June, 2050: What will the world be like

by frankbeswick

Coming to terms with a world without fossil fuels will involve much change.

I have chosen the year 2050 for no reason other than it will be exactly one hundred years after I was born. As a child I can remember an age when cars still had crank handles to start them, fires were often made with coal and much of our electricity in Britain was derived from coal fired power stations. Nuclear power was in its infancy and oil and gas were abundant. There was no internet, and colour television had yet to be invented.

Image courtesy of momentmal

The Decline of Oil

Fast forward to June 2050, which will be  one hundred years after my birth in Cheshire.We cannot know the future with any certainty, we can only predict possibilities, but we can identify limiting factors, and the main limiting factor is the decline of fossil fuels, for only a finite quantity exists and it is being rapidly exhausted. 

When the oil industry was at its zenith  they used one barrel of oil to provide the energy to extract forty, but now in 2017 it is down to one barrel to extract eleven and only decline faces us. Gas faces the same problems. Once mighty coal is still present, but even this is in decline and despite Donald Trump's support for the US coal industry, far fewer people are now employed in it than there once were. The British coal industry is almost dead. Moreover,nuclear power,once feted as the path to a cheap future with energy too cheap to be worth billing, has proved disappointing as nuclear reactors' spent fuel is a burden to generations yet to come, and supplies of fissile materials are short. Fracking for shale gas offers some respite, but that too will become exhausted.  Biofuels are a false path, as growing crops for fuel takes away land for food, which will be in great demand. 

New technologies deriving energy from green sources are the only way. Wind power is now quite strong in my windy home island of Britain and can only become stronger. We can utilize the power of tidal flows, mighty fast at places in our home seas, and we can harness the power of waves. Given our natural resources of wind and water, I am confident that Britain can cope, but landlocked states have fewer advantages and must use the sun. We can do this in Britain, but not as well as some other brighter, warmer lands can.Cars will  adapt to new technologies, for the petrol driven car is "dinosaur" technology. Hybrids using hydrogen and electricity will be the future and are coming in now. 

But what of sea and airflight. Even modern planes are fuel expensive and availation fuel is running out. Will we see the return of the airship? It is slower than a plane but unless it uses hydrogen it is much safer, as it cannot explode into flames. Sailing ships may make a return, letting the wind propel the ship as before. But modern rigging systems and new designs of sail, all computerised, will make sailing a modern technological process. They will have auxiliary engines based on renewable battery power from wind and sun.

But military powers need fuel, but as fuel becomes more costly large military forces involving tanks and armoured vehicles will become prohibitively expensive. This will make invasions less economically viable. I don't think that it will stop war, but make it harder to do and total war will become pointless. 

Water

We are facing massive water problems in the world, mainly due not to lack of it, but to its distribution in the wrong places. Even in my rainy home country we are facing water problems due to climate change, for the populous South East is  forecast to be droughty, while the North West is predicted to suffer more storms, a problem that is already happening. Water saving measures are necessary, and in parts of the world, even in Britain, our much loved lawns may become ecologically redundant.In Britain we have touted the possibility of a water grid supplying water from rainy Scotland to the South East, and I don't think that the Scots will be averse to their being on the receiving end of  English cash in return for supplying water.

But parts of the world will suffer badly.  Military analysts predict that in future the coming wars will be for water resources rather than oil. Already Turkey is damning rivers that flow into Iraq, and China is doing this with the once mighty Mekong that flows in a now diminished way through Vietnam.  Hardship and desperation will produce violence, but to what degree remains to be seen. 

Weather will challenge housing models. Already the increased severity of hurricanes in the West Indies is going to force a rethink of building techniques to develop wind resistant homes. But we in Northern England will have to rethink defences of houses against floods. As I write. news is coming through of localized flooding in Lancashire, my home county. I am safe, as Iive in one of the less flood prone areas, but will we have to learn from our stone age predecessors, who built houses on piles [stilts.] Stone age people were not fools, and they have something to teach us.    

Work

The problems  facing work are robotization and the quick redundancy of skills. Once you learned a skill that lasted you for life, but now a few years after learning it you need to retrain. Robots are taking jobs. Where will all this lead? 

Big business will press further with robotization, but there is a self-limiting element to this process, for as people are rendered jobless by robotization, they will be less able to purchase the goods that business makes, causing declining profit ,and so the businesses may not be as able to automate as they would like. The market for personal robots,  like robot butlers, will stall. 

But deprived of work the people will not be content with bread and circuses, as was the population of ancient Rome, they will turn their hands to crafts. Just think of what has happened in Detroit, as jobless workers take land and cultivate it. Not everyone can cultivate, but there are a range of other skills that can be exercised. A counter-economy of small traders will arise, parallelling the large industrial economy and in competition with it. Of course, big business will try to use lobbying and political influence to undermine the counter-economy, but we must be ready for this and resist their attempts firmly. 

Agriculture is a case in point. Large farms are oil users, in their tractors and in the fertilizer that they use, which is oil based. As oil fails, a farming model will collapse. Some big farms will survive, but they will do so against the tide wich is to go for small scale, intensive production, not at the expense of the earth, but in harmony with it. The extractive economy, which takes from the Earth and gives nothing in return will be failing, though those who benefit from it will desperately cling on. Permaculture and organic production will become the norm, by default, as the farming model which opposes them collapses. 

Pressure on food supplies will see movements to green the cities, so we will see the growth of community gardens, green walls and green roofs. Schools will have their own gardens, and food production will become a high status job, I hope.

Structures

How things will be organized in 2050 I can only suggest. But Britain will have returned from its foolish withdrawal from the European Union, which by then will have made internal reforms to deal with its weaknesses. Hopefully, even our  most deluded post-imperial relics [which we find in the ruling Conservative Party] will have realized that we are no longer a  superpower capable of pushing other states around [some of the ruling Conservative Party seem to think this, which is why they deceived themselves that the UK could dictate terms to the  twenty seven other nations of the EU.]  A much chastened, poorer, but wiser UK will have returned to the EU with its tail between its legs.

World religions will still be there. Catholicism always persists,and there will always be the Jewish faith. Hinduism and Buddhism are large and have plenty of followers, so they will still be around. But Islam is harder to predict. It will still be there, but currently it is having internal difficulties and is struggling to cope with modernity. Whether ISIS, Al Qaida or the Taliban etc, will still persist I do not know. But Islam is in need of a few great thinkers who will lead its reform, but where are they? 

Christian churches must deal with their problems. Catholicism may have made moves to deal with the ongoing issue of women priests and deacons. There is hope that deaconesses will eventually be introduced, and it may be in my lifetime. I hope for women priests,but am not confident that I will ever see it happen. However, the fate of the declining Church of England cannot be predicted. Evangelical churches are thriving and I think will continue to do so, but liberal Christianity that accomodates to the spirit of the age has been failing for a long time and is likely to disappear.Some movement for Christian unity might have happened.

This is my vision of the future, but whether I will still be here to check on my predictions I know not. But we all must think of the future that we want for our children and grandchildren and work to make it happen by our choices and political decisions. We owe them nothing less. 

Updated: 11/23/2017, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick 18 days ago

Thanks for alerting me to my overlooking social skills deficit. I knew that there would be something missing. The metaphor of the pyramid scheme is apt.

blackspanielgallery 18 days ago

You have addressed a multitude of potential problems. Resources that are not renewable are like a pyramid scheme, our leaders keep avoiding addressing that they will have adequate supply, but we know there is no infinite supply so,they must run out.
One thing that you did not mention is the erosion of social skills by a generation obsessed with ipads and other similar devices to the point of lacking human interaction. That is a whole other issue the world faces.

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