IS THE FUTURE THREATENING? The world is constantly changing, and it is always improving for the better, even if this may sound counterintuitive to you. However, things seem to get worse for us as human expectations increase; our desires are endless. Maybe it is so!
It is possible to predict the changes and development in our world by looking at the trends, but shouldn’t we approach even the good developments with caution and play the devil’s advocate? Prudance demands it.
This week, I am examining the well-known ten main trends and issues that may become dangerous due to human behavior in the near future.
I have shared a summary of the book Business Trends In Practice; The 25 Trends That Are Redefining Organizations*, written by Bernard Marr who is well known in the business world a while ago and also shared my views. Approaching trends from different perspectives, it was a useful book which not only presented information but provided guidance on how to use all the obtained information.
The book I am sharing with you today is called ‘Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know and Many Others You Will Find Interesting’**. The authors of the book are Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy. Bailey is working on environmental policy and the relationship between science and public policy and Tupy on globalization, global prosperity and the politics and economy of Europe and South Africa.
Trends, by their very nature, are fundamentally about the future. In the future, things will be done differently than today, and the future awaits to be understood by someone; and even needs to be understood. At the beginning of Bailey and Tupy’s book, the famous Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says: “There are two ways to understand the world; you constantly get some anecdotes about the worst things that have happened anywhere on the planet in the past hour, or you get a birds-eye perspective of major developments that are changing the human condition. The first is called ‘news.’ For your wisdom and mental health, I recommend balancing it with the latter.”
The book offers us a total of 79 trends, 10 of which are the most important ones, under nine different titles. I have summarized the top 10 essential trendsin such a way to include the others, by taking it the other way around. Let’s see what you think…
Top 10 THREATS (Trends)
- THREAT, HOW DOES IT IMPACT SOCIETY IF EVERYONE IS GETTING RICHER? (Or Trend 1, THE GREAT ENRICHMENT)
Since 1820, the size of the world economy has grown more than a hundredfold. In the last 200 years, the world population has increased a little less than eight times. However, it is difficult to measure the size of the economy over time. One commonly used measurement is the 2011-fixed international dollar, a hypothetical currency in the United States at a given time having the purchasing power parity value of the U.S. dollar. Economic growth figures are adjusted to reflect local prices of products to provide a better idea of the purchasing power of individuals in different countries over time.
Between 1500 and 1820, the world gross product grew by about 0.3 percent a year, eventually tripling from $430 billion to $1.2 trillion. As some countries began to embrace freer markets and the rule of law spread with increased international trade, the pace of global economic growth accelerated to 1.3 percent per year, increasing the size of the world economy to $3.4 trillion in 1900. Since then, global economic growth has averaged just over 3 percent per year, and the world gross product has grown to over $121 trillion by 2018.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) benchmark for the middle-of-the-road scenario involving moderate economic and population growth predicts the global economy to grow to approximately $600 trillion by 2100. The IPCC expects the global economic growth rate to average around 2 percent per year in this scenario. However, had global economic growth maintained its average rate of 2.8 percent since 2000, the world economy would instead have grown almost tenfold to $1.1 quadrillion by 2100. So, what will this enrichment, increased demand and waste bring us in terms of environment, morality, and family?
2–THREAT, IS THE POVERTY OVER? WHAT IS THE LIMIT OF DESIRES? (or Trend 2, THE END OF POVERTY)
The global proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined slowly to 66 percent in 1910 and 55 percent in 1950. According to the World Bank, 42 percent of the world’s population still lived in absolute poverty in 1981. So it took 160 years for the extreme poverty rate to drop by half. Fortunately, the pace of global poverty reduction has greatly accelerated. The most recent World Bank assessment shows that the share of world residents living in extreme poverty fell to 8.6 percent in 2018. In 1990, about 1.9 billion of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; by 2018, that number had dropped to 650 million, despite continued population growth that brought the world’s population to 7.5 billion.
In 2015, the United Nations set a target for people to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. If the current poverty reduction rate is maintained, less than 5 percent of the world’s population will live in poverty in 2030. But, of course, this will increase the demand for better income distribution and may cause social unrest. What do you think?
3-THREAT, RESOURCE DEPLETION! or Trend 3 ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES?)
Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich warned us in his book The Population Bomb dated 1968 that overpopulation and overconsumption would lead to resource depletion and a global catastrophe.
In a competitive economy, humanity’s knowledge of something’s value and usability tends to be reflected in the price. If prices fall, resources may be considered more plentiful than demand. If prices increase, demand can again be considered less abundant. Higher prices also create incentives for innovation, including the discovery of new deposits, greater efficiency of use, and the development of substitutes.
A recent article found that when looking at the prices of 50 basic commodities, including energy, food, materials, and metals, the nominal prices of 9 commodities fell and the nominal prices of 41 commodities increased. The average nominal price of 50 commodities increased by 62.7 percent. However, adjusted for inflation, the price of 43 commodities decreased, two remained equal and the price of only five commodities increased. On average, the real price of 50 commodities fell by 36.3 percent.
Between 1980 and 2017, inflation-adjusted global hourly income per person also increased by 80.1 percent. Therefore, commodities became 64.7 percent cheaper for the amount of work required. In other words, commodities that took 60 minutes working time to purchase in 1980 took just 21 minutes to purchase in 2017. As a result, resources are not running out in the way Ehrlich feared — as humanity has witnessed the fact that not a single supposedly invincible resource has yet run out. In fact, resources tend to be more abundant over time relative to the demand for them. Doesn’t this analysis actually show that the increased supply in response to increased consumer demand will deplete our already limited resources sooner?
4- THREAT, IS THE RISK OF INCREASING POPULATION REAL? (or Trend 4, PEAK POPULATION)
In the medium fertility scenario calculated by demographer Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the world population will likely peak at 9.8 billion people around 2080 and decline to 9.5 billion by 2100. Alternatively, assuming rapid economic growth, technological progress, and increased education for both sexes—all factors that tend to lower fertility—Lutz predicts that the world’s population will peak at around 8.9 billion by 2060 and decrease to 7.8 billion by the end of the 21st century. The world population today is approximately 7.7 billion.
These reflections contrast with the United Nations median population projections, which consider the world’s population likely to peak at 10.9 billion before 2100. Lutz and other researchers point out that the past U.N. repercussions were too high. They argue it is, because the U.N. does not adequately consider the fertility effects of increased education levels, particularly the schooling rates of girls and women.
Other global trends, such as rapidly falling child mortality rates, increasing urbanization, rising incomes, and the spread of political and economic freedom, are strongly associated with families’ choices to have fewer children. Rather than having many children in the hope that many of them will survive, more and more parents around the world are aiming to provide the few children they have with the skills and social capital that will enable them to thrive in a modern economy. The trend toward lower population growth is good news because the global expansion of reproductive freedom empowers more families to decide how many children they want to have.
But again, if we look at it from the opposite perspective, doesn’t stagnating world population growth mean an older world population in need of care and therefore financial support?
Presumably, the dominant nations in the future will be those with younger, active, and productive populations. Will a seemingly new civilization be born out of this? What do you think?
5-THREAT, IS THERE NO LONGER A THREAT OF FAMINE? (or Trend 5, The End of Famine)
Adequate nutrition is a basic requirement for human survival. Throughout history, food has always been scarce. The prevalence of food shortages can be inferred from the plethora of commonly used idioms such as “holiday today, famine tomorrow.”
Since 1961, the global average daily population-weighted food supply per capita increased from 2,196 calories to 2,962 in 2017. To put these numbers in perspective: The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends moderately active adult men to consume 2,200 to 2,800 calories per day, and moderately active women to consume 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average daily food supply per capita increased from about 1,800 calories in 1961 to 2,449 in 2017.
What is the reason for increased access to food? First, agricultural productivity has greatly improved due to more scientific farming methods, access to abundant and greatly improved fertilizers and pesticides, and new high-yielding and disease-resistant crops. Second, the world has become much richer, and people can buy more food, thus stimulating its production. Third, the spread of democracy and a free press enables governments to be more accountable and human rights abuses to be widely reported. Fourth, improved transportation and communications allow countries with a bountiful harvest to sell or donate their agricultural surpluses to food-scarce countries, etc. How realistic are our assumptions?
With what financial resources will the famine-stricken masses provide food, or why will the already rich share their food for free? What do you think?
6-THREAT, IS NATURAL LIFE COMING TO AN END? (or Trend 6, MORE LAND FOR NATURE)
A September 2018 study in nature by University of Maryland researchers reported that global tree canopy increased by 2.24 million square kilometers (865,000 square miles) between 1982 and 2016. That’s a larger land area than Alaska and Montana combined.
A 2011 study in the journal Nature Climate Change estimates that global forest growth and regrowth are acting as a carbon sink, removing one-third and one-quarter of total carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels each year. Tree canopy in Europe, including European Russia, rose 35 percent, the biggest gain of any continent. Researchers attribute much of this increase to the natural reforestation of abandoned farmland, a common process in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tree canopy in the United States and China rose 34 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
In the tropics, where forest cover continues to shrink in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, the research indicates that the primary driver of deforestation is the expansion of the agricultural frontier.
These new data contradict the Food and Agriculture Organization’s findings that 2015 forest cover fell from 31.6 percent of global land area in 1990 to 30.6 percent in 2015. The disparity between Maryland and FAO reports is due to fao’s reliance on government data and slightly different definitions of what counts as forest cover.
Expanding woodlands indicates that humanity has begun the process of withdrawing from the natural world, which, in turn, will provide more room for other species to recover and thrive.
But will the growing wealth and subsequent demand continue to threaten natural life?
7-THREAT 7, INDUSTRIALIZATION AND URBANIZATION ARE KEY TO WEALTH! (or Trend 7, PLANET CITY)
Growing urbanization is good for both humanity and the natural world. Historically, between 80 percent and 90 percent of humanity lived in rural areas and worked in agriculture. But for many people, cities were the engines of salvation. In medieval Europe, for example, slaves who had escaped from their masters and lived in a city “one year and one day” were freed from slavery.
Cities today are centers of innovation, engines of growth, and home to the wealthiest segments of the population; just think of Delhi, London, New York, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo. In fact, the World Bank found: “No country has achieved middle income without industrialization and urbanization. No country has achieved high income without vibrant cities.” Urbanization is also good for the environment. On average, city dwellers use less electricity, emit less carbon dioxide, and have smaller tracts of land than people living in rural areas.
According to the United Nations, the share of humanity living in cities rose from 751 million (29 percent) in 1950 to 4.2 billion (55 percent) in 2018, outstripping more than 3 billion people living in rural areas. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 85 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2100. This means that less than 1.5 billion of the projected 9.8 billion global population will live in rural areas by the end of this century.
Will there be a decrease in agricultural production as people leave rural areas? At this rate, won’t the ones in the east join the western farmers who are currently kept in the countryside with only few incentives? Will the small-scale agricultural lands where mechanized agriculture is not in question remain empty in the future? What do you think?
8-THREAT, WILL DEMOCRACY OR AUTOCRACY BECOME WİDESPREAD? (or Trend 8, DEMOCRACY ON THE MARCH)
American academic Francis Fukuyama, in his 1989 dated article “The End of History” reflecting the eruption of communist dictatorships at the end of the 20th century, proposes that “What we may witness is not just the end of the Cold War” but “the eventual universalization of Western liberal democracy.” Many people accuse Fukuyama of naivety because authoritarian populism of the left and right-wing varieties is on the rise in many parts of the world. Yet it would be a mistake to reject Fukuyama’s thesis entirely. Democracy may not be expanding as quickly as it once did, but it is not in complete retreat.
Modern representative democracy emerged in Western Europe in the 18th century. It then gradually spread to other parts of the world and reached a high point in the early 1920s. The rise of fascism and communism reversed some of the democratic gains in the following years. By the early 1970s, roughly twice as many countries could be described as autocratic rather than democratic. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, democracy expanded greatly.
The Center for Systemic Peace rates the characteristics of the political regime in each country on a scale of -10, which denotes atrocities such as North Korea, to 10, which denotes a politically free society such as Norway.
The proportion of countries with a score of 7 and above qualified as full-fledged democracies increased from 31 percent in 1989 to 49 percent in 2017. The percentage of countries that scored -7 and below and thus qualified as full-fledged autocracies decreased from 39 percent to 11 percent in the same period. Countries with both democratic and autocratic features rose from 30 percent to 39 percent. As a result, it is too early to write the obituary of democracy.
I wonder if it is because of the speed of communication or because everyone has become a news source thanks to social media; maybe in truth there is a perception that nationalism and autocracy are rising in the world. Perhaps this is a repetition of the fascist current in Europe in the middle of the last century. What do you think about it?
9-THREAT, WAR OR PEACE? (or Trend 9, THE LONG PEACE)
Over the past half-century, wars between countries have become rarer, and those that have occurred have killed fewer people. The RAND Corporation’s 2017 dated report on global trends in war observes: “The incidence of armed conflict in the world has declined significantly over the past few decades, although it increased in 2014-2015. Interstate warfare (i.e., a war between states) has become a rare event.”
A common way of measuring the global trend in armed conflict is to annually count the pairs of countries at war with each other. The years after the Second World War saw a wave of decolonization with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the 1990s, causing the number of sovereign countries to increase from about 50 in 1946 to about 200 today. Intuitively, it seems that the probability of war between sovereign nations may increase as their numbers increase. However, the trend in the number of interstate wars has generally been downward since the end of the Second World War. A Clingendael Institute report points out that the trend in interstate warfare has declined in recent years as more countries become simultaneously democratic, wealthy, and economically intertwined. As a result, our relatively pacific era has been characterized as “democratic” or “capitalist” peace. The RAND Corporation’s 2017 report also predicts that interstate warfare will likely continue to decline by 2040.
The world conjuncture is changing very fast, isn’t it? Even the recent analyzes written above are a thing of the past. North Korea’s threats, US-China conflicts that started with Trump, Turkey’s global attitude resembling old non-alignments, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s threat to Taiwan, chronic instability in the Middle East, the problem of Syrian and Afghan refugees, the unrest in France and such incidents have changed the predictions and expectations about the future visions of the world. War or peace? Our answer is, of course, peace, but how, for how long? What are your thoughts?
10-THREAT, ARE NATURAL DISASTERS INCREASING? (or Trend 10, A SAFER WORLD)
A person’s likelihood of dying in a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood, drought, storm, forest fire, landslide, or epidemic has declined by approximately 99 percent since the 1920s and 1930s. Today, people are much more likely to survive natural disasters due to increased wealth and technological progress. Buildings are better for surviving earthquakes; early storm warnings provided by weather satellites and advanced computer models give people time to prepare and evacuate and extensive disease surveillance provides immediate medical attention to stop developing epidemics.
Unfortunately, bad weather and earthquakes cause a great deal of death and destruction when faced with poverty.
As a result, 90 percent of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing and poor countries between 1996 and 2015. The biggest natural disasters of the last 20 years were the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 2004, the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 223,000 people, and the Category 4 storm Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008. In contrast, when Queensland, Australia, was hit by Category 5 Cyclone Yasi in 2010, the result was zero deaths.
The costs of weather-related disasters such as hurricanes have increased. Because increased incomes have motivated people to damage more property while building more homes, roads, schools, factories, and shopping malls. However, University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. has found that the global trend in weather-related disaster losses is downward as a proportion of global gross domestic product between 1990 and 2017. Globally speaking, people often get rich faster than nature can destroy their property.
Well, now I ask: If the climate change expectation is real, even if an irreversible path has been entered, what should we expect concerning natural disasters, and how can we preserve the environments we live in? What do you say?
At the beginning of my article, I have asked “I summarized the top 10 important trends, including the others, by considering them from the opposite side. Let’s see what you think?”. Now that you’ve read the threats from my way of thinking, my final question is bigger: WHAT DO YOU THINK?
*Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That are Redefining Organizations https://www.amazon.com/Business-Trends-Practice-Redefining-Organizations/dp/1119795575
**Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know: And Many Others You Will Find Interesting https://www.amazon.com/Global-Trends-Every-Smart-Person/dp/1948647737
For the trends article compiled from Bernard Marr’s book (Turkish): https://muratulker.com/y/ya-sonraki-salgin-interneti-cokertecek-dijital-bir-virusse/
Note: This open-source article can be quoted by mentioning the author. No copyright is required.