May 8th 2013
Mary A Moore
In a world full of problems it becomes an imperative to realize which issues are quietly critical, and which issues are only loudly urgent. Silence should speak to us. Our global drivers are varied and various, and it becomes important to recognize which are the critical few, and for which of these few we can develop a game plan for. There have many authors who have attempted to overview this including Vaclav Smil and Al Gore.
Vaclav Smil is a professor from the University Of Manitoba who has written extensively on complex systems and energetics, evolution, and dynamics. In his book ‘Global Catastrophes and Trends, The Next Fifty Years’, he reviews what he feels are the key drivers of our future and underlying dynamics. They include: Energy Transitions,The New World Order, The Place on Top, Global Warming, Biosphere Integrity, and other changes including the water and nitrogen cycles, species loss, and antibiotic resistance.
Trends can both gradually unfold and also occur as abrupt discontinuities which are catastrophic to those who can not adapt to this abrupt change. Energy is a sign of life and a key driver of any environment. Our world is heavily focused on both the energy requirements of life, and of our immediate environment. Our interactions both consume and create energy on every level from the microscopic to planetary level. While we may focus on the trends of terrorist attacks in our current environment, medical errors actually kill more in global fatalities, even more than car accidents, earthquakes, floods, terrorism, airline accidents, and volcanic eruptions. This is from annual average data from 1970-2005 as calculated from sources including WHO, Bogen and Jons, Boeing, Swiss Rea, Kohn, Corrigan, and Donaldson. It is imperative to understand which are quietly critical trends. While terrorism may get vast media attention and even change our freedoms and national budgets, our health care deaths appear as a mere blip on our media screens. The types of catastrophic changes we may face in our future that are explored, include questions of abrupt climate change, the occurrence of a significant nuclear war, and more random events such as an external calamity, or pandemic.
Technology has expanded as a trend. We have always had technology, but the scale and rate of technology enhancing our everyday lives has expanded exponentially. It also has the ability to transform our sources of energy and even how we consume energy. But will we transform to a solar-nuclear world from our coal, oil and gas? With some energy forms better suited to particular uses it may be difficult and unlikely to affect a change. Will our cars be best powered by a carbon based fuel rather than a hydrogen based fuel? Some are both. Do our vehicles have to fundamentally change in design and structure to facilitate a transition. Megaprojects such as those for hydro electricity generation have transformed the economics of nations. Will our next energy evolution affect the current world order, and help transform our ecosystems? Will a political discontinuity affect our energy choices? Will core economics change our energetics at some tipping point? The context for our society, our ecosystem, is warming. Is this trend likely to affect our energy options? There has been a discussion about the need to reduce carbon based fuels to reduce global warming. Is hydrogen a better choice? Is it too late really to change our trajectory. Perhaps we have put so many energy by-products from our collective consumption into the atmosphere, we will have no choice now but to deal with the consequences.
Demographics such as fertility rates, affect the demand and growth of certain sectors. Migration and immigration patterns reflect the pressures of these variables. The burgeoning explosive growth rates of the Muslim world in the Middle East and elsewhere is reflected in the expansion of Muslim immigration to nearby regions including Europe, Africa, and Caucasia. Declining fertility rates in Europe and elsewhere have meant that growth rates with GDP have stagnated. Efforts to control China’s fertility rate have led to one child policies and a male demographic that could predispose it towards revolution in the right context. Globalization has increased inequality and the connectivity of the internet may see vast global groups demanding change across regional boundaries, challenging the global corporation.
Al Gore, who has just released his book ‘The Future’ describes the six key drivers he sees shaping our future. They include: Earth Inc, The Global Mind, Power in the Balance, Outgrowth, The Reinvention of Life and Death, and The Edge. His narrative continues on with climate change and expands further on the changes and challenges that lie ahead for us to choose from. By exploring and dealing with the changes required for changing our present trajectory, for example carbon is already at a level of 400ppm, Gore hopes to inspire a global community to act via our internet connectivity.
The core question that is critical for us to know is whether we can geoengineer our way out of a catastrophic climate change, or will we simply have to adapt to the coming changes as a collective humanity. Discussion on geoengineering are rampant throughout the internet, but real practical experimentation is quite limited. Ideas such as iron ocean fertilization, cloud reflectivity enhancers, stratospheric sulfate aerosols, sun blocking spacecraft, CO2 Scrubbers, artificial trees, sulfur dioxide balloons, objects in space to partially block the sun, triggering a volcano to contaminate the atmosphere, and reducing the methane emissions of cows, have been proposed. There has been a substantial discussion around the process and ethics of using such a major intervention in our ecosystem.
Other core questions we should explore further are likely possible global risks that may overwhelm us, in our critical future.
‘Augescunt aliae gentes, aliae minuuntur, inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum et quasi cursors vital lampada tradunt’
Some nations rise, other diminish, the generations of living creatures are changed in short time, and like the runners carry on the torch of life
Titus Lucretius Carus, De Rerum Natura, II,7S