What are your thoughts on the future?

The following is a (rather interesting) conversation I had on Linkedin.

David Beck

Over the next 50 years I believe we’ll see the gradual decline of the developed world, with every recession taking more, and every boom delivering less. I think global oil reserves have been overestimated and that we may see some sharp declines, especially in Saudi Arabia and other countries worldwide. oil is of course required of all other modern technologies to function.
I think we’ll see ever worsening weather conditions and an increase in natural disasters cause by climate change and we’ll also see the extraction of other resources start to fall as they also start to exhaust. Populations around the world will continue to grow exponentially, as will their demanding more energy and resources, which will mean competition will be much higher driving up costs and production, which won’t be able to keep up in a low energy economy. Every year the amount of arable farmland shrinks, the levels of pollutants rise, the demand for everything rises, drinkable water’s in decline, especially ground water which also faces contamination from fracking, 50% of the rivers in the US are already contaminated. Poverty right now is rising faster than the global population (perhaps due to the rise of capitalism that concentrates wealth?), real terms wages have been stagnant for all but the rich in the developed world and many people know this unsustainable economic system won’t last forever. Mankind’s lived on this planet for millions of years, so 50 or 100 years is nothing but I really think many people are facing a pretty awful future. There is no replacement for oil, even coal drillers require oil, as does the production of solar and wind technology, if we replaced all the oil use in the world with nuclear known reserves would power the world for 10 days, Science won’t deliver a magical solution and obviously technology isn’t the same as energy. There is still hope but it requires we move away from the existing mechanised model we all love so much.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the future. -I would also like to apologise if you feel this is offtopic, but it seems there are some very bright and influential people here and I would love to know if my assessment is correct, and if so if it’s been planned for. Many people I know have been investing in land, for example.

Samuel
I’ve been adamant that my children’s generation (I’m in my 30s) will be the first generation with a lower standard of living than the previous generation in a long time. And I mean this for europe/america only as most other developing countries will conttinue to see increases in their standard of living.

That being said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing – change is only bad for those who don’t or can’t adapt. We are little ships floating on the sea that is life, and when a big wave comes our way, I think fighting it isn’t the right choice.

As for your other concerns, I don’t share them. I remember when the whales were going extinct, or even when there was fear we would be entering a new ice age (yes, that happened in the 70’s).

Climate changes naturally: A volcano like the ones in iceland emits more greenhouse gasses than any humans can ever hope to emit – there has been a gradual warming of the planet since the ice age 10,000 years ago, etc. etc. The planet is a large ecosystem that constantly evolves and humans are very conceited when they think they can predict it.

Food? it takes 14 kg of plant protein to produce 1kg of animal protein. In other words, we could feed 14 times the population that the current meat industry feeds. We just have to smarten up a bit – time, and technology (and need!) will take care of that in its own time.

Unfortunately, I tend to notice that alot of the fearmongering out there is politically motivated… and the media (who likes drama and fear) does all it can to help spread it. I can name a few multi billionaires who stand to win a great deal with carbon credits, for example.

But these are just my opinion – we are but a speck of dust in an infinite universe, and I marvel at it’s complexity every day.

*disclaimer: some topics like climate change and overpopulation tend to get some quite emotional – no comments of mine were meant to offend – simply to discuss.

David Beck

Hi Samuel,
Thanks for your response. Actually the volcano in iceland which grounded so many planes caused a reduction in global greenhouse gasses, if you look at the facts. You’re right that the distance of the earth from the sun does vary and we also should be in an ice age right now but thanks to man made greenhouse gasses we have skipped it. The reason you may not feel warmer is because the gulf stream and others funnel the heat to the north and south poles which are subsequently melting. (upsetting the salt to water balance, disrupting the weather and raising the sea level, amongst other things)

Humans can predict the climate, you only have to turn on the TV to see what the weather will be doing for the next month, and there are some very accurate models of the climate. there’s a huge branch of science devoted to it’s study, It’s simply wrong to state humans have no ability to predict what our actions will do.

I agree partly with you about the food situation, years ago you could create 10 calories of food from 1 calorie of oil, but today that rato’s 1 to 1, and with Monsanto’s ambition to control all the worlds food production coupled with a decline in energy availability that trend will continue. My dad even brought some Monsanto style apples yesterday, the thick outside wax layer was fine but the inside tasted like vinegar.

Many people were also concerned with the use of nuclear energy in the 1970’s, and of course as you know there’s a small possibility Fukushima could irradiate the western hemisphere and wipe Japan off the map, it’s already irradiated the pacific Ocean with many filter feeding fish being off the menu in parts of the US, and Japan’s going to suffer horribly from the effects of the radiation for generations, even if an earthquake doesn’t cause the plant to explode.

The problem is humans are emitting 31,000,000 tonnes of CO2 each year and we are damaging the natural systems that reduce that CO2 like the sea, forests and vegetation. Acidification of the sea’s rising every year meaning the plants, animals and corals that recycle the CO2 are dying off. There are of course other green house gasses too.

we are also loosing “80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, we are losing some 135 plant, animal and insect species every day—or some 50,000 species a year—as the forests fall.”

Though it would be conceited of me to predict an outcome from these actions, I’m going to say it’s not good. Humans are adaptable, true, but we have done really well with the climate how it is. Why would we want to change the climate to make it more tropical? Search Palin joked (or theorised) that as the world became warmer we would see a return of the dinosaurs, and she could have been president of the US. So many people seem ill informed about what damage the system they are a part of is doing to mankind’s future prospects.

Thanks for your post Samuel.

David Beck

Also as an economist do you equate the standard of living with consumption? The two are far from the same and all produced goods have a cost in terms of energy use, pollution caused and resources expended.

My mum read a report that argued in purely economic terms that the damage cause by climate change was greater than the benefits gained by the energy used and that it would take more than all the money in the world to reverse the damage it caused. Bee’s are one example of this, The little things contribute billions of pounds to the global economy and through the cocktail of chemicals we are using (unnecessarily) as well as other factors like monoculture, sugar replacement, and others there numbers are in sharp decline. I talk about agriculture because it’s obviously fundamental to our continued existence, not just another industry.

I’m no expert and I haven’t read much about this area but do you ever get the feeling the problems caused by our current system are starting to outweigh the benefits? I sometimes like to walk to work next to the continuous line of traffic, most of which is made of parents taking their children to school, knowing full well the levels of cancer cells in my body are soaring from inhaling the diesel exhaust. Life span’s in the west have peaked and are now falling, with many young people expected to die before their parents, and there are some truly horrific activity’s in the world that are taking us in a direction we don’t want to go in.

Personally I feel far more effort should be put into developing sustainable societies that are stable places to for us to develop, instead of this extremely short termist extremely risky highly energy dependant system that seems to have materialised

Samuel

Account Manager, Commercial Banking with RBC

Bro Beck, thanks for the discussion –

You defend your position well and you bring up many points in your posts, which makes it difficult for me to touch on all of them individually unfortunately.

I’ll answer your direct question first: Standard of living to me is not really consumption – we consume quite a bit more today and with technology there is potential to consume more and more and I don’t think the trend will reverse.

Standard of living to me can be measured by a simple metric: Average time which a family can spend outside of earning a wage. A family can consume all they want, but if both adults have to work 50 hour weeks each to maintain it, that is not a good quality of life in my opinion.

I might be an optimist, but I think the current consumption will HAVE to decrease eventually due to globalization. As chinese consume more, etc – good will have to become more expensive and the current developped world will have to reduce theirs as a result. Simple supply/demand.

As for greenhouse gasses, I would be very interested to know how volcanoes can reduce greenhouse gasses. I would gladly read and source material you can send my way on that topic, thanks!

You said ” It’s simply wrong to state humans have no ability to predict what our actions will do.” You’re right, we can predict a little with our current technology, But I’ll have to disagree with you that we can model earth’s long term climate.

I’ve heard numerous reports of how fickle the models used to support global warming are – For example,.an IT tech was hired as a programer to construct one of the models and he stated the data could be manipulated to support any conclusion the scientist wanted. Now, if you’re a scientist relying on grants and funds to make a living, which conclusion would you want to adopt? Where is the funding coming from? There is a surprising lack of not for profits that support anti climate change studies out there… I find that suspicious.

You’re right about the rainforest of course, but an increase in Co2 will encourage more plants to grow – our ecosystem isn’t as fickle as most think it is.

Fukushima? Sure, it’ll leak radiation. Look at chernobyl. Residue beta emitting particles can still be found around the world because of chernobyl. Yet, we’re not dead… the world keeps on turning.

I just don’t like suporting doomsday theories – it tends to make one’s life miserable.
Bad thigns have happened throughout our history – look at the black death – imagine one third of your city dying over the span of a few months… ONE THIRD. I’m sure people thought the world was ending then. But hey, the world keeps on turning nonetheless. Things change, humans adapt.

Here’s what I think will happen: There will be wars and there will be change – that’s how humans have always lived. I just think a person should do their best to adapt to any change life throws their way, and keep as upbeat an attitude as they can while they live through it. Humans are not bigger than life, we’re simply part of it and we simply have to play with the cards we’re given.

Cheers =)

David

I have to go now, but have a read of that on the volcano issue:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/19/eyjafjallajokull-volcano-climate-carbon-emissions

Christopher

Lead Architect – Public Cloud Operations and Infrastructure at Hewlett-Packard

I’m generally positive about the future. Sure, there will be some steps back, but generally I see society and the world marching inexorably forward.

I see this because I believe in humanity’s ability to right itself.

In the case of energy, I think we’re at the tipping point of reversing the oil consumption trend. A collection of technologies, from carbon fiber to paper-based capacitors to flexible solar panels to solid state micro-nuclear plants, are combining to dramatically change our oil consumption. For instance, just three changes in airplane design can reduce the fuel required per passenger-mile by 60%. In their book, “Reinventing Fire”, The Rocky Mountain Institute lays out a path to an oil free future in as little as 50 years.

In economics, we’re seeing a great leveling. The things that have made the West economic superpowers in the last 150 years, are being replicated by others. Niall Ferguson identifies six of them, what he calls ‘Killer Apps of Western Civilization’, and shows how they are being adopted by others. For the West, this is a challenge. We’ve raced ahead of the rest, a good deal of it on the backs of their labor and raw materials. As that equalizes, our rate of gain drops substantially. But the end result overall may be, as Bill Gates envisions the possibility, a worldwide end to poverty. I’ll take that.

Re: food and crops, I think the biggest breakthrough we’re making is in the production of meat without animals. That technology reached its tipping point last year (thanks to Sweden!). Over the next 50 years I think you’ll see large scale ranching disappear and land rebalanced to other kinds of food production.

And to that point, human population growth is slowing and yields per acre continue to increase (albeit at a slower pace than in the 1980s). Some studies now suggest that based on these trends, even without giving up acreage for ranching, by 2050 we will have too much farmland and it will begin to revert back to forest.

In the meantime, land which is not suitable for food farming is being explored for producing fuel crops – non-edible, non-feed scrub grasses that produce excellent bio-fuel. And this bio-fuel is almost a perfect match to oil in engine use. The US Air Force was able to mix in 50% biofuel to their jet fuel and make ZERO adjustments to their engines.

So, that’s why I think the bad things aren’t so bad.

But then there’s the good things. Medical progress is increasing. 20 years it was predicted that a child born in the year 2100 would have a life expectancy of 5,000 years. Crazy? Many are now saying it was way to conservative; dramatic life span increases should occur by 2050 or 2060. There are more drugs in testing this year to treat MS than have been produced in the last 50. I personally know people at the forefront of genomics and even cell reprogramming.

Social change continues to march forward. We’ve seen five stages of the reduction of violence in the last 1,000 years (for instance, the murder rate in Europe is 1/30th of what it was in the Middle Ages), and we’re now in the middle of a sixth. The expansion of gay rights throughout the world is happening at an increasing pace. Women’s rights and, to a lesser extent, children’s rights are seeing an impressive surge throughout the world.

Computing density is reaching another critical point, where enabling significant leaps in technological advances. And this is critical, because many of the advances in all other areas of science and technology have been hinging on an expansion of compute density.

So, all in all, MHO, I’m totally bullish on the future. Will it be hard? Sure. Will it have some blind alleys? Sure. But just like you can’t prove or disprove global climate change by one hot summer or one cold winter, you have to look at broad, long-term trends. And for my money, I’m betting on us getting a lot more things right than wrong over the long haul

Richard

Brother White was most articulate, but let me add my two cents.

First, whilst I recognize that it is fashionable to carp about “climate change” (which used to be called “global warming” until the Chicken Littles of the world had to concede that the planet was not warming), the alleged facts supporting such claims have been made up. The was a marvelous presentation last year at the Houston Geological Society that I encourage everyone to view with an open mind and talk. It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-9yJAPxf6Y&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Second, coincidence is not causation, and the world is a complex system. Capitalism has its faults, rent seeking is now rampant on Wall Street, but most of the poverty in third world and developing countries is due to political corruption and lack of transparent legal systems that result in a bell jar that protects the empowered elite and excluded everyone else. As illustrative, because it is easy and reliable in the US to get good titled to real estate, I can cheaply and immediately sell my home or use it to obtain equity to finance a business. Because good titles are rare in most South American countries, the equity locked inside them become dead, unusable capital. You can only use your home to live in. Here, I can form a corporation for a few hundred dollars and do in in an hour. In most South American countries it can take up to 18 years and even then only with prohibitive costs. For more on this, please read Hernando deSoto’s “The Mystery of Capital”.

Christopher

Lead Architect – Public Cloud Operations and Infrastructure at Hewlett-Packard

@Richard – re: third world poverty – yes, two of the key principles in the “killer apps of western civilization” are rule of law and private property. As well, the value of currency is almost completely the product of the effectiveness of the institutions that back it – legal, banking, etc. (Which is why any form of commodity backed currency is pointless,)

As for your opinion on Climate Change, well …. yeah. Anyway.

David Beck

Hello again, Thanks for your posts and I apologise for not responding sooner. I’ll try to be brief.

Firstly an increase in Co2 may encourage more plants to grow, but there are still massive problems surrounding the acidification of the sea. The sea recycles much of the world’s carbon and is the primary source of protein for billions of people. Sea acidification signifies a dying biosphere. A general decline in global Fish stocks is also an issue; we are fishing all the Worlds Sea’s including at the poles. There’s also a global fresh water shortage that nobody’s talking about that’s only going to get worse, with some cities, like Mexico City are running dry.
Fukushima… Yeah we are not dead yet and let’s hope it stays that way, still I feel it does bring into question nuclear power. It’s the 250+ year decommissioning that’s the difficult bit for me.

The bigger they are the harder they fall; I’m not sure such an energy dependent monolithic system will find change easy. I hope it will though and that we follow Cuba’s path in adopting lots of small scale projects and a decentralised approach.

Technology isn’t energy, solar panels require a high energy environment and use non-renewable resources and don’t produce that much energy compared with the energy cost to start with. (But are a good investment, like batteries for the low energy future).

I also think, with China making road systems that are 10 times larger than the UK’s annually we are not decarbonising the world; China’s making 4 times more CO2 than the US right; exporting the problems associated with dirty industry don’t solve them.

The production of meat without animals is interesting, but at the moment costs more money and energy than raising the animal traditionally. Could be big in the future though.

“human population growth is slowing and yields per acre continue to increase” – Yes because of oil, pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers, GM crops. The problem is once the land’s dead through industrial farming (immensely energy intensive) it’s very hard to bring it back to life. Many of those pesticides stay in the soil, well who knows how long. Food production’s still a massive problem; also we are looking at a peak in phosphorus production; phosphorus being necessary for industrial farming. we may be looking to extract phosphorus from dead body’s like in “a brave new world” soon. How awful.

Producing fuel crops costs almost as much energy as you make (like Fracking). It’s like solving the oil problem by turning petrol into diesel.

Medical progress has been partly down to… guess what, oil. Modern medical technology’s highly dependant on having lots of energy, but we don’t need to use so much. Cuba’s live expectancies as high as the UK’s even though they have far less energy. Also us living for hundreds of years would add to the problem if we can’t get the birth rate down.

The Social Change has been good, but again it’s partly down to oil. We have replaced slaves and low paid workers with technology dependant on high amounts of energy, a state of affairs that I feel won’t last forever.

I don’t believe in apocalypse theories, but a boring gradual decline in civilisation peppered with many mini disasters, brought to us by our wonderful news entertainment industry and the 5 or 6 people who own it.

Have a watch of this and tell me what you think. I feel it’s all essentially true, give it 5 minutes to get going. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOMWzjrRiBg

David Beck

A person’s reaction to this is largely based on how much they trust their government and leaders. I feel there’s an overemphasis on economy, on technology and an assumption that short term gains and growth at any cost should be our goal. they seem to think what’s good for the god of economy must be in the best interests of everyone and they seem to think the natural systems that sustain all life are somehow guaranteed and barely worth even adding to the equation.

Democratic governments don’t seem to lead, but rather their function seems to try to mitigate disasters after the event instead of trying to prevent them. Democratic governments also have a deep fear of being unpopular and generally feel the best policy is to do nothing and keep things as they are. All the great politicians weren’t afraid to tread on peoples toes but they seem quite few and far between.

In short I don’t think government is the answer; conditions will stay as they are, in a state of growing entropy until it’s too late to do anything.

Christopher 

Lead Architect – Public Cloud Operations and Infrastructure at Hewlett-Packard

Bro. David – I appreciate your concern. I’ve stated my position. I won’t go point by point to counter your position. Suffice it to say, beginning to end, I disagree with you.

The important take away, for me, is that it is up to each of us to work to better the world. Governments aren’t the whole answer, true. But I believe they can help.

But in addition, universities, NGOs, and other groups – including our fraternity – can all play a part in making the world a better place.

I don’t believe it is hopeless. I don’t believe it is a foregone conclusion. If I did, what would be the point of living?

David Beck

Hi Christopher,

You did put your point across very eloquently and I appreciate that. The idea that technology and our ingenuity will solve the worlds problems is a commonly held view and one we all hope is correct.I also agree we should all work towards a better future which is why I feel taking action now will have benefits in the future.

Every great civilisation must come to an end unless it’s ether sustainable or highly adaptable. Usually the end of a civ is caused by the loss of one or more critical resources, or due to massive increasing civil unrest or because entropy has followed complexity or because of the actions of a foreign power.

There is always hope, opportunity’s and life after civilisations fall – it does help if your prepared for change though. Our family is well prepared for almost any contingency, we have a lovely smallholding in Galicia with limitless fresh water, high quality food and friendly neighbors and a large well maintained farm house. We grow our own food, wood, animals and have strong ties with our friends and are part of a strong community.

I heard about a man who started with very little money, worked his way up in the city of London earning a fortune, then when the stock markets crashed he lost half his considerable fortune so decided to kill himself. I believe there’s much more to life than money, growth and the continuous accumulation of wealth and assets; and whilst I’m relatively poor I would not sell or betray my family for all the money in the world.

Thanks for your posts friends.

Robert

Manager, Respiratory Care Services at Greenville Health System

Interesting thread here. Bro. Beck seems to have embraced the Malthusian viewpoint which has been quite thoroughly disproved by history. I would suggest you turn to that Great Light for the answers you seek. The poor will always be with us as will evil. But despair is not the answer. For every challenge that arises will be answered. As to collapsing civilizations, none were due historically to the absence of resources but rather the decline of an educated and moral populace or through the actions of a more powerful civilization. For a more complete picture refer to the decline of the Roman Empire.

My prayer is for the people to awaken and realize that their salvation lies not in men or government, but in themselves for that is where freedom truly lies. It is not given or granted by others, they can only take it away and then only from those unwilling to defend their natural rights. As Freemasons, we are charged to be an example for others that would be worthy of emulation. Despair does not fit into that example.

Christopher

All that said, the thing I’m most afraid of is zombie apocalypse. i think if the zombies come, we’re screwed.

Or aliens. But with aliens, I think our hackers have a chance.

🙂

Seriously, though, I think it’s interesting to look at post-apocalypse as a genre in film, TV, and books, and how author’s have envisioned humanity dealing with it. I was totally disappointed in NBC’s “Revolution” because their technology history was so incredibly poor. The recent Tom Cruise epic “Oblivion” was clever enough, but didn’t really address the question of humanity’s survival (and proof that you can’t make a decent feature length film out of a short story).

Few seem to focus on humanity’s ability to innovate, though. They tend to follow the same basic pattern of ‘survivorism’. One exception i(although not technically post-apocalyptic) s David Weber’s “Excalibur Alternative’, which focuses on a group of kidnapped humans from the middle ages whose human ingenuity and spirit allow them to adapt to the advanced technology of their captors and eventually overcome.