The half-way point of the 21st Century has become the newest marker toward projection of what the world will be like. Global and local models are made that try to indicate and predict over the course of the next 35 years, what kinds of environmental and human challenges can we expect if current trends continue.
Based on past and current patterns, researchers show what could be a possible future. Is that the future then? No, not necessarily. However, analysis of existing trajectories can help us make smarter and more informed decisions as we consider conservation, stewardship, and proactive measures on Earth.
How is the world changing and how can we understand what the world potentially will look like in 2050 and beyond? What are the deepest geo-related concerns and how can we began to formulate ideas and innovation that counter trends that are unsustainable? These are the types of questions that we hope to consider and reflect on with you in the current foci of the blog. We welcome your participation.
So what are some of the top areas of concern that geo-experts and others are working toward deeper understanding? There are many ways to set this context and I want to build a template for what kinds of topics we might engage with over the next academic year with this blog theme. Not all blog posts will be about 2050 but most will discuss change and give deeper reflection on these themes I’ve outlined below. These themes are interrelated and sometimes dependent on each other and although they present challenges to consider and they are not exhaustive.
- Population. As one of the paramount driving forces for most other concerns, population challenge can be summarized as we arrive at 2050 into three corresponding realities:
- Nearly 9.5 billion people living on the planet, up from 7.1 billion currently;
- Of the 9.5 billion people, about 7 out of 10 people will live in cities;
- Population growth between 2016 & 2050 will be most dramatic in developing countries and primarily situated on the Asian and African continents.
See the UN report details here
- Water. We need water to live and with the population pressures (numbers of people) and the location of those people (mostly urban), we face a challenge to have adequate clean water.
- Almost 5 billion people might not have a clean and adequate source of water for drinking;
- Sanitation systems that use water are inadequate to handle human waste in many parts of the world currently.
See the report: The Future of Global Water Stress: An Integrated Assessment
- Food. As a vital resource, food security remains a top concern. Larger populations mean larger needs for food.
- Kinds of animal foods, like fish in the ocean are already overfished;
- Monoculture farms present challenges to pollination by the honey bee, our best pollinator;
- Loss of arable land and loss of top soil from run-off pose questions about farm;
- Crop pest intensification by shifts in climate could create unstable annual yields;
- Applied pesticides entering into soil and water systems pose significant health issues for our bodies.
See the report as to solutions offered by the FAO
- Human Health. With the rise in populations and the industrial-sized animal farming done on a daily basis across the planet, the health of our human population will be challenged
- Increases in health problems related to food diet and carcinogens is increasing;
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in mass production and applied to humans and the planet in massive doses which means these newer strains of bacteria would not be treatable;
- Global transportation of the population and urban population density increases could mean more easily transmitted disease,
See the World Health Organization’s risk assessment here
- Land-use. With challenges toward 2050 the manner in which we treat our lands and environments will matter even more.
- The extraction of minerals for technology advances is likely to stress land resources and surround natural habitats;
- Trees and forest are continuing to decline and prediction of tree canopy loss are larger than gains.
- The realities of oil use and dependence leave questions about who will have oil, where will it come from and who will it be used;
- Renewable energy gains could provide demand from large populations questions about adaptability and cost for developing countries will remain a key issue.
See the Global Forest Watch Interactive Map here
- Cryosphere. The frozen waters present on earth are currently challenged.
- Ice melt and sea-level rise remains on a trajectory to occur in significant way putting stress on our large population numbers living on coasts;
- Geopolitical fall out with a newly accessible Artic Ocean could increase tensions on rights of access and control at the north pole.
See the current modeling of our cryosphere here
- Climate. The challenges linked to shifts in global climate pose significant challenges towards 2050.
- The increase in desertification continues to threaten many areas of human population;
- Rising sea-levels mentioned above in the cryosphere remain a challenge;
- Polarization of peoples on the issue of climate continues to depreciate honest communication and discussion;
- Shifts in flora and fauna that are unable to adapt to change give way to loss of biodiversity and new trajectories for disease.
See the WFPs map on Food insecurity and climate change here
- Geopolitics. The challenges to our global system of governance continues to rise with the interconnected technologies and communication and sophisticated military advances
- Dependence on technology has led to a rise in distrust between sovereign nation-states;
- Global movements of population is historically unprecedented and immigration shifts continue to pressure nation-states in new ways;
- Asymmetrical violence is easier today than yesterday and technological advances make larger geographies vulnerable to attack;
- With the rise of religiously motivated terrorism has come questions about religions role toward peace instead of conflict.
See Metrocosm interesting visualization of human migration from 2010-2015
- Technology. The benefits of technology continue to drive exciting innovation but at what costs?
- Reliance on technology to meet energy needs will be challenged and with advances and demand there could be larger blackouts and new systems of control by nation-states linked to energy;
- With new technological breakthroughs, traditional governance new issues have arising in the areas of privacy, genetics, and cyberwarfare;
- With increased technological means, dangers of criminal actions of data hijacking, identity-theft, intellectual property rights, and computerized banking leave our digital lives more vulnerable;
- Ways of life with dependence on robotics, smart cars, and wearable virtual realities for everyday living, although intriguing, leave new ethically and legal questions that might be outpaced and in use before thoughtful discussion and implementation.
See the Norse map on recent cyber attacks from their server network
- The Poor. Will we rise higher and support the poorest peoples and countries as they are impacted the most by the challenges?
- Orphan numbers continue on the rise reports indicate there are between 140 and 210 million orphans in the world;
- Human trafficking continues to rise as does slavery;
- Aged population remain in continual in concern as the prediction of mental health and Alzheimer’s is sky-rocketing.
See the work on the Human trafficking flow map
- Biodiversity. Human populations, shifts in climate, and over tapping resources are driving forces towards larger and more devastating extinction.
- Ecosystem destruction is on the rise with loss of biodiversity;
- With the loss of biodiversity often large scale extinction of life has occurred in the past;
- Food systems dependent on biodiversity may be challenged and thus, increase food insecurity;
See more from Nature on Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity
- Urbanization. If 7 out of 10 humans will live in cities will urban environment promote healthy living?
- Urban population increases mean more pressures on a variety of systems: water, food, sanitation, education, health, and justice;
- Natural disaster impacts on unprepared and overstress urban systems present enormous challenges to protect people and place;
- With city density increases, jobs are necessary, yet unemployed and young populations without jobs promote increase concern for violence;
- Adequate and affordable housing for growing urban sectors remains a constant challenge.
See more from Luminocity’s World City Population interactive map
Of course there are many more important challenges before us and these set the context for much of our discussion.
In the coming weeks and months, we hope to discuss a variety of topics to bring deeper reflection on these and other kinds of issues. Using a quote from one of our participants from our Facebook page, Dan Riemersma mentioned, “I think, in a way, that I have always desired a GEO dept blog that uses a geographical voice to speak to the deep needs of the world, whether now or in the future. That’s what I really enjoyed as a student, and hope many more can learn too from this blog.
With the context set of a world moving toward 2050, we invite you to join us as we reflect deeper.
Author: Jason E. VanHorn
Support for this Blog Theme comes with additional funding from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS) and Calvin College.