Human Civilization Migrates Northward

Article excerpt

A geologist notes world-changing population and economic shifts.

Brazil, China, or Iceland--which country's population will grow the fastest between now and 2050?

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The answer is Iceland, according to Laurence C. Smith in The World in 2050. The UCLA geologist envisions a "New North"--comprising Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Greenland--of intense activity, expansion, and economic growth. The populations of Canada, Iceland, and Norway will all grow by 20% or more.

Smith identifies four forces of change behind this great shift--demography, increasing strain on the earth's resources, globalization, and climate change--and the specific ways that each force may shape human civilization in the next four decades.

"Big changes often just sort of ease their way in," he says. "And quietly change the world."

Four Forces Shaping the Future

* Demography. In 2008, for the first time in history, more humans were living in cities than in rural areas. Urbanization will continue and will necessitate expert growth management.

Industrialized countries will also need to worry about their rapidly growing elderly populations. By 2050, the nursing homes of Brazil, Russia, India, and China may be full to the brim, and none of the four countries may have enough employees to staff them.

The highest fertility rates will be in developing nations. But before their young people can take up needed jobs in industrialized nations, their societies will need to boost education, security, and governance so that they will have opportunities to gain education and job training.

* Growing strain on the earth's resources. The world is projected to consume 106 million barrels of oil a day by 2030. Pressure will mount to tap any existing reserves. Russia in particular will aggressively develop its vast oil fields and compete with its neighbors to drill the pristine ice fields of the Arctic Circle.

The world's population will grow 50% by 2050, and all that growth will require enormous increases in crop production to feed it. …