But how do we actually want to shape the future? And is a course change actually needed in order
to deal with the challenges ahead? Decide for yourself: What are the most important developments
in the fields of economy, demography, society, technology, politics and ecology that humanity will
be facing in the future?
With MIND THE FUTURE, the W.I.R.E. realized a COMPENDIUM FOR CONTEMPORARY TRENDS in a filecard format. In each area, ten relevant contemporary trends are identified and their possible future development analyzed. The 60 trends are – wherever possible – supported with scientific fact and illustrated with images by Cologne artist Manu Burghardt. MIND THE FUTURE is an "open book" and reflects the fact that we can, in the end, only formulate hypotheses about the future and will need to revise our assumptions as time goes by. MIND THE FUTURE gives rein to both established and lateral thinking and offers inspiration as well as support for decision making.
Written by Stephan Sigrist, Burkhard Varnholt, Simone Achermann, Michèle Wannaz and Gerd Folkers
RUNNING OUT OF SPACE
In 1950 there were 5,600 m2 of arable land per person, yet by 2050 there will only be 1,500 m2. This development is due to the growth in the world’s population, the global trend towards urbanisation and agricultural methods that deplete the soil until it becomes infertile. Additionally, global warming is leading to the formation of new deserts, which also reduce the amount of farming land available. The property prices for both agricultural and attractive residential land are exploding. At the same time the phenomenon of ‘land grabbing’ is growing: industrial states are obtaining fertile land in developing countries to produce for their own needs.
THE TRIUMPH OF MONOCULTURES
The diversity of life on earth is at risk. 40% of all organisms on the earth are in danger of extinction. Mammals and birds are disappearing 100 times faster than natural processes foresee. Shrinking biodiversity endangers the ecological balance. Yet as fauna and flora die out, initiatives to protect them flourish. There are already 100,000 conservation areas worldwide, covering more than one tenth of the earth’s surface. At the same time the awareness of nature’s value is growing. Its contribution to the world economy is estimated to be around USD 33 trillion. Yet if the globe was an industrial company, its management would probably be fired: around two thirds of the services that ecosystems provide mankind have either been damaged or are not used sustainably.
THE COMMODITY SUPER-CYCLE
Global demand for metals is growing. In the aftermath of the economic crisis gold and silver are reaching record prices as secure investments. This is also because supplies are scarce: every year industry processes 3700 t of gold, but only 2500 t are extracted from the earth. The market for base metals is also booming, due to the increasing demand for infrastructure and information technology – particularly in newly industrialised countries. China controls global demand, accounting for almost 70% of global imports of chrome, 40% of iron ore and 19% of copper. The rapidly increasing prices also make recycling more economically viable. We are now at the beginning of a long commodity super-cycle.
Fresh water is seen as the oil of the 21st century. As a result of the increasing global population, urbanisation and climate change, drinking water is becoming a rare commodity in many regions of the world. Today half of the world’s population has worse water supplies than the inhabitants of ancient Rome had. Yet the shortage does not only affect developing and newly industrialised countries: Spain is now home to Europe’s first desert, in the USA reservoirs are shrinking, and in Australia harvests are falling. The scarcity of water leads to the threat of new geopolitical conflicts. Yet as wars cost more than the construction of desalination plants, there is still hope for peaceful solutions.
THE END OF FOSSIL FUELS
Global energy demand has risen exponentially since the Second World War. As the economies of non-OECD countries grow, it is set to increase by a further 50% by 2030. 80% of global demand continues to be met by non-renewable, fossil energy sources such as oil, gas and coal. As oil resources become scarce and the risks of nuclear energy become more and more apparent, the need for alternative energy supplies and energy efficiency use is increasing. One promising potential solution is so-called ‘smart grids’, a kind of ‘electricity internet’ that regulates energy use through intelligent demand-based adjustment.
THE GLOBAL SUMMER
Since the last ice age, sea levels have risen by 122 m. Natural catastrophes occur with increasing frequency and severity. The rise in the average temperature over the last 30 years can no longer be explained by naturally occurring fluctuations in the climate. Instead, it is most probably due to the burning of fossil fuels, cattle farming and the destruction of tropical rainforests. Yet, despite the apocalyptic mood in the media, there is still hope. Generations to come will still have the opportunity to see polar bears in the Arctic wilderness, but only if greenhouse gas levels can be permanently reduced.