Summary: Have you not been regularly reading the New York Times? The US government has, at vast expense, commissioned a project to bring your vision of the future up to speed. The speed of the New York Times Editors, that is. Reading this guarantees that you will be surprised by every major development over the next two decades!
This is a nicely done exercise in linear projections. While almost useless, it provides a good starting point for building scenarios. The potentially “wild cards” in the deck are interpreted as sources of incremental change, or ignored.
Let’s consider just one issue: Peak Oil — Never explicitly mentioned, the energy challenge is described in absurdly simplistic terms. Just to mention two aspects. First, it ignores perhaps the most transformational scenario — sudden peaking of oil production, capping global economic growth for one or two decades until alternatives are available in sufficient quantities. Second, the energy section conflicts with current concerns about carbon emissions. For example, the graph on page 43 forecasts a doubling of coal burning between 2000 and 2030. While that could be done without increasing carbon emissions, the cost would be fantastic.
Other major events receive equally bland, even benign treatment. All of these could produce large-scale political change, up to regime change.
Demographic change, forcing massive social changes in western nations and Japan.
Potential default of western corporations and governments on their promised retirement benefits (“There are no easy fixes for Europe’s demographic deficits except likely cutbacks in health and retirement benefits, which most states have not begun to implement or even to contemplate.”)
Political drift to the left or right following the discrediting of free market economics after a Japan-like long recession.
Geographical power shifts emboldening states to use financial strength as a substitute for war (“financial war”).
All these things and more are reduced to near-trivial incremental changes. No possibility of regime change appears in their view, nothing to disturb the slumbers of the Virginia suburbanites who write this stuff.
The Chairman of the National Intelligence Council writes about the The National Intelligence Council’s 2025 Project’s new report: Global Trends 2025:
“Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” is the fourth unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years that takes a long-term view of the future. It offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many possible “futures,” we offer a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.
Some of our preliminary assessments are highlighted below:
- The whole international system-as constructed following WWII-will be revolutionized. Not only will new players-Brazil, Russia, India and China- have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
- The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources-particularly energy, food, and water-raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
- The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.
- As with the earlier NIC efforts-such as Mapping The Global Future 2020-the project’s primary goal is to provide US policymakers with a view of how world developments could evolve, identifying opportunities and potentially negative developments that might warrant policy action. We also hope this paper stimulates a broader discussion of value to educational and policy institutions at home and abroad.
Previous reports looking at the future by the US Intelligence Community
- Global Trends 2010, November 1997 (revision)
- “Global Trends 2015“, December 2000 — “A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts”
- “Mapping the Global Future 2020“, December 2004 — “Based on Consultations With Nongovernmental Experts Around the World”
- “Global Scenarios to 2025“, February 2008
If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.
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For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
- About National Intelligence Estimates – an archive
- About End of the post-WWII geopolitical regime
- About the Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end?
- Food – articles about this global crisis
- About Demography – an archive of resources
Declassified versions of recent National Intelligence Estimates:
Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, August 2007 — Update to NIE of January 2007.
- The Terrorist Threat to the US Homelane, July 2007
- Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, January 2007
- Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, prepared April 2006, released 26 September 2006
- Transformation through Integration and Innovation – National Intelligence Strategy of the US, 26 October 2005
- Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, October 2002 — a 28 page declassified version of the 90 page original. The Senate Intelligence Committee published an analysis of this and other pre-war intelligence (July 2004, 521 pages; the pdf is here on the CFR website).