A look back at our time from the 2100 A.D. edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
Summary: Today we have an exercise in future history (see Wikipedia), a look at my forecast of medium-term geopolitical trends. The most interesting predictions are at the end (starting with #4), our responses to the obvious trends.
History moves in leaps. Punctuated equilibrium it’s called in evolutionary biology: a long period with relatively slow change, then a period of rapid change. Here’s my guesses as to what might lie ahead for us and our descendents: changes in culture, the physical world, technology, and politics (both in America and the world).
Excerpt from the article about 21st century history in the 2100 A.D. edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
Even with the perspective of distance it’s difficult to appreciate the astonishing changes during the first half of the 21st century. A simple list does not convey the scale and pace of events, but provides a starting place for analysis.
(1) The Islamic reformation, brokered by Islamic leaders in Europe and Indonesia, resulted in the Sunni-Shiite fusion and the Middle Eastern cultural renaissance. And the great awakening in Europe and America, leading to Zen-lite becoming their major religions.
(2) The second wave collapse of fertility in the developed world, after the invention of a male contraceptive pill. With fertility levels already below replacement levels, this put all western cultures on track to extinction. Massive immigration — at rates beyond possibility of assimilation — was necessary to slow the decline to tolerable levels. We still struggle with this today, with success uncertain.
Changes in the physical world, the economy, and the technological responses
(3) The pollution crisis, discovery that several biologically active chemicals (e.g., xenoestrogens) we dumped into the environment had subtle but serious effects. The guilty corporations successfully fought restrictions until the crisis reached severe lessons. Treatment of affected plants and animals (including people) was impossible. The effects persisted long after we stopped using these chemicals.
(4) Peaking of global oil production (from land and sea, including solid forms and bitumen) at 95 million barrels per day. Peak coal production had happened five years earlier. Despite widespread warnings from experts (such as those of Robert Hirsh, for which he won the first of his two Nobel Prizes), it caught both leaders and the public surprised — and unprepared. Oil rose to $200/barrel before emergency rationing and price controls stabilized prices.
(5) The high price of coal and oil halted global economic growth. The already stagnant debt-logged developed nations were hardest hit. China had largely converted its economy to alternative sources by 2020 (even in 2010 it was the leader in manufacture of solar, wind, and nuclear power systems.
(6) Crash research programs were began to develop new energy sources. All but one were failures (the Douglas-Martin solar converters were an unrelated invention). With some high costs, such as the antimatter explosion that destroyed Oklahoma. The success of the Bussard Project (BP) justified the entire effort. It perfected and commercialized the Polywell fusion generator (for which Robert Bussard, Philo T. Farnsworth, and Robert Hirsch shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, the latter two being the first posthumous awards). As evidence of America’s state of ignorance about the coming crisis, the Navy (not the Dept of Energy) in 2009 funded the WB-8 prototype with only $8 million (for more on this stupidity, see here).
The Polywell transformed the US (and the world) from a fossil fuel-based economy to an all-electric one, although this took place over two painful decades. The BP’s funding for the Polywell followed the famous exchange between Dr. Green (CEO of EMC2 Fusion Development Corp) and Admiral Moebius (source):
Moebius: When will you have the ten megawatt commercial prototypes ready for the Polywell?
Green: Perhaps 5 years, if you continue the current level of funding.
Moebius: How much would you need to have it ready in 6 months?
Green: Very funny. Say 30 billion dollars.
Moebius: Will you take a check?
(7) The Livingston-Penn Minimum during cycles 24 and 25 (the decreased solar activity forecast in their 2006 paper, for which they won the Nobel Prize). The resulting global cooling, intensified by the eruption of Katla, would have created horrific crop failures and famine if not for the earlier warming. The replacement of fossil fuels with fusion and solar stabilized CO2 levels.
Political change in America
(8) Widespread violence follow the bankruptcies, of both public and private institutions, as the post-WWII generations retired. Extremists dominated the two dominant parties, Democrats and Republicans, rendering impossible any large reforms of public policy. Both parties adopted Lenin’s policy of “the worse, the better”, attempting to discredit the opposition. This was ended only by romance of George Bush IV and Crystal Palin (named after her grandmother). Their story has become legend, and only with difficulty can we determine the facts.
- Their orignal meeting at age 14, backstage during a Presidential debate.
- How, two years later, they escaped from their Secret Service escorts (who had been ordered to keep them apart), and Las Vegas marriage (which got a record 4 trillion hits on YouTube).
- Repudiated by both their clans, they then called for the formation of a New Federalist Party, the socially libertarian and economically conservative hybrid discussed by the previous two generations. Horrified by the serial crises and disgusted with their leaders, people flocked to the NFP banner. It attained political control of the US in 5 years.
- The NFP lasted only 10 years before splintering (just like the Bush-Palin marriage), but it laid the foundation for the Constitution of Federalist America (whose success has exceeded the experts gloomy expectations).
(9) The New Federalist party directed massive fund into science and engineering. Opponents criticized heir methods for raising the necessary funds as tyrannical. Widespread protests denounced as uncaring and brutal their educational reforms, designed to produce citizens with strong reading and mathematical skills. Few of their investments produced commercial products. But the successes included the reactionless drive — which gave America the lead in space development it retains to this day (see the entry on terraforming Mars). And Project Forbin, the first artificial intelligence — which led to the late 21st century breakthroughs that created our world of today.
(10) Geopolitical alliances rapidly shifted from these changes in the human, technological, and economic environment. The most important of these:
- Taiwan, Korea, Burma, and Laos joined the Greater China States.
- The Saudi Republic, the Iraq Federation, and the Iran Republic formed the Middle East Alliance, breaking all treaties with the US. They then signed the Riyadh Pact of Commercial Cooperation with Greater China.
(11) The Alliance and Greater China then founded the Free Nations Assembly, headquarters in Singapore — with themselves plus Russia and the US as the Council of Guardians.
- Their first act was the to formalize the State Capitalist system which had evolved during the long, slow decay of the post-WWII economic regime.
- All nations pledged not to use military force outside their borders. This was easy for them to do, since during the resource wars all but the smallest nations obtained nuclear weapons and UAV delivery systems — making interstate warfare obsolete. Interference in other nations’ domestic affairs was discouraged by the consistent victories of insurgents over foreign armies in the post-WWII era (e.g, Algeria, Afghanistan).
- This Assembly has maintained global peace since then. Misbehavior by States results in sanctions on trade and closing of links to the global net. National sovereignty forms the keystone of the Alliance, and the great powers have shown little interest in non-economic rivalry or bothering with the internal politics of small states.
Other posts speculating about the future
- Is America’s decline inevitable? No., 21 January 2008
- Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future, 2 May 2008 — Remarks by General Michael V. Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence
- COIN – a perspective from 23rd century textbooks, 10 June 2008
- Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America, 12 January 2009 — Thoughts about future from one of the 20th century’s greatest minds
- A look at our history – from the 23rd century, 13 April 2009
- Seeing today through the eyes of a future historian, 25 September 2009 – Looking back at the Af-Pak War
- “Welcome to 2025 – American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early” by Michael Klare, 7 March 2010
- A third American regime will arise from the ashes of the present one, 30 March 2010
- A look at the future of the world’s political and economic order, 4 June 2010
Reports of Western military and intelligence agencies looking into the future
- “Air Force 2025“, conducted 1995-1996 for the Air Force Chief of Staff
- “Global Trends 2010“, National Intelligence Council, November 1997 (revision)
- “Global Trends 2015“, National Intelligence Council, December 2000 — “A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts”
- “Mapping the Global Future 2020“, National Intelligence Council, December 2004 — “Based on Consultations With non-governmental Experts Around the World”
- “Global Scenarios to 2025“, National Intelligence Council, February 2008
- “Global Trends 2025“, National Intelligence Council, November 2008 — Here is a brief FM review.
- “Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)“, US Joint Forces Command, released 25 November 2008 — Here is a brief FM review.
- The Brit Ministry of Defense looks at world’s future – it’s grim, 28 November 2008
- A National Drug Threat Assessment - 2009, National Drug Intelligence Center of the US Department of Justice, 30 December 2008
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) is the US Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking.