Skip to main content

In Part 1, I established the basis of my predictions with an overview of biological and technological evolution.  In Part 2, I described high-probability changes over the next decade that will serve as the foundation of much more complex and radical changes over longer timescales.  Please review those entries, as this series is intended to build progressively.  In Part 3, we magnify the scope of time to 100 years and examine systemic changes in civilization over the coming century.

Table of Contents

(Current part in bold)

I.  The Energy History of Life (Part 1)
II.  The Energy History of Humanity (Part 1)
III.  The Next Decade (Part 2)
IV.  The Next Century
V.  The Next Millennium
VI.  10,000 Years
VII.  100,000 Years
VIII.  Mark: One Million Years

Due to its short time-scale, Part 2 was largely a discussion of likely extrapolations from present trends, but as we zoom outward the larger-scale patterns discussed in Part 1 become increasingly relevant.  So at this point it is useful to explicitly lay out those patterns:  

Restatement of Assumptions:

1.  The basis of life is energy.

2.  The evolution of life is determined by the optimum dynamic balance of energy, water, and raw materials.

3.  This dynamic balance forms the basis of the Root/Spore Cycle.

4.  The Root/Spore Cycle is fractal, and occurs at all scales of life from individual organisms to entire ecosystems, and all scales of time from bacterial growth rates to geologic epochs.

The Root/Spore Cycle

1.  A living system in an abundant environment will grow contiguously in all directions until it reaches the boundaries of abundance in any given direction.  This condition is called Root.

2.  Once a living system encounters the boundary of abundance, elements on the margins of that boundary will be iteratively selected for versatility and mobility until some become independent of the original system.  This condition is called Spore.

3.  Evolution within the Root environment leads to increasing specialization, density, diversity, and interdependence.

4.  Evolution within the Spore environment leads to increasing mobility, generalization, geographic dispersal, and independence.

5.  Once the Root environment reaches its contiguous boundaries in all directions, it achieves steady-state equilibrium and ceases to evolve internally - all subsequent change is driven by environmental changes or invasion by external forces.

6.  Independent Spore persist as such until they reach a new pool of resources sufficient to spawn or conquer another Root condition.  

7.  Middle-case environments (neither abundant nor desolate) colonized by Spore will accelerate rather than dampen Spore evolution, outstripping earlier iterations of Spore from more abundant regions.  This can continue iteratively to an arbitrary degree until Root-sufficient abundance is found.


I should state that this is not a scientifically rigorous model - it is simply a useful heuristic for understanding how living systems (including human civilization) evolve over large time scales.  The following illustrated slideshow should more clearly demonstrate the principles involved.  Keep in mind, though, that this is supposed to demonstrate an abstract principle, and that it applies just as well to human civilizations as to bacteria.  A complete Root/Spore cycle is depicted:

Note that this cycle is recursive rather than recurrent: Each iteration changes the initial environment of the next iteration: I.e., Root at the end of one cycle is the Abundant environment at the beginning of the next, and Degenerate Root is the Harsh environment.  Areas where Abundant and Degenerate Root interact would correspond to Middle-case in the next iteration of the cycle.  In human history, these Middle-cases would usually be associated with peninsulas and the birth of Faster (N+1) Spore civilizations (e.g., Greece, Rome, Aztecs, etc.) - which is surprisingly well-indicated by the illustration, even though I made no conscious effort to show that.

Another principle we see is that colonized environments, regardless of their initial local abundances, can become either Root or Degenerate Root (i.e., location-bound due to scarcity) based on the context of their whole-system relationships.  If the local system is too isolated, the N+1 Root will be Degenerate because resources will be consumed before renewable equilibrium can be achieved.  Unfortunately, Degenerate Root does not bud Spore - there is no accessible surplus energy in the environment to form it, and that does not change until evolutions in the whole system make further iterations more successful.

This is critical because the global transition to renewable energy is the end of the current Root/Spore Cycle - a cycle that had begun with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago.  Agriculturally abundant locations like the Nile formed the initial (N) Root, with places like the Levant and the Aegean forming the N-Spore.  The above slideshow only depicts one Spore acceleration, but in fact it can accelerate several times (N+1, N+2, N+3, etc.) before achieving the next stable Root condition, and that is precisely what happened.

Powerful Spore civilizations arose in peninsulas and large island chains around the world at various times - Greece, Southern Mexico, Java, etc. - and their evolution, stagnation, or demise was determined by the local geography and the relative timing of their ascent.  However, some arose under particularly auspicious conditions: In contrast to the rest of the world, Europe is practically a geographic step-ladder - a peninsula of peninsulas.  

Europe

Greece, Italy, Iberia, Britain (effectively a peninsula), and Scandinavia are all major peninsulas of the European continent, which is itself a peninsula, so Spore iteration occurred much more quickly than in other parts of the world.  This resulted not only in physical colonization of the globe by European powers, but in the transformation of existing cultures and societies along lines that first evolved in Europe: Most importantly, the scientific method and the ideal of progress.  

Virtually no other civilization prior to Enlightenment Europe had conceived of systemic progress: The vast majority were concerned only with maintaining a changeless cycle of tradition, and those few who pursued some form of progress conceived of it only along the lines of military conquest or philosophical perfection - they had no means of rigorously penetrating the unknown and discovering new possibilities.  As a result, they not only advanced slowly, but literally did not know what they were missing - there was only the Known and the Unknown Unknown, with no middle-ground that could be consistently expanded upon.

That all changed with the Scientific Revolution, and particularly with the widespread adoption of its most potent product: The heat engine.  As a result, the world has been in a continuously-accelerating Spore state ever since, and the overwhelming driver of that acceleration has been fossil fuels - time-concentrated chemicals capable of fueling powerful heat engines, and thus radically mobilizing humanity.  But the limits, political disadvantages, and hidden environmental costs of fossil fuels have become manifest, and humanity increasingly recognizes that energy renewability is a long-term necessity for civilization to continue.

We have, in other words, encountered a resource boundary.  And according to the Root/Spore cycle, the response of N-Spore to encountering a boundary is for the system inside it to become either Root or Degenerate Root, and for that which becomes Root to bud N+1 Spore.  What this means for the next century in practical terms is that humanity's transition to renewability will form three somewhat-overlapping tracks of development:

1.  Areas with an optimum balance of renewable energy, water, and raw materials will form the basis of N+1 Root: Rich, increasingly diverse, and economically interconnected societies that grow continuously by climbing their energy pathways - i.e., by accessing the energy more directly, and utilizing it more efficiently.

2.  Areas with extreme resource-imbalances - such as having plenty of energy, but having to spend most of it accessing water and raw materials - or those that are poor overall in renewable energy will form Degenerate Root: Societies that achieve sustainability, but have extremely simple economies with little surplus energy remaining for diversification, growth, or change.  Societies that fail to achieve sustainability at all will simply shrivel until they do, or become dependent on those who do.

3.  N+1 Spore: Given that the scope of the system is now the entire planet Earth, the Spore-budding boundary is (not surprisingly) space.  Economies that grow from it will be dynamic, unprecedentedly mobile, and generalized by necessity.  However, since it is the first iteration to leave Earth, it will do so slowly, expensively, and in small numbers.

Based on the Root/Spore Cycle and the processes begun over the coming decade, my view of the next century may not be surprising at first glance: Global energy infrastructure will be entirely renewable, with the vast majority of generation being wind and solar - as these are the most abundant, cheaply harvested, and easily-accessible options.  They are also the most fertile for technological advancement due to modularity and variety of potential approaches.

Available_Energy-4

As noted in Part 2, implementation of wind power is likely to temporarily exceed that of solar due to regional considerations - i.e., being more attractive to Northern Europe, and both the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States - as well as being more controllable by oligopolous energy interests looking to survive the transition to renewability.

Offshore Wind Farm  

However, a couple of factors guarantee that solar will accelerate beyond wind and ultimately become overwhelmingly dominant in this century: (1) As noted in the above graphic (courtesy of Wikimedia), the sheer size of currently accessible solar energy far outweighs that of wind; and (2) the growth in accessible solar energy will far exceed wind due to the much greater scalability of photovoltaics - i.e., PV solar can be scaled from microscopic components up to arbitrarily large panels and fields, while wind has much harder practical limits.  In fact, solar will eventually eliminate wind entirely as a significant source of energy, but not by 2110.

We will also see the outcomes of two other significant competitions: Utility-scale renewable energy vs. distributed generation, and PV solar vs. solar thermal.  In both cases, the side that initially dominates due to affinity toward the existing industrial base will ultimately fall behind and be defeated by the side that is more modular, scalable, and adaptable.  Utilities will dominate the renewable energy landscape for the next few decades, but small-scale power systems applicable to individual homes and businesses will experience radical growth and rapid cycles of innovation analogous to the IT industry while utility companies adapt much more slowly.  Ultimately distributed options will dominate, and utilities will be progressively phased out in favor of scaled versions of distributed technology.

In the competition between PV and solar thermal, the latter will initially be dominant because it generates electricity with a heat engine - a technology that is virtually perfected, cheap, and well-understood, but has relatively little room for additional innovation.  This will occur in tandem with the dominance of utilities, since solar thermal is ideal for utility-scale solar generation and is much less practical on smaller scales (with solar water heaters being a minor exception).  

Solar Thermal 2

Photovoltaics, on the other hand, are a far newer technology that has already spawned a multitude of considerably different approaches and an ever-thicker backlog of laboratory innovation.  They are also arbitrarily scalable, arbitrarily modular, have no (intrinsic) moving parts, and represent a more direct pathway from solar energy to electricity than one involving a heat engine.  At some point we will see that laboratory backlog explode into realization, commencing a process of radical growth in the PV industry and major expansions in the diversity, adaptability, efficiency, and cheapness of the technology.

solar_pv1

The PV/ST competition will parallel another major change in technology: Namely, the death of the heat engine.  I am, of course, exaggerating - we will still find uses for heat engines to some extent, such as in geothermal plants (which will be a minor component of renewable infrastructure) - but they will cease to play any major role in energy generation or transportation.  Photovoltaics will progress to the point of making solar thermal obsolete, and both electricity storage and rapid-charging technology will advance to the point that the internal combustion engine - even with innovations making it significantly more efficient - will not be able to compete.

This means that, for the first time in history, human civilization will be directly powered by the Sun - we will have made a collective evolutionary leap as significant as the evolution of photosynthesis, and formed the basis of an enduring (and continuously evolving) human ecology.  The long-term implications of this are rather astounding, but over the next century humanity will still be in the initial stages of forming a standard energy framework based on PV solar: There will still be a significant level of wind power, and some geothermal plants in seismically active regions.  Still, by 2110, humanity will not even have come close to realizing the limits of Earth-based renewable energy, so we can expect centuries of additional growth and complexification to follow as the Root expands into its new energy environment.  

Although energy will become radically decentralized, with PV being generally incorporated into building materials and structural surfaces, we will also see the densest urban environments begin to act cooperatively to most effectively harness solar energy.  Some skyscraper and high-rise owners will find their property values harmed by having sub-optimal views of the Sun, forcing their tenants to rely more on the grid for electricity, and groups of such buildings may cooperate to build solar canopies above them.  This, in turn, may result in other buildings losing solar flux and complaining, causing city officials to regulate the process and ultimately construct municipal solar canopies over the downtown core.  

Solar canopy

Solar Canopy 2

Transparent or arbitrarily tinted solar panels already exist in the laboratory, so a solar canopy over part of a city wouldn't turn it into a dark, foreboding Blade Runner environment - the light might look virtually the same, or might be polarized in different places at different times for artistic effect or to absorb specific wavelengths.

Tinted Solar Panels

The entire process of urban zoning and building regulation will change to allow for fair (or at least politically advantageous) access to the Sun, altering not only the look and shape of downtown skyscrapers, but how they're constructed in relation to each other.  Such canopies could double as systems for capturing and channeling rainwater, making them just as useful when the Sun is hidden or has set.  Even with the first municipal PV canopies going up - perhaps over Manhattan, Tokyo, and Beijing - people probably won't notice the increasingly striking similarity between how their cities are shaping up and how rainforest ecologies evolve.  The Root will not quite be obvious yet, but civil engineering will become a lot more complex and faceted.    

Climate change, unfortunately, will remain a major and increasingly obtrusive problem even with the transition to full renewability.  Greenhouse gases stored in the environment will continue to be released by the self-reinforcing cycle of global warming even after humanity has zeroed its emissions or even gone negative, so there are likely to be regional disruptions, sea-level rises, and growing pressure on both water and food supplies in some parts of the world.  This may cause some degree of mass-migration, although I doubt it will occur rapidly enough, or on a large-enough scale in one event to majorly disrupt global civilization - population will continue to increase.  Some countries, however, may become destabilized having to manage too large a number of foreign or internal refugees.

The resulting economic pressures will further drive resource-localization, energy decentralization, and systemic efficiency, causing some areas to lose economic viability while others gain it.  With the dampening of high-mass global trade in favor of local resource-utilization, this will spawn the kernel of something I call General Technology (GT) - the ability to sustain a prosperous local economy given an arbitrary set of resources above an absolute minimum.  

In other words, rather than buying a product from abroad, or buying resources from abroad to build the product, you find a way to use the resources you have to build what you want.  GT will not be realized in the coming century, but its economic basis will likely occur in that time period due both to localization and Spore influence from space-based activities (see: In-Situ Resource Utilization).  

A key component of rigorous GT is the ability to practically break down or manufacture atomic elements, which requires practical fusion energy - something I do not think will be achieved in this century.  I do think working fusion reactors that release more energy than they consume will be achieved, but are likely to remain uneconomical within the 100-year timeframe: They will likely cost more to build and maintain than the value of the energy they generate, and will not remotely have been evolved to the point of being used as efficient elemental-recyclers.  So energy-generating fusion will exist in successful pilot projects, but not as part of the economy.

Fusion Target Chamber

In lieu of fusion-based GT, the aforementioned pressures will yield iteratively greater focus on desalinized seawater as the basis of humanity's water supply, and large-scale water pipelines will be constructed to distribute it inland from coasts.  This will initially serve to mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture, although food and water shocks are still likely to occur with the potential for starvation and dehydration in affected areas.  But eventually the water distribution system will become scaled and efficient enough that it will substantially increase agricultural output and climate-robustness.  In particular, I would expect to see these systems have the most radical impact in Australia, the Middle East, and California, but they are likely to become widespread everywhere that rainfall is not abundant.

Australian Water Pipeline

As you may already be aware, renewable energy is not 100% free of pollution: It emits heat that further drives global warming.  One unfortunate result of global adoption of solar energy will be that the albedo (i.e., reflectivity) of the Earth will change: Some of the energy that would have been reflected back into space is instead absorbed, utilized for electricity, and emitted as infrared radiation that the atmosphere traps.  The fact that glaciers and snowpacks are disappearing - highly reflective, white surfaces - only exacerbates the effect.  

Fortunately the solution is straightforward, and much easier to implement than renewable energy: Replace and exceed the lost reflectivity.  In other words, complement solar panels in one area with mirrors in another so that the Earth is not taking in net energy - i.e., no longer warming.  Reflective surfaces would probably have to be much larger than the total solar-harvesting area in order to counter past warming and reverse course, but it can be done.  Given its simplicity, I strongly suspect the process of reversing global warming through albedo-manipulation will be begun in the coming century, although it will take considerably longer to achieve its objectives.

Sun Glare on Ice

As for Spore, the initial movement into space will not be based on energy: Although it's abundant in the inner solar system, it will still be much cheaper to build more solar capacity on the terrestrial surface than to construct space-based solar arrays.  Thus the destinations and structure of spaceward expansion will not depend on energy, but on the two secondary requirements: Water and raw materials.  

There aren't much of either accessible inside the solar orbit of Earth, so the first iteration of Spore will expand away from the Sun - i.e., its destinations outside of the Earth-Moon system (which I expect to be teeming by 2110) will overwhelmingly be Mars and asteroids.  The Sun is still powerful enough at these locations for solar energy to be practical, but the environment is cold enough to accumulate volatiles (i.e., water ice) that can be used not only for water itself, but to generate rocket fuel.

Inner Solar System  

While I do expect initial settlements on the Moon to precede Mars exploration, the first major expansions on both will proceed simultaneously due to the VASIMR rocket engine - an ion propulsion system that could reduce transit time to Mars from 6 months to 6 weeks.  A scaled prototype is scheduled to fly on the International Space Station as a thruster, but the firm developing it - Ad Astra Rocket Company - has planned for the Mars application from the beginning.  It will likely take several decades to scale the technology for crewed applications and develop a sufficient power source (e.g., a weightless nuclear reactor), but since the time-scale of this entry is 100 years, I am positing that VASIMR will be operational and in widescale use.  

Because of how VASIMR functions, it reduces the time to Mars by a much larger factor than it reduces time to the Moon, so in essence it will serve an equalizing function for the two destinations.  Still, I do expect colonization of the Moon to be much more rapid in the inclusive time period than Mars, since it's so much easier to get there - and especially so much easier to get back, which is critical for any sort of business enterprise that depends on returning material to Earth.  VASIMR will also make visits to the Main Asteroid Belt feasible, although obviously a more lengthy and involved trip than Mars.  I will not speculate on the exact course of exploration and settlement on asteroids in this century, because we know too little about them and their potential.  

There are some enthusiasts of the space elevator concept who believe that it will only be a matter of decades before we can achieve it, but I am skeptical.  Even when materials science produces the carbon nanotubes needed to meet the strength requirements of a space elevator in sufficient volume and quality to theoretically build one, it will still be decades more before we know how to build one, and decades more still before we actually do - and even then it will be a small prototype that likely fails, serving only to educate people about the extreme complexities involved.  Space elevators are inevitable, but they will not be implemented in this century.

However, I can say that the radical increase in material strength due to the advent of such things as carbon nanotubes, graphenes, and other nanomaterials likely means that our cities are going to get A LOT taller over the next century.  Particularly the carbon-based nanomaterials will, I think, ultimately be cheaper and more energy-efficient to produce in bulk than steel, in which case the cost of building skyscrapers will fall through the floor as substantially as their height and safety increase.  We probably will not see a space elevator, but I don't think 5-kilometer buildings are out of the question over this time scale - the world's current tallest building is 0.8 kilometers.  This is also not an essential prediction, just something I think will happen.

In summation, the coming century will be the transitional period marking the end of the Root/Spore cycle that began with the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and will give birth to a new Root - global civilization marked by local resource utilization and PV solar energy - and new Spore - initial settlement of the solar system region between Earth and the Main Asteroid Belt, primarily involving the Moon and Mars.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 05:39 PM PDT.

Poll

These predictions for the next century are...

25%17 votes
27%19 votes
38%26 votes
4%3 votes
4%3 votes

| 68 votes | Vote | Results

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

    •  Post a second tip jar--the first one ran out! /nt (2+ / 0-)

      Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
      I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
      -Spike Milligan

      by polecat on Fri Jun 18, 2010 at 09:00:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wonderful Diary. So sorry I missed... (0+ / 0-)

      ...the Rec Window.

      I mostly agree with your thoughts, excepting on VASMIR.  My suspicion is that mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion is likely to overtake VASMIR in the short-term, at least for unmanned vehicles.  And that development could lead to manned implementations.  It's awful cheap...

      Other than that, I'd probably count on a couple of major disasters in the next hundred years: world-changing events.  Wars, nukes, environmental (although you did mention that).  Also, more than a couple of game-changing scientific breakthroughs: maybe not on the order of indoor plumbing, but close.  I'm not sure how one would factor that stuff in - but it bears thinking about.

      By the way, I note you had nothing to say about The Singularity.  It's a possibility.

      It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

      by Jaime Frontero on Fri Jun 18, 2010 at 11:03:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And yet notice (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        polecat

        that in my poll, most people still thought I was being overly optimistic.  What I'm doing here is establishing a baseline future that smoothes out both apocalypses and radical breakthroughs, because I think they're mostly only relevant in the short-term.  Notice how, despite the Apollo program, humanity's progress in space is still proceeding along the incremental lines originally envisioned prior to the Space Race?  And despite Moore's Law, actual machine intelligence is still proceeding only linearly.

        With respect to Dark Ages, they are always temporary and lead to civilizations that exceed the one that collapsed.  The Black Plague wiped out a third of Europe, and yet the Italian Renaissance was in full swing not much more than a century later.

        So while it's true these extremes are highly relevant over decades and centuries, each part of this series is an order of magnitude larger in time than the one before it.  Ultimately, the collapses and leaps smooth out into a general pattern that involves climbing energy sources.  In order to have conservative assumptions, I will not consider new physics, but the predictions I derive from what is already known will be sufficiently astounding.

        Goonies never say die.

        by Troubadour on Sun Jun 20, 2010 at 03:56:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Interesting, if a tad optimistic IMHO. Thnks, em (0+ / 0-)

      "So, Pal, now tell me: What did YOU do to help the least among your people?" "Well, ummm, Mr. God, Sir..."

      by lurkersince03 on Sat Jun 19, 2010 at 08:25:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh ye of little faith, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    if there is money to be made, humans will figure out how to do it. Never underestimate the hairless monkey, we always find a way.   :)

    "No man deserves to be praised for his goodness unless he has strength of character to be wicked." La Rochefoucald

    by Void Indigo on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 05:53:39 PM PDT

  •  thx for the exposition, consideration of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kalmoth, Troubadour, Dragon5616

    timescale, and integration of themes.

    Also, wanted to let you know I appreciated your Wedge issues diary. See my cmt here.

    ambiguity is okay--if you know what I mean

    by dorkenergy on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 06:38:30 PM PDT

  •  T&R Why does one of those pictures remind (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Dragon5616

    me of the Matrix where all the bodies were kept?

    Seriously, tremendous amount of work here.  Thank you.

    Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. Henry David Thoreau

    by Sydserious on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 06:47:26 PM PDT

  •  A potpourri response (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    Of course, there's also the chance we may develop the science for reversing greenhouse gases and maybe even convert them into something useful.

    We'll have the materials to build taller, but as that blocks out more sun for others, building codes may limit building heights (perhaps force us underground for more space and energy for a burgeoning population.

    We're going to have to solve our fresh water needs - and soon. Certainly sooner than we can retrieve it from other bodies in our solar system.
    Within the next few decades, water is likely to become a more valuable commodity than oil or gold.  Strife between countries, even between States, has already begun over water issues.

    Unless we stop polluting our atmosphere and killing our rain forests and marshes, another natural commodity likely to be in short supply is oxygen. In a million years we could probably evolve into methane breathing creatures, but I don't think we have the luxury of waiting that long.

    Just an unscientific guess - that despite (or because of) our population boom and lack of political resolve to solve our most serious and immediate survival challenges, humans have already entered an irreversible cycle toward extinction.

    •  We may indeed reverse greenhouse gases (5+ / 0-)

      or find uses for them - the specifics of that are non-essential to the long-term model.  I'm just offering the most conservative possible predictions.  The easiest solution to global warming is albedo manipulation - just build mirrors in areas that aren't used for solar power, create highly reflective surface area, etc.  Won't matter what the greenhouse gas mixture is if you're throwing more of the energy from the Sun back into space in wavelengths that aren't trapped by the gases.

      I don't think the issue of building heights will cause height limits - I just think it will result in height-adaptable solar canopies over the city core.  The pressure to go up will be enormous when the nanomaterials revolution radically reduces the marginal cost of additional height.  In some areas it may actually end up being cheaper to live in a skyscraper than a suburban house.

      Fresh water needs can be met through renewably-powered desalination of seawater and pipeline transportation.  The technology will progress in tandem with renewable energy, and if things get really tough too quickly, we always have the backup option of nuclear power to drive the pumping infrastructure.  Market forces will help rather than hinder, because if fresh water becomes too scarce its price will increase and make desal more competitive - this will be in addition to whatever forward-thinking government policies incentivize it.  If water ever becomes as expensive as gold, it won't stay that way very long - they'll build the coastal infrastructure like mad.

      I haven't seen much scientific concern about oxygen replenishment relative to climate change, so I doubt that's a concern within the 100-year time horizon.  With abundant solar energy - never mind fusion - you can manufacture oxygen out of water without needing organic photosynthesis.  We should still preserve ecosystems, but the threat you envision is unlikely.

      Human extinction is one of the most unlikely things you can imagine.  Trust me.  A Dark Age is a serious possibility (though not a majority probability), but Dark Ages are temporary.  Humanity is almost as versatile as life itself.

      Goonies never say die.

      by Troubadour on Fri Jun 18, 2010 at 09:40:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You give me some hope (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        polecat, cumberland sibyl, ozsea1

        Thanks.
        I could use it this week.
        I'll happily settle for another Dark Age over extinction.

        I suppose my core fear revolves around the tendency of today's would-be corporate innovators to react to short-term stock market fluctuations rather than the need for long-term R&D.

        Perhaps a Neo-Dark Age is the only way out of that pattern. It wouldn't be the first time that desperate necessity became the mother of invention and contributed to our salvation as a species, but it's not a good omen for the next few generations.

        I've bookmarked your diary - and if your predictions fall short over time, I will throw it in your face in another Millennium or two.

        In the meantime, thanks for your excellent, well-presented diary.

        W

  •  I think your timetable for PV is too soon... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Judgment at Nuremberg

    Much more likely that fission (uranium and thorium) will rein the roost in the intermediate future.

    Also, I would anticipate a heat-engine/PV stack as a viable compromise -- the heat engine pulls heat out of the PV panels (and is able to generate SOME energy) while at the same time making the PV panels more efficient.

    We already see something like this in Southern CA and NV where people put their PV panels on top of solar water heaters -- in this case the water heater is also a PV cooler.

    But the environmental costs of PV are rather large -- sure, we get to move the pollution to China when we buy PV, and at the same time the costs of thermal solar are high because they need a fair amount of water.

    I think the advantages of fulltime power output from fission will keep it in place until fusion finally rolls around.  Sure PV Solar will have a peak-load/peak-generation impact, but I seriously doubt it will be the future.

    Sorry to disagree with you.  This is a brilliant piece of writing.

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    -Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Jun 18, 2010 at 08:59:36 PM PDT

    •  My doubts about fission are based on (0+ / 0-)

      the scarcity of fissionables, the high upfront cost of construction, the slow cycle of innovation, and the high cost of securely storing waste.  There may be a considerable fission infrastructure remaining at the end of the century, but I doubt it.  I think PV will have advanced to the point that nothing non-renewable is economically competitive with it.

      Goonies never say die.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 20, 2010 at 04:05:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Correction (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Judgment at Nuremberg

    One of the least successful of human endeavors is predicting the future of science.

    “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
    ---Western Union internal memo, 1876.

    "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
    ---H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”.
    ---Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

    “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home”.
    ---Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977

    This diary goes here: _______________________________________

    Illegal Alien: Term used by the descendents of foreign colonizers to refer to the descendents of indigenous people

    by mojada on Sat Jun 19, 2010 at 12:20:57 AM PDT

    •  A good argument against naysaying (0+ / 0-)

      but that's hardly the point.  If the future is more advanced than I imagine, then all the better.  In fact, you make my point for me: My predictions are conservative.  You'll understand just how awesome that fact is in subsequent entries.

      Goonies never say die.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 20, 2010 at 04:07:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your title is very poetic (0+ / 0-)

    I quietly shed a tear when I think about how much time has already passed. So many generations have lived here and gone. So much sadness. When will it end?

  •  A fascinating treatise (0+ / 0-)

    But I think part of the importance of recognizing the root/spore cycle as fractal is realizing that it is impossible to really know where you are in the cycle while you're in it.  This might be what is pushing your perspective off: most of what you talk about will not be an issue for millenia, let alone decades.

    I'm afraid that, though knowledgeable, your view is mostly just one of arrogance.  Framed as an optimistic, idealistic, perhaps even naive wish for the future, it is quite good.  As a contemplation of the practical realities of the present it topples over into silly.  But thanks for trying.

    "...if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation" - Rep. Grayson

    by the tmax on Sat Jun 19, 2010 at 02:02:34 PM PDT

  •  this is fun (0+ / 0-)

    Fusion energy is a fools errand.  (By definition) there is not enough energy in fusion (or fission) energy to contain itself.  It just another incarnation of the perpetual motion machine.

    Fusion can (and is) only contained by one thing.  Gravity.  Simulating it means you have lost the reason why fusion is so sexy in the first place.  The only way fusion can be exothermic is to take control of gravity.  If we manage that, fusion will be the last thing on our mind.

    You are also wrong about space colonisation.  We will move into space big time, but it wont be us going.  It has to be robots, and eventually avatars, but they wont be as pretty as John Camerons'.  

    Space is way too big, and way too full of bullets, and we are way too close to a cosmic furnace.  Apollo spoiled us, but we will soon learn the true hard odds of space. Just ask the recent mars projects.  Plenty of them disappeared, and plenty of future manned projects will disappear too.  There wont even be any pictures.  Mankind will get spooked off manned space travel pretty quick.  Becuase its dumb.  At least we will always have Neil and Buzz.

    Atoms and photons have given us everything they can already, their further secrets are hidden in  extreme environments we just cant explore very well.

    Future shock comes from biology.  These are scales and pressures and tempuratures we know, and we will not keep our little monkey fingers off it.  

    We need robots.  We need tele-presence.  We need avatars.  We need to harness the solar system, and plug leaks a few thousand yards under the sea.  We need to farm mirrors and glass, and build 5km high buidings.

    We also need a new "heat engine".  We are very good at wheels and bearings, but nature knew Newton's laws waay before he was born.

    So we will patch together some meat and put bolts on their necks and ship them off to Jupiter to farm electricity, and only 25% will come back.

     

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site