*The World in 2050*

by on January 5, 2011 at 5:05 am in Books, Economics, History, Political Science, Science | Permalink

The author is Laurence C. Smith and the subtitle is Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future

This book is excellent on at least two questions:

1. Which environmental problems remain real, even taking into account the dynamic adjustment properties of markets?

2. Why the northern countries will grow in economic and political importance over the next forty years.

Excerpt:

Extraction industries will favor projects nearer the water.  Looking ahead, our northern future is one of diminishing access by land, but rising access by sea.  For many remote interior landscapes, the perhaps surprising prospect I see is reduced human presence and their return to a wilder state.

My main criticism of this book is that it does not direct enough criticism at government water subsidies and their role in worsening this environmental problem. 

Here is the book's rather non-Hayekian close:

No doubt we humans will survive anything, even if polar bears and Arctic cod do not.  Perhaps we could support nine hundred billion if we choose a world with no large animals, pod apartments, genetically engineered to algae to eat, and desalinized toilet water to drink.  Or perhaps nine hundred million if we choose a wilder planet, generously restocked with the creatures of our design.  To be, the more important question is not of capacity but of desire: What kind of world do we want?

Definitely worth the read.  I don't agree with everything here, but this is a book (very well-written by the way) which should be making a splash.  For the pointer I thank a loyal MR commentator.

1 russell12000 January 5, 2011 at 1:13 am

I have been reading it. It tries to stay within the bounds of the known, and not get too speculative. He is very organized with regards to his assumptions (which he states) and what comes from these assumptions. He is also fairly honest about the limits of this approach.

2 Yosh January 5, 2011 at 5:35 am

Aren't fertility rate drastically declining right now? Seems like a bit of an oversight to leave that out.

3 JCL January 5, 2011 at 8:04 am

@Philo I would imagine all you really need to do is desalinate and sanitize (i.e. chlorine). Don't worry about the color of the water.

4 MC January 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Maybe I'm missing something, but the close seems to be non-Hayekian only if you assume that the choices he's talking about, i.e., "What kind of world do we want?" are to be made collectively. Individual persons are quite capable of deciding whether they would rather live in pod, or whether they would like many children.

5 Brett January 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Per earlier comments: Author as part of his forecasting specifically does not allow for radical new technologies. It is an accepted limitation. He also notes the decline in fertility rates, and notes forcasts of population peaking in the 10 billion range.

I thought they downgraded it to 9 billion.

In any case, I think we'll see another major drop-off in birth rates if they can come up with some type of male contraception other than condoms (and vasectomies). That would open up the possibility of a new cultural position where contraception is always "on", unless you specifically lower it to have children as a conscious choice.

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