So, I’m sure by now you’re going ‘okay zac..16 possible futures…gee that’s great. Before, I only had to pick between two or three. Thanks asshole. ‘
But fear not. I wouldn’t leave you in such a dismal condition. From this point it’s just matter of which one you think is the most likely, or fits the evidence best, right?
So, I’ll condescend to predict a little more, but I’ll add one more wrinkle of complexity first.
Because, you see, it’s entirely possible and even likely that just one scenario won’t cover it. we could get the best and the worst, and indeed, all I can really do is attempt to draw a line down the middle and speculate on which side of the line we might skew towards.
To add a little more veracity we can introduce time periods into this; short mid and long terms to be precise.
If we deem that things are fluid enough to reverse completely from short to mid terms, and from mid to long terms that means that we have not 16 but rather 16x16x16=4,096 possible through lines for our future, arising from just four main variables. I will spare you all four thousand of them.
Given all that, lets weed it down and pick which we’ll lay our money on.
In the short term:
we’re enjoying the bloom of some real climate hysteria, so even if it turns out that the anthropocentric greenhouse effect was a fat load of horeshit, it won’t matter because we have adopted it as an operating premise. Another katrina-like catastrophe, even if it turns out to be totally natural and unavoidable, will cinch that.
Based on the best scientific studies going, we’re much too late and much too clueless to prevent, at the very least, a major liquid fuels crisis that will mean a major economic crisis that will probably take a decade or two at the very least to mitigate or begin to recover from. This will have reverberations in everything from food distribution to geopolitcs. So that means worst case energy, in short.
Unless someone busts out the bioweapons, or nuclear bunker busters in short order, it looks like we’re still on the good side of the technology equation, for a little while anyway. wireless and peer to peer technologies continue to incubate the promise of a new form of social organization that may well realize itself sooner than later. There’s not much chance we’ll have a real upgrade in transport, manufacturing or medicine, but you never know. In any case something big like that wouldn’t penetrate the mainstream for a few years at least. So it’s a soft best case for technology.
While population continues to grow at a small but potentially disastrous rate, it’s not likely that this will take over as a real issue for anyone right now. The words ‘carrying capacity’ will be met with blank stares for a while yet. So while we’re living in the seeds of a worst case, we’re treating it as non-case, or even a best case. Depends on where you live, mind you.
All that adds up to neonate form of world #12: continued resource war, malthusian/green backlash against ‘business as usual’, and advanced technology mostly channeled into conservation of energy and efficiency measures.
Al Gore or someone like him convinces the great unwashed to tighten their belts and conserve, as we shift phases into a more blatantly energy influenced foreign policy. venzuela, mexico, and iran in the crosshairs. 70’s style oil shocks, leading into major recession. Back to the land hysteria. Futile flailing for stupid alternative energy ‘sources’ like ethanol, or coal-gas. All this is potential set up for some kind of hitler figure, while tough times sweat all the idealism and airy fairy abstractions out of us.
Noble leaders will suffer a sad fate unless they can get their head around the full scope of all the problems and somehow communicate that to the public. In other words, fat fucking chance. Expect a chain of martyrs for, in no particular order: 5$ a gallon gas , losing the war in iraq, lack of air conditioning, empty shelves at the safeway, the stink of manure in your neighborhood, and every other piece of reality that we’re been trained to not want to hear about. Maybe jimmy carter will do us a favor and take another one for the team.
Eventually things will get hard and scary enough it terms of resource shortage that any high minded ideas of reducing our carbon footprint will be quietly dispensed with/ The first genius to realize that because we’ve peaked in fossil fuel use, that we don’t need to take any special measures to steadily reduce our emissions, gets a free term in office. Things warm up to a certain point and no further. Weird climate shit will keep happening, but we will eventually realize that weird climate shit has always been happening, so fuck it. Get a helmet and move on. Meaning, we flip into into a best case climate scenario. The vocal greens will be hiding in their solar mansions and issuing increasingly irrelevant proclamations to the mob, who are preoccupied with something besides melting ice, and couldn’t care less. Turns out co2 is pretty harmless after all. Plants even, like, breathe it, and stuff.
We probably hit rock bottom in energy about now. Rolling blackouts, fuel rationing, growing your own food in the backyard, etc. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Turns out we’re social animals and we actually like having a connection to the real world and each other more than we thought we would. It’s actually a lot nicer to work at home and walk everywhere than the shit we used to do. Your neighbors are a lot less scary then they looked a few years ago. Most services are going for shit, but the reduced stress and slower pace make it quite tolerable. A lot of things can actually be handled by you, believe it or not.
On the other hand, by this point we’re in the awkward infancy of things like advanced bioenegineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. It’s more likely than not someone is gonna get the idea to turn them to destructive uses. We are, after all, at the bottom of a resource war without end, and weapons technology is always the first place new shit gets used. It’s getting a bit hard to find gas for tanks and planes, and stuff, so those targeted bioweapons are starting to look good. There’s not much point worrying about it, because it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to survive. You’re either a target or you’re not. Work on not being a potential target.
The very simplest forms of this are penetrating the mainstream and so you can change your hair and eye color, correct most genetic disorders and disease proclivities, rebuild damaged nerve tissue or bone, play in virtual words, and conduct mostly convincing relationships with simulated persons. Computers are embedded in everything, and privacy is becoming a sort of quaint anachronism.
So, a soft worse case for technology, because dying in a engineered plague sort of outweighs virtual sex, but not by much, I guess. The nerds out there are a lot happier and more productive, if nothing else.
By this point, it’s getting noticeable that we’ve a shit load of people, and not enough food. Partly because of the natural gas crisis that torpedoed fertiliser production a couple decades back, and partly the sheer weight of numbers. Things get a bit too crowded and squalid for anyone’s liking. Some nimrod probably gets the idea to create a virus that sterilises indiscriminately. That’s right, worst case population, too…
So this is equivalent to world#8: resource war without end, minus the green pretensions of a little ways back. Pragmatism will trump aesthetics, and the world takes a gut check. We get a nice close look at the end of everything. When you’re not jacked into virtual moneyshot vol12, or something, that is…
By this point we’ve well understood what’s really going on with the climate, and we’ve got enough knowledge of genetics and nanotech to start to fix the shit we broke on this planet. The big issue ends up being toxification of various kinds, and programmes to remediate the soil, water and air go into effect.
Eventually we figure out a way to get plentiful electricity, and leverage that to make liquid fuels again in large quantites. With enough free electricity, say from nano-engineered solar, you could make a limitless amount of hydrogen out of seawater, even if it’s a shitty fuel storage method, we’ll eventually make it usable, or else have some engineered fungus that breaks cellulose into biodiesel with near perfect efficiency.
All the promise of advanced technology begins to pay off, as we get near total ability to manipulate matter from the molecular level up. You can look how you want, feel how you want and go where you want, real or otherwise. You can find out how other people think and feel pretty easily, and swap experiences. Anything you want to know about anything is pretty much available instantly, if you have a connection to the wireless network. Which you pretty much always do.
Lastly, our population probably keeps growing, but we have the means to provide everything except (real)space for free. Conflict is a bit less of an issue, but the narcissism of minor differences will never go away for many people, no matter how many minds you share. Everything comes down to the war of ideas, in the end.
and what happened to the resource war, you say? Pretty simple. Eventually people realize that they don’t have to participate in that shit anymore, and with free energy, free food, and free information, they just don’t. Near perfect telepathy means near perfect democracy. Which, yeah does in fact mean the lowest common denominator, but it’s the lowest common denominator amongst nearly immortal superhuman intellgences.
So, world#3: the transhuman diaspora, as we seek more room to express our minor (and not so minor) differences. Space, the oceans, maybe even time and other dimensions. Different minds, and different bodies. Life is restless, forever and ever. Amen.