All of us are interested & curious to know, what is in store for us in future. We have wild guesses, imagination of scientific fiction writers, inferences by the scientists based on hard facts & the synthesis of the two extremes by the social scientists. As such, these inferences must be taken with some caution. Accordingly this team of three bloggers decided to consider the contents of the book “The NEXT TWO HUNDRED YEARS” by Herman Kahn, William Brown & Leon Martel, published by Hudson Institute USA in 1977 & hold discussions on this topic with this book as reference. No one knows what is going to happen in the next few hours. Then having a peek into the telescopic 200 years hence, is bold & ambitious. But the thinkers have considered four basic scenarios. A: Belief that the population growing at the geometrical rate will sooner than later, outpace the arithmetically progressing means of subsistence & the human race, is doomed to starve out. B: Belief in the unavoidable doom, but with a marginal modification to, sooner or later. C. Belief of optimism hoping that somehow (but not clear as to how) the doom will not materialize & the humanity will be spared from withering away into the oblivion. D. Belief that neither man-made folly nor nature’s wrath will impede the onward march of progress & prosperity. Besides these, there are people who are either ignorant of this impending malaise of the future or those who care for today only & do not want to bother about tomorrow.
The authors have visualized a scenario for the world for the next 200 years, which puts the crucial issues of population growth, economic development, energy, raw materials, food & environment in a new perspective, with likelihood of solutions. These topics are the focus of attention for Governments, academic institutions, private corporations, media & concerned citizens all over the world. The authors do not agree with those who raise false or non-existent issues & often pose as being basically insoluble real problems, for which it is believed that straight forward & practical solutions may be found in most cases. The authors begin on the central theme “Turning points in the growth of population & product”, with the perspective of population rapidly accelerating from the beginning of the industrial revolution (1750), where exponential rates, would double it in about 35 years, it is likely to lead to disaster. But considering the rate of growth of population from 1776 to 2176 (400 years), under three alternative projections, known as Hudson Low, Hudson Medium & Hudson High, it is observed that the “rate of growth of world population,” has taken a monkey-leap to 2 to 2.2 % in 60 years (1950-2010), & it is expected to again slump down to 1 to 1.4 %. Quoting Ronald Freeman & Bernard Berelson from Scientific American, Sept. 1974, the authors point out that over the perspective of 16,000 years (8000 BC to 8000 AD), this high growth of population just crossing over 2 % , is mere blip, over this 400 year period (1776-2176), on the otherwise uniformly low of 0.1 % over every 1,000 years blocks. Thus the ever-rising exponential population growth has been leveled to the low & steady level of 0.1 %. The year 1976 had been the peak point of this population surge, exceeding 2 %. We may reach the low rate of population growth of 1 %, which by 2176 may level off to the permanent low of 0.1 % or even lower.
The authors mention two of the many possibilities about this problem. One feasible development is the construction of ocean-based facilities, especially very large partially sub-merged, floating industry-oriented complexes and another is the possibility of migration to outer space. Today the scientists consider that colonization in space is a technical feasibility with economic viability. However as of now, there is still plenty of room in almost all countries of this world, for everybody to have suburban lifestyle with land available for recreation, agriculture, industry & other purposes. Regarding the economic scenario, the front liners like USA had a slow path to economic prosperity. The authors state that the developing nations of today will cover the same ground on the path to economic prosperity, much faster, due to the following ten forces: A: Availability of Capital, Markets & Technology (CMT)- The developed countries provide all the three to the developing nations today, at much faster rate than, at what rate these were available to them. Thus the developing countries are in an advantageous position to catch up with the developed ones. B: Export of Labour- A pressing problem of the future decades will be the enormous labour shortage, particularly in jobs at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This will co-exist with even larger surplus in the developing worlds. The illegal & undesirable immigration should be systematized to resolve the problems of the developed & the developing nations, combined with some kind of training, but retaining its temporary migrant character intact so as to avoid the far-reaching socio-economic frictions, in both the worlds. C; Import of Export-oriented industry-Several European & American entrepreneurs, have found it advantageous to move their labour-intensive industrial units, to one or the other developing countries, rather than utilize the “Guest workers”, who are cheaper to hire in their own country & also avoid the social frictions in developed societies. It would be advantageous to both & will accelerate the process of rapid development. This should be carefully carried through with intelligence, insight & flexibility to prevent, either excessive dislocation or dependence on either side. There should be protection of certain indigenous strategic industries & hedging against activities perceived hostile by the host. There should also be protection against instability & excessive influence. D: Tourism-In many of the countries, tourism is doubling every two/three years. The authors assert that tourism will be one of the largest industries in the world. E: Technology Transfer-Today many kinds of industrial & scientific technologies are easily transferable e.g. the Computer Technology has proliferated very rapidly the world over & is becoming cheaper year by year. F: Availability of useful examples, institutions of learning & individualized expertise at our door steps- The international markets are flooded with “How –to-do-it-yourself”, kind of kits, of any degree of sophistication. Many advanced countries are following open-door policy for their institutions of higher technological learning. Moreover, this facility has become diversified & meets any individualized taste, temperament & time-schedule. G: Importation of pollution & menial jobs-Shifting of polluting & annoying activities to the developing regions amounts to exploitation. But it is true among countries as well as within them, that the poor & the untrained have always done dirtier & less pleasant work. Looked differently, these very activities provide the deprived & the under-privileged, opportunity to improve their lot. However in fairness to the poor, they should not be provided risky & unhealthy jobs. H: Import Substitution-In the initial stages, the developing countries have to import technical know-how, machinery & at times the processed raw material. But in due course, these countries should go in for systematic Import Substitution, as their competitive capability enhances. I: Existence of high order of external stability- Billions of dollars being spent on Defence, should be progressively saved, by continuous improvement of external security & stability in internal & international areas, for many developing countries. But some subversion, corruption & interference by developed countries in the developing ones may still perpetuate cold war. J: Foreign aid: It had earlier played a catalytic role in sparking off development in dormant under-developed countries. But if continued for long or put in wrong directions, foreign aid may also prove to be counter-productive & self-defeating in its professed aims.
The authors argue that by the end of 21 st century, almost all societies should have GNP per capita, greater than $2,000 & enjoy some form of post-industrial culture, but each should find its own way. At the end of the 21 st century, the basic minimum per capita GNP may be a few thousand dollars, but the maximum may be well over the current level by 10 to 20 times. The arithmetical differences as opposed to ratios in per capita GNP will generally increase for the next 100 years or so.
Energy is the most important input today. The real cost of energy has generally dropped over time. Future well being of mankind is intimately linked with adequate supply of energy at reasonable price. The estimates of world projections for various parameters indicate that at the current rate of consumption, the potential resources of the world, may last for next 500 years. So there is no immediate danger of running short of the resources, even with the conventional sources. But our search for eternal sources for energy & their economic use is continuing. The conventional sources are the Fossil fuels. The main non-conventional source is Fission power from nuclear Uranium ore, which has problems of possible accidental wide-spread environmental pollution, incident loss of life & permanent disability, due to radioactive contamination. However, production of Fission Power would be cost-effective & cost would still go down with improvements in the current reactors or the extraction of Uranium from sea water or shale oil. Say by 2050, the transition to the eternal sources like Solar, Geothermal, Fission & Fusion reactors should be complete.
Solar Energy: This is available in many forms. Only some of the solar forms were considered & discussed here. Even the growth of plants & trees which are used as fuel is due to Sun. A: Wind Power (caused by changing temperatures in turn caused by movement of Sun, relative to Earth) -This should become feasible & viable with technology for generation & storage of electricity. B: Bio-Conversion energy- This is obtained by converting organic matter especially wastes, to fuels or electric power. The products will be subjected to one of the three processes (i) Direct burning (ii) pyrolisis-conversion of organic material to oil & gas through heating in oxygen-free atmosphere or (iii) Hydrogenation- i.e. chemical reduction through heat & pressure, which converts most of the organic material into oil and/or gas. C: Heating & Cooling of buildings by direct radiation from Sun. This has been the ancient process & still may prove to be economically viable. D: Photo-voltaic Power- It directly converts solar energy into electricity at an efficiency factor of 0.2 of the direct incoming radiation. Sophisticated designs may enable to use the remaining 80 % of it, for heating/cooling or for generating solar thermal power. It may well meet the world demand for energy at comparable prices. E: Ocean thermal power: Within about 1,000 miles of the equator, the upper layers of the ocean are about 35 degrees F warmer than the deeper waters. This temperature difference, in principle, permits floating generators to operate continuously. This method offers an inexhaustible potential for electric power. F: Solar thermal power: Solar radiation is converted into heat, by receiving it over a blackened surface, though there are problems of intermittent nature of sunshine. Efficient methods are essential for the installation & maintenance of solar collectors over very large areas, with suitable ways to heat & transport hot water or steam from the collectors, to the central power plants. Relatively cheap energy storage systems, large enough to keep power plants operating, when sunshine is not available are required. With these problems overcome, this alone would be able to meet most of our future power needs. G: Geo-thermal energy – The heat contained within the earth could also be tapped. Geo-thermal reservoirs are classified as vapour-dominated (dry steam), liquid dominated (Hot springs), Hot-dry-rock & Magma (the molten rock beneath the earth’s crust) itself. This alone may be sufficient to meet the world energy demand in the next 200 years. H: Overcoming of technical difficulties- The most important is the generation of temperature of a minimum of 100 million degrees. One pound of DT (Deuterium-Tritium) mixture releases about the same amount of energy as three pounds of U-235, which is the energy equivalent of about 10,000 tons of coal. The principal advantage of fusion over fission reactors are smaller radioactive hazards, no threat of explosion & smaller temptation of theft or sabotage. (I) Energy system of the next two hundred years: (i) Hydrogen & its solid compounds are likely to be prominent. As a gas, it can be stored above the ground. The solid compounds can be used as convenient means of carrying the fuel & for safe storage. (ii) With Flywheels, the kinetic energy of rotation is converted to alternating electric power (iii) Batteries & fuel cells are other promising & convenient sources of storing & carrying energy.
Summarizing the discussions, it was observed that technological break-through will solve the various problems of our future needs. Changes are foreseen as discussed above. The change over from the conventional to the non-conventional sources will become smooth. Life will become comfortable.
This blog has been presented and posted by Vijai K Sharma (in short Vijai), after being jointly compiled, as a result of discussions and deliberations between Abha (former Deputy Director of a voluntary organization in Mumbai), Vijai (former Additional G.M. in a large industrial organization) and Prakash (former Ford Foundation Fellow and Smith-Mundt/Fulbright Scholar and former Professor of Econometrics in several Universities including California University, Berkeley).