I recently finished reading The Next 100 Years, a book by George Friedman that outlines the possible political, technological, and social trends of the next 100 years. It was published in 2009. The author predicted, among other things:
- A new Cold War, with Russia back on the offensive
- World War Three between the US, Japan, Turkey, and Poland (including Pearl Harbor part 2: Moon Attack)
- Microwave energy power beamed from space
- Conflict between the US and Mexico as demographic changes take over and the US splinters on Spanish-American War lines
Friedman relied heavily on geographical limitations for his geopolitical system and predictions, and seemed to consider things from a distinctly 20th (or 19th?) century view. Also, he seemed genuinely afraid of demographic changes. Holy shit, we might be a bilingual nation already?! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. He completely dismissed the dangers of an unstable Iraq, failed to predict the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, and totally missed the signs that a group like the so-called Islamic State might arise in the Levant. Oh, and missed the boat entirely on the largest economic crisis since the 1930s. Little things. Space warfare is cooler.
I like to think that I’m well-informed, I decided to test my own predicting powers and publish them. You know, so that my great grandchildren can look at this and laugh. Or be awed by my perceptive predictions (hah). It’s hard to see into the future with any kind of precision. I don’t know where we’ll be living in three years, for example.
For simplicity’s sake, I broke it down into ten categories, with three predictions each. They are in no particular order of importance on the global stage. You can find a list of sources at the bottom of this page.
I begin now. It is 17:00 MST on 2 April 2015, and I am sitting in Bittersweet Coffee shop in downtown Louisville, Colorado, USA.
Coleen’s Next 100 Years
- Marijuana will be legalised on a federal level in the United States by 2035. There will be considerable backlash (as has already started with the state-level lawsuits from states bordering Colorado) for some time, but by the end of the 2020s there will be legislative or de facto legalisation in more than half of states, beginning in the near future with California, Nevada, and Massachusetts. This will have major cross-border effects for Mexico, and may lead to a reduction in cartel influence in the Southwestern US. By the end of the century, it will look like the 1920s Prohibition to our great grandchildren (complete with gangsters!).
- The US will continue to play an important role in the world, but the influence it has will not be as strong as it is now. This is not a terrible situation to be in. In the early parts of the century, we can influence economics and geopolitics, and the pressure to maintain world order and spread a particular ideology will wane. However, this will take a very long time to sink in for a nation whose identity is tied so very closely to being the very best in the world (at everything!). A new period of semi-isolationism will come into play in the middle part of the 21st century, similar to the way that the US behaved in the late1800s/early 1900s. Domestic social issues will become the fixation, and the US will use covert measures such as drones to carry out the vast majority of any foreign intervention. Around 2050, following years of deepening trade ties, the US will make an open border policy with many EU states. More US citizens than ever will have dual nationalities, and pressure will be on for governments to make provisions for this growing demographic group. Eventually a ‘passport’ of sorts for the whole economic area around the Atlantic may become a thing (see Brazil below).
- The US will enjoy a brief period of high natural gas and oil production, which we are in the beginning of in 2015. The methods for extracting these fuels from shale will be efficient, but the scars from the process will be frequent and persistent. Gasoline will remain artificially cheap, because the US will not want to give up its relationship with private transport, until at least 2030. At that point, it won’t be possible anymore to sustain the current car culture. Fewer young people now are buying and keeping automobiles, and fewer of their children will as well. At some point around 2040, the US will *finally* get a high speed rail system that is up to 2015 standards in China, the UK, and many other developed countries. By the end of the century there is likely to be little accessible oil left, and it will be necessary to find other ways of getting around. Possibly, cities and towns will move toward walking cultures and downsize after the middle of the 21st century.
- Brazil will continue its upward trend in economics, social issues, and especially education. Eventually, the US will have to contend with Brazil as a large, powerful country in the Western Hemisphere. There may be some tension over this, because it will coincide with the decline of American superpower-hood in the first half of the 21st century. Eventually, Brazil and the US will be on mostly equal footing. That will be really interesting! Brazil is not the same as the US, but we have many similarities including our size, income inequality issues, mixed immigration history, and vast natural resources. At some point, Brazil may join the EU and the US in a sort of Atlantic Alliance where trade will be protected and people will be more free to relocate. That wouldn’t happen until around 2040, and only if Brazil continues to make strides. If by 2060 this economic pact is going well, then Brazil may institute freedom of movement with the US and EU.
- Colombia will become a favourite destination for US vacationers by 2030. There will be better travel links and the reputation of the country from the 20th century will fade away. It is essentially the new Vietnam for tourism, a former dangerous conflict zone that will be hugely popular for tourism. This is already happening, and is likely to increase over the next 20 years.
- If their recent instabilities are any indication, Venezuela is in for a rough start to the 21st century. Maduro won’t last as a president, but those in real power will continue to consolidate it. This will make their neighbours a bit anxious, especially as Colombia and Brazil rise. Like most oil-rich countries, Venezuela will face a major problem in the middle of the century when its reserves begin to falter. It will have a choice; remain isolated and try to disrupt the Atlantic Alliance trade and political unity, or modernise and attempt to participate in that group. For a long time, the former will be the choice. Some armed groups may rise up and even try to bother border regions of its neighbours around 2045.
- Nigeria will continue to suffer the effects of Boko Haram for at least the next decade. Although the world will condemn the attacks over and over, the coalition of governments seeking to root out this particular jihadist group will not be able to make sweeping changes. It is possible that in addition to their recent supposed allegiance-swearing to the ‘Islamic State,’ Boko Haram will attempt to join forces in public with Al-Shabaab in Somalia/Kenya. This coalition will not make any major gains in the region in terms of politics or territory, but they will be difficult to completely get rid of. Nigeria will grow in power in the region despite this irritation. By 2050, the nation will have well surpassed a Brazil-in-2015 level of potential and economic prowess, exporting talent and capital all over the world. By the end of the century, it is possible that Nigeria will have some status in the Atlantic Alliance states. Toward the 2090s, they may join the free-movement zone.
- Major extinctions will become more and more commonplace in African species, as pressures from development and external poaching markets continue to grow in the early part of the 21st century. It is unlikely that all the species currently under threat will survive the onslaught. Northern white rhinos will be extinct by 2022. Mountain Gorillas will become extinct in the wild by 2035, kept only in sanctuaries and zoos. Elephants will scrape by, but may face a fate similar to the bison of the northwestern American plains and be dramatically reduced in number. The environments will only begin to recover around 2050, when major conservation efforts will gain traction. Damage will remain, and the environment of these animals will not return to how it once was.
- An unexpected power may rise in Africa during the next century, coming from apparently left field in a similar rise to wealth and influence to that of the Gulf states (Saudi, UAE, etc) in the 20th century. This will most likely be due to a discovery of immense material wealth in the form of energetic resources. This could be oil reserves if it happens in the next 40 years, but after oil begins to decline the focus may fall on some yet-unknown resource. This could raise an unstable and economically-poor area to relative power. My guesses include the Congo, the CAR, or even Sudan. After some conflict over the resources, the beneficiary of this boom will be able to choose from the bids of many outside countries in Asia and Europe and build material wealth so great that the conflict will subside (or at least be largely ignored in the rest of the world).
- I count Russia as part of Europe, although their influence will remain important in Asia. If recent trends are to be believed, Russia will continue to press on its neighbours to establish another round of Cold War-esque intrigue. It will be necessary to remain friendly with Russia for the US and other states interested in space exploration, however. They have the best space-bound flights and manned programme at the moment, although of course NASA remains important. Until Vladimir Putin dies, the Russian Federation will be in trouble. He will always be pulling the strings, and he will always be nostalgic for the Soviet days (even if some regular Russians are not). We have already seen the EU working as a bloc to influence Russia’s borderlands (especially Ukraine), and as more countries join the union Russia may get more aggressive, sensing that a powerhouse that could challenge it on the Eurasian continent is growing more and more powerful. After some tense years in the 2020s, Russian desperation will grow to be included in technological and economic advances of its neighbours to the West. At some point, Putin will die and after a few years of confusion Russia will calm down and be ready to contribute again. They will remain their own thing for the whole of the century, and potentially lose clout in the region. If Iran manages to move ahead (as I predict it will below), then Russia and Iran may begin working alongside Turkey to influence trade and counter the Atlantic grouping that will be going on with Brazil, the US, and the EU.
- The European Union will grow in power and number over the next 20 years. At some point, a more European identity will come to the fore, as opposed to nationality. Freedom of movement will lead to friction in the 20-teens to 2020s, with pressure on governments to keep national identities in place. Once free movement turns 50 in 2045, the feeling will be much different. The EU will continue to have distinct national identities for member states, but a growing sense of European Identity will gradually supplant nationalism. The Euro may continue to falter for years, but it is unlikely to go away completely. By 2035, the EU will have weathered the new Cold War tendencies of Russia and come through that period with more solidarity than ever. The EU and US will begin to share even more, and eventually freedom of movement will extend to Statesians (and later, Brazilians). Some areas of European nations (Scotland, Catalonia, etc.) will attempt independence…but this will grow to be a fruitless enterprise as European Identity replaces nationalism.
- There will be an attempt to hold an EU referendum in the United Kingdom before 2025. However, it will be overwhelmingly pro-EU, especially as the federation grows to be more closely associated with one another. Until then, it will be a stumping issue for UK political hopefuls. It’s possible that there will be another referendum later in the century to decide about entry into the Atlantic area, but this too will go in favour of more integration and not isolationism.
- This is potentially the hardest region to predict for, if only for the sheer size of the place! Former Soviet republics will gain influence and power as the Middle East’s oil reserves begin to dwindle, starting in the late 2020s. Based on meeting many of their young people in London who were hell bent on making it into a powerhouse, Kazakstan is likely to enjoy a rising tide. Income inequality in that country may eventually push it to rapid social change in a protest movement, or they may move forward in a way similar to Brazil’s path from the 1990s to 2015. I hope for the latter, but I think the former is more likely. As these countries move into the space in the global economy left by Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, and Nigeria’s development, they will gain influence. In general, the 21st century will be more about Eastern and Southern influences in the world than the 20th century’s Western dominance.
- Japan will face serious demographic issues in the near future. Before 2030, the birth rate will have fallen desperately low and the numbers of elderly citizens will be growing even faster than now. Japan faces a choice; they must open to more immigration to sustain themselves as a nation, or they will not be able to remain a world economic power. This is *the* story of the 21st century. Nations will become less important as migration takes off even more than it already has. Reactionary movements from within countries will become more common (see the EDL and UKIP in the UK, and those idiots screaming at children last summer in US border states). It is possible that Japan will become more militaristic and nationalistic as it sees this future of immigration coming, as is already happening to a certain extent under PM Shinzo Abe.
- The biggest prediction for Asia: North and South Korea will begin to reunite by 2030. There is too much that we don’t know about North Korea’s power structure, but it will become harder and harder for the government to keep the same influence and control over its citizens. It seems crazy now, but I’m sure that in 1974 the fall of the Berlin Wall would have seemed unreachable in 15 years. This may be one of the last great diplomatic breakthroughs that the USA will broker in it’s role as superpower, as after the 2030s the decline will begin to take hold and we will take more of a backseat approach to geopolitics.
- Indonesia will rise on the same tide as Brazil and the former Soviet republics in the beginning of the 21st century. As the most populous Muslim country in the world with a degree of separation from the volatile Middle East, Indonesia will have a role to play in the re-structuring of that region. If they manage to get a grip on domestic issues and political problems, Indonesia stands to become a bit of a regional power through diplomatic gains. By the latter half of the century, Indonesia may partner with India and China to form a similar organisation to that of the Atlantic Alliances between EU, US, and South American powers. This will be more of a trade organisation than a political one, and freedom of movement is unlikely to become as easy as in the Atlantic nations. Still, by the late 2080s this organisation may rival the Atlantic one, causing some friction.
- If climate change predictions follow through, many island nations in the Pacific will be lost entirely by mid-century. Nauru, Palau, and parts of Micronesia will band together and ask more and more insistently for redress. If the devastation is bad enough and the people of these nations feel ignored enough, it might be possible that in the 2050s small terrorist groups will form in the region and attempt to harm trade. Regional powers like Indonesia will be the beneficiaries of their efforts, however…they will get to show off newly-acquired military and geopolitical capital.
- Australia will remain closely tied to the US and the EU, but will begin to feel somewhat isolated after the Atlantic free movement zone is created. They will play a role not dissimilar to that of the US in the early 20th century, independent and somewhat isolated, but able to work with almost anyone in either of the two major trade/political zones. As part of this, they will loosen ties to the British Monarchy and have their own head of state (if indeed the monarchy manages to withstand full republican leanings in the UK). Australia will benefit greatly from migration and trade as an outsider, and if there ever was a conflict between the Pacific and Atlantic regions, it could com out of it as a power much like the US did at the end of WWI.
- There’s a reason that this one is the last region I focused on. Everything that happens everywhere else will directly and indirectly impact the region. In the immediate future, Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, the self-styled ‘Islamic State’) and its offshoots will continue to exist in the region for at least the next decade. Although they will garner a fair amount of worldwide attention, their impact will be largely local. By 2018, I doubt that ‘IS’ will even be a consideration as it fragments and largely loses territory and supporters in all the areas it current hold sway, with the possible exception of Syria. If at any point in the near future Bashar Al-Assad kicks the can, one could expect Daesh to make gains in that country. By 2020 Daesh will be gone and replaced by some other regional radical group/groups. If the Assad regime is fully forced out, one could expect to see a military junta of sorts in Syria to come up as a governing body.
- Iran will be a major player in the region, and if sanctions are lifted (as the agreement reached today stipulates, albeit with conditions to be met) it could become a stronger economic power. Their influence in the conflicts currently underway in Yemen and Iraq/Syria is important. They could potentially move toward rivalling the Saudi Kingdom, especially if oil starts to run out in for that country. While Saudi holds Mecca and will be able to leverage some major Hajj-related tourist money, it may over-reach soon and have to retreat to being a peripheral consideration instead of a major US ally in the region. By 2050, given the right circumstances in the meantime and a commitment to change once the old guard of Supreme Leaders dies off, Iran could be a major world player.
- Most of the gains and changes as a result of the Arab Spring will not be permanent. Libya, Egypt, Beirut, and Tunisia will remain in flux for a few decades, but any popular uprising will not be sufficiently organised to make lasting changes. Turkey will drift farther toward both authoritarian rule and waning secularism under the current leadership, and Erdogan will continue to consolidate his power over the next few elections. Despite having a vibrant economy and close(ish) ties to the West, Turkey will not reach its potential. I would not be surprised if by 2050 Turkey is a fully authoritarian state, with major upheavals before then.
- Bonus: Israel. Oh, Israel. So hard to predict what’s going to happen with this volatile little country, which was essentially an idea at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite many efforts both internal and external to disband this tough little nation, Israel will still be around in 2115. However, a two-state solution will come into effect in the mid-2030s. Eventually, other concerns will overtake the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the general rise of Iran will cause Israel major fretting. It might be possible, once Iran is stable enough in the 2040s, that they could work together and mitigate some of the regional problems linked to decline in oil production. This major policy shift will render the nuclear question obsolete.
- The US will do away with capital punishment before 2035. As more pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the necessary drugs for executions, more states that still use the death penalty will have to adopt extreme measures like Utah just did. Firing squads. Unfortunately, the dearth of death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence in recent years will not be enough to change this practice in the United States. Not even the harrowing testimony of those who have witnessed botched executions will suffice. The death penalty in the US will only disappear when the public is exposed to the sheer violence of a firing squad execution, when the drugs run out. I’m not sure that the first one will be enough, either. But it will happen, especially when cell phones are everywhere and leaks are inevitable.
- There was a strange spot, about 1950-2009, where it was expected that when a child reached the age of eighteen they would leave their familial home and never return. I’ve done a lot of ancestry research while hanging out unemployed, waiting for my visa documents. Every census I could ever find indicated that at least three generations lived in the same house. This will come back into necessity, and already is for many people my age. We are denigrated as ‘Boomerang Kids’ or liabilities for our parents, but this is the way it has always been. Throughout all human history. The nuclear family is a bizarre 20th century invention. In the 21st century, familial living will become more prominent. Education, low employment, and automation will drive us back into communal living in order to mitigate the effects of a changing economy. Parental leave will finally come into practice in the US, catching us up with all other developed nations, before 2025.
- By the end of the century, my great grandchildren will be living comfortable but crowded lives. In some ways, a huge amount has changed in daily life since 1915. In other ways, not much has changed. My great grandchildren will still need to eat, will still like tea and coffee, and will still want to have time for family. They may be able to walk through the same ancient cities that I visit around the world, so long as they aren’t too close to the water (Venice might become a nice scuba destination!). The large houses of the present in the US will give way to smaller apartments and duplexes similar to those in England. I imagine that fashion will look less like Star Trek than loose and flowy, and I hope that rampant consumerism might have calmed a bit.
- Self-driving cars will be commonplace by 2025. Yes, in ten years. Maybe even sooner. The changes are already in place, and semi-autonomous systems are already being driven on major roads. By the end of the century, it will seem barbaric that people once died on the roads in their thousands.
- A major medical breakthrough on par with the polio vaccine will come about mid-century. This could be a way to safely mitigate cancer, a cheap nanotech diagnostic tool to catch diseases extremely early, or a water-purifcation technique that will render millions access to safe drinking water. More than likely, reversible male birth control similar to The Pill will become available by 2030. By the 2040s, male contraception will be as common as female methods are today. Hooray equality!!
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) may come closer to being fully conscious, but it will be difficult to tell how to proceed. It’s likely that by the end of the century people will have robotic cleaning help (not like the Jetsons, more like a dishwasher that can collect the dishes). Still, due to shortages of electricity and oil it will be simultaneously necessary to return to old ways of doing things. For example, it’s likely that clothes dryers will become less and less common, and outdoor clotheslines will see a comeback in the US (they are already the standard basically everywhere else….).
- Space travel will become somewhat commonplace by mid-century. It will still be out of reach for the vast majority of people, akin to travelling first class on the Titanic. By 2040, it is possible that the first manned mission to Mars will take place, but those who go to the Red Planet will not be able to return to Earth. By the 2070s, a moon colony will be established by the recently-incorporated Atlantic Alliance, followed by the other two major trading blocs. By 2080, it is possible that some back-and-forth traffic with Mars will be established, but it is unlikely that a major colony will come into place before 2115.
- Easily the biggest wildcard for the next 100 years is global weirding. The world has warmed on average 0.85 degrees Celsius. Even if we adopt big changes in carbon emissions, the world is looking at about 1.5-2.0 degrees of change by 2115. The predictions of people far more qualified than me range from ‘meh’ to apocalyptic.
- If the change happens as predicted, the resulting climate problems will push more and more people to migrate to safer areas. This will happen both within and between nations, further upping the ante when it comes to immigration policies and the cultural mixing that will be necessary. The US will have a head start on this process, as the drought in California will extend for at least a decade and force people out of jobs in the region. This is more serious than just any state suffering a major setback; California’s economy is bigger than Russia, Italy, and Brazil. This will be the start of major problems with climate change for the greater US. Florida will also suffer, as will New York and the states in Tornado Alley. Large, destructive storms will become the norm instead of the exception. Despite this, people will continue to live in the path of weather problems until the end of the century.
- As discussed above, some nations may be lost totally in the sea rises that are predicted for the next 100 years. In addition, many urban areas will have to deal with flooding and potential loss of territory to the sea. Building giant dykes like in the Netherlands is not an option for many places, and some major migration to other population centres will happen and change the landscape of powerful cities. New Yorkers may retreat to Chicago. Denver may become a major centre of trade and experience a huge population boom (dependent on the availability of water, ironically). London will have to build an even bigger Thames Barrier. Costal cities will experience depopulation, and economic and demographic power will centralise inland.
- If the Antarctic melting gets worse, all this could be even more severe. By 2115, climate change will have affected daily life for every person on Earth.
Major themes of the 21st Century
Major trade blocs: USA-EU-Brazil~Nigeria (Atlantic), India-Indonesia-China (Pacific), Russia-Iran-Turkey (Eurasian)
And I’ve finished, at 13:26 13 April 2015. Took longer than I had thought to predict the next 100 years!
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