Trends Now Changing the World: Economics and Society, Values and Concerns, Energy and Environment
Cetron, Marvin J., Davies, Owen, The Futurist
An "exceptional" economy, increasingly integrated cultures, and stepped-up action on environmental concerns are among the key trends that will shape the world of the next two decades and beyond. Veteran forecaster Marvin J. Cetron of Forecasting International Ltd. and science writer Owen Davies describe the implications of these trends for our long-term future.
For some four decades, Forecasting International Ltd. has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. About 10 years ago, Cetron and Davies condensed their observations into reports for THE FUTURIST covering key aspects of the economy, technology, business, and society.
Their expectations proved to be quite accurate: For instance, they believed that the economy of the developed world would be much more vibrant than most commentators imagined possible, and so it has been. In all, no fewer than 95% of their projections have proved correct.
Those early forecasts have often been updated and extended. In this article, the first of two excerpts from their latest report, the authors reconsider the trends from their previous work and focus on major trends that are now changing the world. For each trend, they also offer a succinct conclusion about its implications for the future and how it may affect individuals and organizations, including policy makers.
General Long-Term Economic and Societal Trends
* The economy of the developed world will remain "exceptional," as Fed chief Alan Greenspan described the United States, for at least the next five years. Widespread affluence, low interest rates, low inflation, and low unemployment will be the norm.
* Inflation-adjusted output in the United States grew by no less than 5.8% in the fourth quarter of 1999, and with more than 17 million new jobs created since 1991. With wages averaging $17.90 per hour, unemployment shrank to just 4%.
* The recession in Europe is nearing its end, and Asian economies are now being stabilized. This will improve global trade generally and should boost American exports in the next five to 10 years.
* National debts were brought under control throughout most of Europe, in preparation for the recent monetary unification.
* Real per capita income in the United States is rising at its strongest rate in decades. It should stabilize at a growth rate of about 1.45% per year through most of the next decade.
* At the same time, wages and benefits have remained under control throughout the industrialized world.
* Relaxation of borders within the European Union has brought new mobility to the labor force and is making for a more efficient business environment on the Continent.
* Japanese banks will finally write off their bad debts. Coupled with recent tax cuts and other reforms, this will set the stage for an economic recovery by 2002. Thereafter, Japan should provide a much healthier trading partner for the West. The three largest Japanese banks are combining into a $1.23 trillion institution. By reducing the number of branches and personnel and installing automatic teller machines, they expect to save $50 billion per year.
* Many nations of the former Soviet Union are bringing order to their economies. As they do so, they are proving to be viable markets for goods from western Europe. Whether Russia itself can stabilize its economy remains to be seen. This is one of the critical issues for the future of global prosperity, and perhaps for political stability throughout the world.
* Consumer inflation in the United States has just barely begun to be felt. The price of consumer goods other than food and energy was actually declining in the late 1990s.
* Long-term interest rates throughout most of the industrialized world are likely to remain relatively low for the foreseeable future.
* Improved manufacturing technology will continue to boost productivity and reduce the unit cost of goods. At the same time, workers who remain on the job longer will offset slow growth in the labor force, while the globalization of business will keep pressure on salaries in the developed countries. Thus, both prices and wages should remain under control.
* Automobile sales will slow as the useful life of cars stretches from its current average of about nine years to a bit more than two decades. American cars should continue to regain market share, because the mean time before failure is virtually the same for all cars now being sold. Whether cars are American, German, or Japanese, the same robots are building them. The 20-something echo boomers, or "generation dot-com," will continue to energize the market for sport utility vehicles.
Implications: Economic unification will boost all manner of trade within Europe. In the long run, the newly capitalist lands of the former Soviet Union should be one of the fastest-growing new markets. In the longer term, India will be the single fastest-growing market in the world.
Labor markets will remain tight, particularly in skilled fields. This calls for new creativity in recruiting, benefits, and perks, especially profit sharing. This hypercompetitive business environment demands new emphasis on rewarding speed, creativity, and innovation within the work force.
Part of society's affluence rests on the use or overuse of credit cards. Extension of excessive credit could result in government-imposed limitations, especially on credit rates.
The growing concentration of wealth among the elderly, who as a group already are comparatively well off, requires an equal deprivation among the young and the poorer old. This implies a loss of purchasing power among much of the population; in time, it could partially offset the forces promoting economic growth.
* The world's population will double in the next 40 years.
* The greatest growth will occur in those countries least able to support their existing populations. Pakistan, for example, will have a growth rate of 2.68% per year through 2030; its population will grow from 141 million in 2000 to nearly 199 million in 2020. Ethiopia's growth rate of 3.17% per year will push the population from just under 61 million in 2000 to some 90 million 20 years later. India's population will grow by more than 220 million over the same period.
* In contrast, birthrates below the replacement level mean that populations will decline significantly in much of the developed world, not counting the uncertain effects of immigration.
* A severe, continuing, and unexplained decline in men's sperm counts in most of the developed world could eventually impair fertility enough to reduce birthrates and populations even further than current estimates anticipate.
* To meet human nutritional needs over the next 40 years, global agriculture will have to supply as much food as has been produced during all of human history.
Implications: Unless fertility climbs dramatically, either would-be retirees will have to remain on the job, or the industrialized nations will have to encourage even more immigration from the developing world.
Barring enactment of strict immigration controls, rapid migration will continue from the Southern Hemisphere to the North, and especially from former colonies to Europe. A growing percentage of job applicants in the United States and Europe will be recent immigrants from developing countries.
Russia is unlikely to attract many new workers from the rest of the world. Without radical reform of its economic and social policies, so as to provide a more appealing environment for migrants, it is doomed to growing poverty and social unrest, which its leaders will blame on the West.
Culture clashes between natives and immigrants are likely to destabilize societies throughout the developed world. Germany, Britain, and other lands traditionally welcoming to refugees and other migrants already are experiencing strong backlashes against asylum seekers.
As the customer base grows ever more diverse, services will have to be tailored to the unique needs of new markets.
Growing populations are forcing some developing countries to abandon restrictive trade practices in order to compete more effectively in the global marketplace. This will foster the development of a market-oriented global culture.
* The population of the developed world is living longer.
* In the developed lands, healthier diets, more exercise, the decline of smoking in the United States, and the trend toward preventive medicine are extending life-spans. Life expectancies in Japan are entering the 90s, and those in parts of Europe are not far behind. Medical advances that slow the aging process now seem within reach; they could well help today's middle-aged baby boomers to live far longer than can be predicted even today.
* The elderly population is growing fastest throughout the developed world. In Europe, the United States, and Japan, the aged also form the wealthiest segment of society.
* These twenty-first-century old folks are much healthier and more active than the elderly of previous generations. At the same time nostalgia also is a strong influence on them. Many older people still want to indulge in the same activities and entertainment they enjoyed in their youth, and they now have more disposable income to spend on them.
Implications: Research to date suggests that any practical extension of the human life-span will also prolong health and reduce the incidence of late-life diseases such as cancer. Whether Alzheimer's disease will also be delayed or will arrive "on schedule" is a critical question for the future.
Global demand for services aimed at the elderly can only grow quickly in the coming decades. Medical care in particular will prosper.
With above-average wealth and relatively few demands on their time, the elderly will make up an ever-larger part of the tourist and hospitality market. This industry will prosper by catering to their needs for special facilities and services. Hotels will offer easy-to-read shop signs and brighter public areas suited to the needs of older visitors. Club Med will become "Club Medic," with doctors on call and a nursing staff for sickly vacationers.
For those who are not wealthy, the cost of retirement and medical benefits will rise sharply, even as the number of working-age people to pay for them declines.
If medicine does dramatically extend our life-span, and if preventive medicine receives government funding, the cost of health care will plummet; retirement and social security plans will have to be revised or scrapped.
* The elderly population is growing dramatically throughout the developed world.
* Those over age 65 made up 12.4% of the American population in 2000. By 2010, they will be 13%; by 2020, more than 16%.
* In Germany, the retirement-age population will climb from under 16% of the population in 2000 to nearly 19% in 2010 and 20% a decade later.
* Japan's over-65 population made up 17% of the total in 2000, rising to 22% in 2010 and nearly 27% in 2020.
* This is also true of certain developing countries. India's over-60 population is rising from 56 million in 1991 to 137 million in 2021 and 340 million in 2051.
* The number of centenarians in the world will grow from 135,000 in 2000 to 2.2 million by 2050.
Implications: Not counting immigration, between 2000 and 2050, the ratio of working-age people to retirees needing their support will drop from 5.21 to 2.57 in the United States, from 4.11 to 1.75 in Germany, from 3.72 to 1.52 in Italy, from 5.51 to 2.41 in Russia, and from 3.99 to 1.71 in Japan. Over all, the "support ratio" in the European Union will decline from 4.06 to 1.89.
Workers in the traditional retirement years represent the fastest growing employment pool, which has yet to be fully tapped.
Without dramatic advances in geriatric medicine, the cost of health care could skyrocket throughout the developed lands.
* The growth of the information industries is creating a knowledge-dependent global society.
* Telecommunications is removing geographic barriers.
* Information is the primary commodity in more and more industries today.
* By 2005, 83% of American management personnel will be knowledge workers. Europe and Japan are not far behind.
* By 2005, half of all knowledge workers (22% of the labor force) will opt for "flextime, flexplace" arrangements, which allow them to work at home, communicating with the office via computer networks.
* In the United States, the so-called "digital divide" seems to be disappearing. In early 2000, a poll found that, where half of white households owned computers, so did fully 43% of African-American households, and their numbers were growing rapidly. Hispanic households continued to lag behind, but their rate of computer ownership was expanding as well.
* The "integrated information appliance" will combine a computer, a fax, a picture phone, and a duplicator in one unit for less than $2,500 (in 1995 dollars) by 2003. The picture will appear on a flat screen of 20" x 30". By 2005 or so, such units will include real-time voice translation, so that conversations originating in one of seven or eight common languages can be heard in any of the others.
* Company-owned and industry-wide television networks are bringing programming to thousands of locations. Business TV is becoming big business.
* Computer competence will approach 100% in U.S. urban areas by the year 2005, with Europe and Japan not far behind.
* Eighty percent of U.S. homes will have computers in 2005, compared with roughly 50% now.
* No fewer than 80% of Web sites are in English, which has become the common language of the global business and technology communities.
* In the United States, five of the 10 fastest-growing careers between now and 2005 will be computer related. Demand for programmers and systems analysts will grow by 70%. The same trend is accelerating in Europe, Japan, and India.
* By 2005, nearly all college texts and many high school and junior high books will be tied to Internet sites that provide source material, study exercises, and relevant news articles to aid in learning. Others will come with CD-ROMs that offer similar resources.
* Internet links will provide access to the card catalogs of all the major libraries in the world by 2005. It will be possible to call up on a PC screen millions of volumes from distant libraries. Web sites enhance books by providing pictures, sound, film clips, and flexible indexing and search utilities.
* Encyclopedic works, large reference volumes, and heavily illustrated manuals already are cheaper to produce and sell on the Internet or as CD-ROMs than in print form.
Implications: Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to achieve the education needed to build a productive life in an increasingly high-tech world. Computer learning may even reduce the recidivism rate of the growing American prison population.
Knowledge workers are generally better paid than less-skilled workers. Their proliferation is raising overall prosperity. Even entry-level workers and those in formerly unskilled positions require a growing level of education. For a good career in almost any field, computer competence is mandatory. This is one major trend raising the level of education required for a productive role in today's work force. For many workers, the opportunity for training is becoming one of the most desirable benefits any job can offer.
* Our beliefs and values are shaped by what we see and hear. Throughout the United States, people have long seen the same movies and TV programs. These media are achieving global reach. In 1999, American films took in about $29.8 billion of the $33.4 billion earned by the world's movie industries.
* Growing acceptance of cultural diversity, aided by the unifying effect of mass media, is promoting the growth of a truly integrated global society. However, this is subject to change.
* Information technologies promote long-distance communication as people hook up with the same commercial databases and computer networks, and above all with the Internet.
* New modes of transportation, automated traffic-management systems and other highway technologies, more and better accommodations (thanks to the growth of the hospitality industry), more leisure time, and greater affluence will encourage more-frequent travel. Common-carrier passenger miles have grown by nearly 4% per year since the late 1980s and show no sign of slowing down. This will produce a greater interplay of ideas, information, and concerns.
* Within the United States and Europe, regional differences, attitudes, incomes, and lifestyles are blurring as business carries people from one area to another.
* Intermarriage also continues to mix cultures geographically, ethnically, socially, and economically.
* Minorities are beginning to exert more influence over national agendas as the growing number of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the United States is matched by the expanding population of refugees and former "guest workers" throughout Europe.
Implications: Over the next half-century, growing cultural exchanges at the personal level will help to reduce some of the conflict that plagued the twentieth century. This is likely to produce a reactionary backlash in societies where xenophobia is common. Some of the most fervent "culturist" movements will spring from religious fundamentalism. Would-be dictators and strongmen will use these movements to promote their own interests, ensuring that ethnic, sectarian, and regional violence will remain common. Terrorism especially will be a continuing problem.
Companies will hire ever more minority workers and will be expected to adapt to their values and needs.
In the United States, small businesses are increasingly owned by Asians and African-Americans. European countries are seeing a similar pattern among refugees and former "guest workers." Cultural conflicts may become more common, and dealing with them will require awareness and sensitivity. For example, American business traditions hold that negotiations are over once an agreement has been reached; in the traditions of some entrepreneurs newly arrived from Asia, negotiations continue until payment has been received.
* The global economy is growing more integrated.
* Rather than paying salaries and benefits for activities that do not contribute directly to their bottom line, companies are farming out secondary functions to suppliers, service firms, and consultants, which increasingly are located in other countries.
* In the European Union, the relaxation of border and capital controls and the use of a common currency are making it still easier for companies to farm out support functions throughout the Continent.
* Western corporations are having to adapt to Asian priorities. Where the West emphasizes "resource capital"--money and equipment--Eastern societies are more concerned with "human capital"--education, cooperation, and other practices that make the best use of people.
* New industrial standards--for building materials, fasteners, even factory machines--allow buyers to order from almost any supplier, rather than only from those with whom they have established relationships. The proliferation of standards is one of today's most important industrial trends.
* To aid in "just-in-time" purchasing, many suppliers are giving customers direct online access to their computerized ordering and inventory systems. Increasingly, the order goes directly from the customer to the shop floor, and even into the supplier's automated production equipment. Many manufacturers will no longer deal with suppliers who cannot provide this access, and the number grows daily. Thanks to the Internet, this form of integration is possible worldwide.
* The Internet and cable-TV home shopping channels are bringing retailers and manufacturers closer to distant customers, who have been out of reach.
* New procurement regulations and standards also promise to open the government market to suppliers who previously found the bidding process too difficult, costly, or just confusing.
Implications: Demand for personnel in far-off lands will increase the need for foreign-language training and documentation, employee incentives suited to other cultures, aid to executives going overseas, and the many other aspects of doing business in other countries.
Eastern Europe is likely to require a major investment in personnel development over the next 10 years.
Consolidation of standards makes it more practical for manufacturers in one country to shop for parts in another. In Europe, especially, this is quickly changing established business patterns and creating new demand.
The growth of commerce on the Internet makes it possible to shop globally for all manner of raw materials and supplies, thus reducing the cost of doing business. In niche markets, the Internet also makes it possible for small companies to compete with giants worldwide with relatively little investment.
In the wake of the "Asian flu," Western companies may have to accept that proprietary information will be shared, not just with their immediate partners in Asian joint ventures, but with other members of the partners' trading conglomerates.
Trends in Values and Concerns
* Societal values are changing rapidly.
* Society will increasingly take its cue from generations X and dot-com, rather than the baby boomers who have dominated its thinking for most of four decades.
* In the future, both self-reliance and cooperation will be valued-- self-reliance because we will no longer be able to fall back on Social Security, pensions, and other benefits; cooperation because group action often is the best way to optimize the use of scarce resources, such as retirement savings.
* Family issues will continue to dominate American society at least through 2008: long-term health care, day care, early childhood education, antidrug campaigns, and the environment. Companies are now required to grant "family leave" for parents of newborns or newly adopted children and for care of elderly or ill family members.
* Narrow, extremist views of either the left or the right will be unpopular. Moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats will lead their respective parties.
* Some liberal views will return to the mainstream after 2000, thanks to the 30-year Hegelian swing in which liberal and conservative philosophies vie for dominance in American society, eventually reaching stable compromises on most issues.
* Drugs eventually will be de criminalized. Funds saved from the criminal-justice system will be used for antidrug education and for the treatment of drug users--which will prove to be a more humane and effective approach to the problem.
Implications: The highly polarized political environment that has increasingly plagued the United States in the 1980s and 1990s will slowly moderate as result-oriented generations X and dot-com begin to dominate the national dialogue.
* Young people place growing importance on economic success, which they have come to expect.
* Generations X and dot-coin have Know only good economic times, and, while most expect hardship on the national level, they both want and expect prosperity for themselves.
* Growing numbers of people now become entrepreneurs.
* In the United States especially, most young people have high aspirations, but may lack the means to achieve them. Only one in three highschool graduates goes on to receive a college degree. Many of the rest wish to go, but cannot afford the high cost of further schooling.
* Without higher education, expectations may never be met. In 1996, male high-school graduates not enrolling in college earned an average of 28% less, in constant dollars, than a comparable group in 1973.
* In addition, more young people report no earnings--up from 7% of all 20- to 24-year-old men in 1973 to a relatively constant 12% since 1984.
Implications: The emphasis on economic success will remain powerful. Stress will keep step with it.
This will prove to be a global trend, as members of generations X and dot-com tend to share values throughout the world.
If younger-generation workers in developing lands find their ambitions thwarted by local conditions, they will create growing pressure for economic reform and deregulation. Entrepreneurialism is likely to spread to parts of the world where corporate careers have been the rule. This will represent yet another major change for Japan, where the recent loss of lifetime job security still has not been fully absorbed.
If reforms do not come fast enough in the developing world, disappointed expectations will drive underemployed young men into fringe political and religious movements. This could cause a new wave of terrorism and instability in the years after 2005 or so.
* Tourism, vacationing, and travel (especially international) will continue to grow by about 5% per year for the next decade, as it did throughout the 1990s.
* People have more disposable income today, especially in two-earner families.
* The number of Americans traveling to foreign countries (excluding Canada and Mexico) increased at 5% per year from 1981 through 1996. Growth will continue at that rate for the foreseeable future.
* Through at least 2002, depressed Asian currencies will make it cheaper to visit the Far East.
* By 2010, air travel for both business and pleasure will reach triple the 1985 rate.
* Tourism will benefit as Internet video replaces printed brochures in promoting vacation destinations. Web sites cover not only popular attractions, but also current, detailed information on accommodations, climate, culture, currency, language, immunization, and passport requirements.
* Multiple, shorter vacations spread throughout the year will continue to replace the traditional two-week vacation.
* More retirees will travel off-season, tending to equalize travel throughout the year and eliminate the cyclical peaks and valleys typical of the industry.
Implications: The hospitality industry will grow at a rate of at least 5% per year for the foreseeable future, and perhaps a bit more. Tourism offers growing opportunities for out-of-the-way destinations that have not yet cashed in on the travel boom.
* The physical-culture and personal-health movements will remain strong, but far from universal.
* Emphasis on preventive medicine is growing. By 2001, some 90% of insurance carriers in the United States will expand coverage or reduce premiums for policyholders with healthy lifestyles.
* Personal wellness, prevention, and self-help will be the watchwords for a more health-conscious population. Interest in participant sports, exercise equipment, home gyms, and employee fitness programs will create mini-boom industries.
* Sixty-six percent of those answering a recent Louis Harris poll claimed to have changed their eating habits in the past five years. Americans today eat lighter fare than in 1970, consuming nearly twice as much chicken, over 25% more fish, and four times as much low-fat and skim milk per capita. However, this trend has not yet had a similar impact on Europe.
* Consumer purchases show a per capita decline in annual liquor sales. Consumption of distilled liquors has declined, on average, for some two decades, while that of beer and wine accounts for more of the market. Younger drinkers have revived the once passe taste for mixed drinks, but have proved to be uncommonly responsible drinkers. Most limit themselves to one or two drinks with a meal, and "designated drivers" are standard practice.
* Smoking is also in general decline. Only 29% of American men smoke, down from a peak of 50%; 23% of women smoke, down from 32%. With state and federal cigarette-tax increases, further declines of 10% are expected. Europe, on the other hand, has yet to kick the habit, while smoking is spreading rapidly in Asia.
* There are many more magazines on health care and fitness than in the past. Again, this trend is limited to North America.
* People will be more inclined to take steps to control stress as they realize that 80% to 90% of all diseases are stress related.
Implications: Better health in later life will make us still more conscious of our appearance and physical condition. Thus, health clubs will continue to boom. Diet, fitness, stress control, and wellness programs will prosper. American tobacco companies could eventually look back on the litigation-filled 1990s as the good old days, at least in their U.S. market.
The cost of health care for American baby boomers and their children could be much lower in later life than is now believed. However, Asia faces an epidemic of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic and fatal illnesses related to health habits.
* The nutrition and wellness movements will spread, further improving the health of the elderly.
* Since the beginning of the twentieth century, every generation has lived three years longer than the last, even without the antiaging treatments that research seems likely to bring.
* The average child born in 1986 will live to be 74.9 years old--71.5 years for males, 78.5 years for females.
Implications: Again, this promises a greater supply of post-retirement workers to compensate (but only partially) for the shortage of entry-level hires from the new generations.
* Consumerism is still growing rapidly.
* A networked society is by definition a consumerist society. Shoppers increasingly have access to information about pricing, services, delivery time, and customer satisfaction from the reports of their peers "published" on the Internet. Marketers, of course, can also check the competition's offerings. This may gradually halt the decline of prices and shift competition increasingly to improvements in service and salesmanship.
* Consumer agencies and organizations will continue to proliferate.
* Better information--unit pricing, better content labels, warning labels, nutrition data, and the like-- will spread through packaging, TV, and special studies and reports.
* Discount stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart, factory outlets, and food clubs will continue to grow in the United States, a trend that has just begun to spread to Europe and Japan.
Implications: In the next 20 years, Europe and Japan can expect to undergo the same revolution in marketing that has replaced America's neighborhood stores with cost-cutting warehouse operations and "category killers."
Ultimately, fixed prices will be history, with most goods and services sold through online auctions to the highest bidders.
As prices fall to commodity levels and online "stores" can list virtually every product and brand in their industry without significant overhead, service is the only field left in which marketers on and off the Net cab compete effectively.
Branded items with good reputations are even more important for developing repeat business.
* The women's equality movement is becoming less strident, but more effective.
* Generations X and dot-com are virtually gender-blind in the work place, compared with older generations.
* "Old girl" networks will become increasingly effective as women fill more positions in middle and upper management. The growing entrepreneurialism of women will allow the formation of really entrenched oh girl networks.
* An infrastructure is evolving that allows women to make more decisions and to exercise political power, especially where both spouses work. One indication of the growing dependence on the wife's income: Life insurance companies are selling more policies to women than to men.
* More women are entering the professions, politics, and judicial positions.
Implications: Whatever careers remain relatively closed to women will open wide in the years ahead.
Demand for child care and other family-oriented services will continue to grow, particularly in the United States, where national services have yet to develop.
In the long run, the need to work with female executives from the developed countries will begin to erode the restrictions placed on women's careers in Asia and other developing regions.
Now that the glass ceiling is finally broken, the women's movement will not be as important for new generations.
* Family structures are becoming more diverse.
* In periods of economic difficulty, children and grandchildren move back in with parents and grandparents, to save on living expenses. One-third of Generation X returns home at some point in their early lives.
* Growing numbers of grandparents are raising their grandchildren, because drugs and AIDS have left the middle generation either unable or unavailable to care for their children.
* Among the poor, grandparents are also providing live-in day care for the children of single mothers trying to gain an education or build a career.
* In the United States, Vermont has just enacted the country's first law granting partners in same-sex relationships most of the legal rights formerly reserved to married couples. Similar proposals in Britain have wide support.
* Yet the nuclear family is also rebounding, as baby-boom parents adopt "family values" and grandparents retain more independence and mobility.
* Older people remain healthier longer, thanks to better medical care and more healthful lifestyles.
* The older person's family can be near, but not next door.
* Prefabricated (manufactured) housing will be cheaper than conventional construction, enabling older persons to afford housing in the suburbs or wherever they want to live.
Implications: Tax and welfare policies need adjustment to cope with families in which heads of households are retired or unable to work.
In the United States, the debates over homosexuality and the "decline of the family" will remain hot-button political issues for at least two more election cycles.
* Despite all the calls to develop alternative sources of energy, oil consumption is still rising rapidly.
* The world used only 57 million barrels of oil per day in 1973, when the first major price shock hit. By 1999, it was using more than 73 million barrels daily. Consumption is expected to reach 110 million barrels daily by 2020.
* However, as a fraction of the energy the world uses, oil consumption has begun to decline and is expected to drop from 40% in 1999 to an estimated 37% in 2020.
* OPEC will supply most of the world's oil. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, OPEC oil production will grow by some 24 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, to about 55 million barrels of oil per day. This is nearly two-thirds of the world's total increase in production.
* Oil production outside the OPEC nations has not yet peaked. Existing wells and refineries are operating below capacity, and at least a few non-OPEC lands have enough proven reserves to justify building more. By 2010, China, Russia, and Kazakhstan will be major suppliers--if political uncertainties in Russia and Kazakhstan do not block investment by Western oil companies.
Implications: Low oil prices in the mid- to late-1990s slowed development of fields outside the Middle East. It costs $10,000 to increase oil production by one barrel per day in most of the world, but only $5,500 for the OPEC countries. The recent surge in the price of oil--which hit a 10-year high of $37.80 per barrel in September 2000, could offer an incentive to develop new fields.
* Contrary to popular belief, the world is not about to run out of oil.
* As a result of intensive exploration, the world's proven oil reserves climbed from just over 700 billion barrels in 1985 to more than 1 trillion barrels in 1990. Despite consumption, they have hovered over 1 trillion barrels ever since.
* Discoveries in the Caspian Sea area, China, and perhaps the Indian Ocean are likely to add significantly to this total.
Implications: If the price of oil rises significantly beyond current levels, new methods of recovering oil from old wells will become cost-effective. Technologies already developed could add nearly 50% to the world's recoverable oil supply.
* Oil prices are likely to fall again and remain generally around $20 per barrel for at least the next 10 years.
* Except in times of war or economic crisis, the benchmark West Texas Crude has remained between $17 and $21 per barrel almost continuously since 1986.
* OPEC's recent decision to hold a range of $24 to $30 per barrel requires a unity of purpose that member countries have never been able to sustain for very long.
* The cost of oil production in the Persian Gulf countries is less than $1.75 per barrel
* The Persian Gulf War showed how vulnerable oil prices really are. The attack on Kuwait more than doubled oil prices for a few weeks; they fell back to pre-conflict levels long before the war ended. Not even the destruction of Kuwait's oil fields could keep prices high. New oil supplies coming on line in the former Soviet Union, China, and other parts of the world will make it even more difficult to sustain prices at artificially high levels.
* The 20 most-industrialized countries all have at least three-month supplies of oil in tankers and underground storage. Most have another three months' worth in "strategic reserves." In times of high oil prices, customer nations can afford to stop buying until the costs come down.
Implications: In response to high (by American standards) gas prices in the summer of 2000, the U.S. government will probably boost domestic oil production and refining to build a substantial reserve of gasoline and heating oil. This stockpile would be ready for immediate use in case of future price hikes, as in the winter 2000 release from strategic reserves. This will make it easier to negotiate with OPEC.
One upward pressure on the price of American gasoline: EPA regulations mandating the production of low-sulfur fuel. They are expected to add about 4[cts.] per gallon to the cost of filling up. Similar regulations will add 6[cts.] per gallon to the price of diesel fuel.
* Growing competition from other energy sources will also help to limit the price of oil.
* Natural gas burns cleanly, and there is enough of it available to supply the world's total energy demand for the next 200 years. Consumption of natural gas is growing by 3.3% annually, compared with 1.8% for oil.
* Nuclear plants will supply 16% of the energy in Russia and Eastern Europe by 2010.
* Solar, geothermal, wind, and wave energy will ease power problems where these sources are most readily available, though they will supply only a very small fraction of the world's energy in the foreseeable future. Worldwide wind-power generating capacity grew by 39% in 1999 alone.
* A new technique called muon-catalyzed fusion reportedly could produce commercially useful quantities of energy by 2020.
Implications: Though oil will remain the world's most important energy source for years to come, two or three decades forward it should be less of a choke point in the global economy. Declining reliance on oil could soon help to reduce air and water pollution, at least in the developed world. By 2060, a costly but pollution-free hydrogen economy may at last become practical.
* People around the world are becoming increasingly sensitive to environmental issues such as air pollution, as the consequences of neglect, indifference, and ignorance become ever more apparent.
* Soot and other particulates will come in for still greater scrutiny Evidence has been collecting since the 1980s that they are more dangerous to human health than sulfur dioxide and other gaseous pollutants formerly believed to present the worst risks. In the United States alone, as tires, appliances, and furniture, and the U.S. waste stream has tripled since 1970.
* According to the EPA, 70% of U.S. landfills will be full by 2025; half the counties in California, home to 70% of the state's population, expect to run out of space by 2005.
* This is not simply an American problem. In London and the surrounding region, landfills will run out of space by 2012. For household trash, landfill space will be exhausted by 2007.
* In some other regions, simply collecting the trash is a major problem. Brazil produces an estimated 240,000 tons of garbage daily, but only 70% reaches landfills. The rest accumulates in city streets, where it helps to spread disease.
* Recycling and waste-to-energy plants are a viable alternative to simply dumping garbage. The United States has more than 2,200 active landfills. Europe gets by with 175.
Implications: Expect yet another wave of new regulations, recycling, waste-to-energy projects, and waste management programs in an effort to stem the tide of trash.
* Industrial development is considered in many parts of the world to be far more important than environmental concerns. Broad regions of the planet therefore will be subject to pollution, deforestation, and other environmental ills in the coming decades.
* In 1999, Samachar, an Internet newspaper from India, asked its readers what significant problems face their country. Despite rampant deforestation, widespread air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and many other such problems, environmental degradation came in next to last among 10 issues, cited by only 1% of the respondents.
* "A deep and abiding distrust of environmental imperatives has been cultivated in large segments of South Africa's population," thanks to years of apartheid-era restrictions that were often justified as environmental measures, according to a study of environmental business opportunities by Industry Canada.
* Some 70% of the energy used in China comes from coal-burning power plants, few of which are equipped with pollution controls. Scientists estimate that by the year 2025 China will emit more carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide than the United States, Japan, and Canada combined.
Implications: Diseases related to air and water pollution will spread dramatically in the decades ahead. Already, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is five times more common in China than in the United States. This is just a foretaste of future problems, and perhaps not the most troublesome. If global warming is still a debatable issue, it seems likely that China and India soon will produce enough greenhouse gases to prove that human activities are heating the atmosphere to destructive medical researchers estimate that some 64,000 people die each year from cardiopulmonary disease as a direct result of breathing particulates.
* "Acid rain" like that afflicting the United States and Canada will appear whenever designers of new power plants and factories neglect emission controls. Look for it to cover China, India, and most other industrializing countries.
Implications: Governments will take more-active measures to protect the environment. For instance, after years of ineffective gestures, Costa Rica has incorporated about 25% of its land into protected areas, such as national parks.
Late in 1999, Brazil raised the maximum fine for illegal logging in the Amazon rain forest from only $2,750 to more than $27 million. It also changed legal procedures so that the fines can actually be imposed. An estimated 80% of logging in the Amazon basin is illegal.
In India, government policies consistently rate industrial development more important than the environment. Yet in an effort to reduce air pollution, India's Supreme Court not long ago limited sales of new cars in New Delhi to 18,000 per year, less than one-fourth the average sold in recent years.
In the United States, the battle against automotive air pollution continues with an EPA mandate cutting tailpipe emissions 70% by 2004. New equipment required to meet that limit will add an estimated $100 to $150 to the sticker price of a new car, and probably more for SUVs, trucks, and vans.
* Shortages of water, and especially potable water, will be a continuing problem for much of the world.
* According to the United Nations, most of the major cities in the developing world will face water shortages. So will one-third of the population of Africa.
* The northern half of China, home to perhaps half a billion people, already is short of water. The water table under Beijing has fallen nearly 200 feet since 1965 and 8 feet in 1999 alone.
* Water usage is causing other problems as well. For example, irrigation water evaporates, leaving minerals in the soil. By 2020, 30% of the world's arable land will be salty; by 2050, 50%. Salinization is already cutting crop yields in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, Australia, and parts of the United States.
Pollution further reduces the supply of safe drinking water. The European Parliament estimates that 75% of the Continent's drinking water contains dangerous concentrations of nitrate pollution. Despite intensive clean-up programs, it will take between 25 and 50 years for nitrates to reach levels considered safe.
* In India alone, an estimated 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water, thanks to widespread pollution of rivers and groundwater.
* Contaminated water is implicated in 80% of the world's health problems. An estimated 40,000 people around the world die each day of diseases directly caused by contaminated water--that's more than 14 million per year.
Implications: By 2040, at least 3.5 billion people will run short of water, almost 10 times as many as in 1995. By 2050, fully two-thirds of the world's population could be living in regions with chronic, widespread shortages of water.
Water wars, predicted for more than a decade, are becoming an imminent threat. One major obstacle to the resolution of the Kashmir conflict is water: Much of Pakistan's supply comes from areas of Kashmir now controlled by India. Such problems as periodic famine and desertification also can be expected to grow more frequent and severe in the coming decades.
* Recycling has delayed the "garbage glut" that threatened to fill the world's landfills to overflowing, but the threat has not passed simply because it hasn't yet arrived.
* Americans now produce 4.3 pounds of trash per person per day, twice as much as they did a generation ago. Add in durable goods, such levels. Helping the developing lands to raise their standards of living without causing wholesale pollution will require much more aid and diplomacy than the developed world has ever been willing to devote to this cause.
* Though species extinction may not be so rapid as once believed, loss of biodiversity will be a growing worry for decades to come.
* An estimated 50,000 species disappear each year, up to 1,000 times the natural rate of extinction, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.
* Eleven percent of birds, 25% of mammals, and 20%-30% of all plants are estimated to be nearing extinction.
* Throughout the world, amphibian populations are in decline, for reasons that, after a decade of intensive research, remain poorly understood.
* Coral reefs throughout the world are dying rapidly, again for reasons that are not entirely clear.
* The chief cause of species loss, according to University of Colorado scientists, is the destruction of natural habitats by logging, agriculture, and urbanization.
* Amazon rain forests are disappearing at a rate of roughly 25,000 square kilometers per year, twice as fast as formerly believed.
* Worldwide, some 100,000 square kilometers of rain forest are burnt each year to create farmland. Another 50,000 square kilometers are destroyed by logging. Less than 0.1% of the world's rain forest is under sustainable management.
Implications: Species loss has a powerful negative impact on human well-being. Half of all drugs used in medicine are derived from natural sources, including 55 of the top 100 drugs prescribed in the United States. So far, less than 0.5% of flowering plants have been assayed for potential pharmaceuticals.
In Indonesia, home to one-eighth of the world's coral reefs, more than 70% of reefs are dead or dying. Net losses to the Indonesian economy are estimated at between $500,000 and $800,000 per square mile of dead or damaged reef annually.
Researchers from the United Kingdom's National Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology report that diverse ecosystems absorb more carbon dioxide than those with fewer species. Loss of biodiversity is a potential cause of global warming.
About the Authors
Marvin J. Cetron is president of Forecasting International Ltd., 3612 Boat Dock Drive, Falls Church, Virginia 22041. Telephone 1-703-379-9033; fax 1-703-379-1999.
Owen Davies is a former senior editor at Omni magazine and is a freelance writer specializing in science, technology, and the future.
They are co-authors of several books, including Cheating Death, American Renaissance, and Crystal Globe.
This article is excerpted from their special report, "50 Trends Now Changing the World," to be published by the World Future Society in January 2001. The report will be available from the Futurist Bookstore for $8 each ($7.20 for Society members), cat. no. R-2369. To order, call 1-800-989-8274 or 1-301-656-8274, or use the coupon on page 61.…
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Publication information: Article title: Trends Now Changing the World: Economics and Society, Values and Concerns, Energy and Environment. Contributors: Cetron, Marvin J. - Author, Davies, Owen - Author. Magazine title: The Futurist. Volume: 35. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2001. Page number: 30. © 1999 World Future Society. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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