earthscan, London, 1995).
6 The World in 2020, Hamish McRae (Harper Collins, London 1995).
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995