2008 UN State of the Future Report
We've seen the future ... and we may not be doomed. So said the UN 2008 State of the Future Report that found life is getting better for people worldwide, the current global fiscal meltdown not withstanding, but that governments are failing to respond to critical time-sensitive opportunities.
"This is a unique time in history. Mobile phones, the Internet, nternational trade, language translation and jet planes are giving birth to an interdependent humanity that can create and implement global strategies to improve its prospects," reports 2008 State of the Future.
"It is increasingly clear that the world has the resources to address our common challenges. Ours is the first generation with the means for many to know the world as a whole, identify global improvement systems, and seek to improve them."
Humanity stands on the threshold of a peaceful and prosperous future, with an unprecedented ability to extend lifespans and increase the power of ordinary people – but these achievements may be overshadowed through inequality, runaway derivatives, violence and environmental degradation.
The report, which drew on contributions from 2,500 experts around the world, was produced by the Millennium Project of the World Federation of the United Nations Associations. According to the study, many important things are already getting better: life expectancy and literacy rates are increasing worldwide, while infant mortality and the number of armed conflicts have been falling fast. Per capita income has been growing strongly enough to cut poverty by more than half by 2015 – except, importantly, in Africa.
Even better, it says, "advances in science, technology, education, economics and management seem capable of making the world work far better than it does today".
Medical breakthroughs are offering the hope of defeating inherited diseases, tailoring cures to individual patients, and even creating replacement body parts. Information technology and pcs are spreading even to remote villages in developing countries and dramatically increasing in power to provide "collective intelligence for just-in-time knowledge to inform decisions."It will be 25 years until a computer's capacity equals the power of the human brain. After another 25 years, everyone will be able to access processing power greater than that of all the brains on Earth combined.
The Internet, the report observes is "already the most powerful force for globalization, democratization, economic growth and education in history.
"The internet allows self-organization around common ideals, independent of conventional institutional controls and regardless of nationalities or languages. Injustices in different parts of the world become the concern of thousands or millions of people who then pressure local, regional or international governing systems to find solutions.
"This unparalleled social power is reinventing citizens' roles in the political process and changing institutions, policy-making and governance."
And this is happening in a world that is already becoming freer and more democratic. Over the past 30 years, the number of free countries has more than doubled from 43 to 90, it reports, while those that are partly free increased from 46 to 60. Just over one-third of humanity still lives in the 43 countries with authoritarian regimes, but half of these people are in China.
On the other hand, the report warns "half the world is vulnerable to
social instability and violence due to rising food and energy prices,
failing states, falling water tables, climate change, decreasing
water-food-energy supply per person, desertification and increasing
migrations due to political, environmental and economic conditions".
Other threats such as increasing terrorism, corruption and organized
crime – remain undimished.
Food prices have more than doubled in a year and have already plunged 37 countries into crisis, greatly increasing hunger and poverty. And price rises seem set to continue because food production needs to increase 50 per cent by 2013 and double in 30 years.
"With nearly three billion people making $2 or less per day, long-term global social conflict seems inevitable without more serious food policies, useful scientific breakthroughs and dietary changes," says the report.
Global warming is occurring faster than expected. This could cause southern Africa to "lose more than 30 per cent of its maize crop by 2030" and help to increase the number of people facing water scarcity fourfold to a massive three billion by 2025. The rate at which the world's ice is melting, it says, "has doubled over the last two years", and it quotes a US military report which predicts that global warming "can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide and the growth of terrorism."Sea-ice last year shrank to 22 per cent below the previous record low, a level that had not been expected to be reached until 2030-50, opening up the Northwest Passage.
Nuclear power may not be the solution many governments think it will: "to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, about 2,000 nuclear power plants would have to be built, at $5-15 billion per plant, over 15 years – and possibly an additional 8,000 plants beyond that to 2050."
The report says that there is not enough uranium in the world to fuel all those reactors, that another Chernobyl-type accident could halt the expansion in its tracks, and that the rapid spread of the atom around the world increases the chances of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
The report estimates that there is a 75 per cent chance that terrorists will have acquired nuclear weapons within the next 10 years, observing "Links between terrorists and organized crime are worrisome, especially considering that, on average, there were 150 reports of unauthorized use of nuclear or radioactive materials to the International Atomic Energy Authority per year between 2004 and 2007."
Organized crime, it adds, "continues to grow in the absence of a comprehensive, integrated global counter strategy". It reckons that it is now worth some $2 trillion a year.
China's largest car maker plans for half its cars to be hybrids within two years. But the report's authors say that governments are not up to the job: "Many of the world's decision-making processes are inefficient, slow and ill-informed, especially when given the new demands from increasing complexity and globalization. Climate change cannot be turned around without a global strategy. International organized crime cannot be stopped without a global strategy. Individuals creating designer diseases and causing massive deaths cannot be stopped without a global strategy. It is time for global strategic systems to be upgraded."
Finally, the report notes that 850 coal-fired power stations are planned to go into operation across the US, China and India over the next four years. Each station would operate for about 20 years, greatly accelerating global warming. By 2050 25% of Europe's electricity could come from solar-powered stations in North Africa. African leaders and aid organizations are to invest $10 billion a year in renewable energy over the next five years-assuming a rapid recovery from the current crisis., which is doubtful.
The report obviously failed to predict one massive tipping point: the madcap global financial mess we find ourselves it. The problem with prophecy, a wit once said, is predicting the future.
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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