30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do people want cold clear snow or wet mushy slush?
In many ways this book reminds me of 'Popular Mechanix' magazine; filled with dazzling technological innovations of the future which are practical, inevitable, feasible and yet rarely happen.
Consider the internal combustion engine; invented in the 1870s, it took 40 years to develop the "horseless carriage" which, a century later, depends on the same basic...
Published on October 17, 2010 by Theodore A. Rushton
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hurricanes, droughts, and a very warm planet
Laurence Smith, a geology professor at UCLA, decided to make a “Thought experiment”, and try to picture our planet a few decades from now (obviously, not an original idea). However at the beginning of the book, he states that an important condition of his experiment is the lack of “Silver Bullets”, i.e. miracle technologies that bring cheap clean...
Published 20 days ago by Jorge F. M
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do people want cold clear snow or wet mushy slush?,
This review is from: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Hardcover)In many ways this book reminds me of 'Popular Mechanix' magazine; filled with dazzling technological innovations of the future which are practical, inevitable, feasible and yet rarely happen.
Consider the internal combustion engine; invented in the 1870s, it took 40 years to develop the "horseless carriage" which, a century later, depends on the same basic engines. In the 1930s, the aviation industry learned how to move people in an aluminum tube with wings, much as railroads move people and goods in long metal boxes; the basic ideas are still used despite decades of 'Popular Mechanix' suggestions. In the 1960s, I attended seminars on computerized word processing; the advances since are due more to Moore's Law than to new concepts.
That said, Smith is far better than any 'Popular Mechanix' feature. But, he seems to leap too far too fast; human progress is incremental rather than any Great Leap Forward. Granted, I can endorse and encourage almost every element of this book; but, I have the nagging feeling a viable energy future may involve growing algae in the deserts instead of wearing mukluks in the snow.
Having lived just south of James Bay, where temperatures do drop to - 50 F degrees, I fully sympathize with the attraction of the far north. A century ago, Robert W. Service and Jack London wrote incomparable stories about arctic life. Yet, given the choice between wet mushy slush and pure driven icy snow, more Canadians prefer Toronto than the elegantly designed town of Kapuskasing, built by 'The New York Times.'
Fortunately, Smith cites the environmentalist's nightmare of the Athabasca Tar Sands, which is somewhat analogous to the coal-powered Four Corners Generating Station. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered an upgrade of pollution controls at the plant, because the plant creates as much pollution as found in the air in Phoenix. Someday, Canadians may become equally sensitive to remote regions which produce energy for far distant consumers.
In brief, this is a dynamic book about a bright future that could change the industrial world. The Arctic is one area where it might happen, perhaps even the most feasible. Smith shows the potential, if governments have the imagination to make it happen.
But then ... he didn't foresee the rise of the Tea Party movement and its desire to reduce government and get it out of economic development. The challenges ahead may be less than learning how to live in -50 F degree weather than in learning how to live with people who say "No!"
46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ten Things You Should Know About The World in 2050,
This review is from: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Hardcover)First - It will surprise you. Some of it is ground that's been covered, but it's put together in a fresh and useful way. It's like being told a great story by an old friend.
Second - Dr. Smith exhibits a sly sense of humor often missing in serious compilations of facts and figures. It creeps up on you slowly, gives you a couple of moments where you will actually laugh out loud, and then maintains a consistent twinkle. He does it without trying, which gives you the impression he can be trusted. His sense of humor accepts that some ludicrous things come to pass, and some things we think of as inevitable, never come close to happening.
Third - Viewing grain as water transfer. Enlightening.
Fourth - Considering the relationship between water and oil. Pretty damn enthralling, if you let it sink in.
Fifth - If you think about these ideas long enough, you will start to consider armageddony things. Yet the book will make you feel surprisingly optimistic.
Sixth - While this book just skims the surface, the ideas in it run the gamut of Yergin's "The Prize." This book could serve as an introduction to "The Prize: Part II." You can see the potential in the future of this story.
Seven - Dr. Smith does not assume technology will save us. Which is refreshing, and necessary. There is a strong feeling of realism in his account.
Eight - The book will spark your imagination more than Disney Land. It will help you fall in love with the North.
Nine - It will make you want to learn Norwegian.
Ten - You will be happy you hit the - Add to Cart - button.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go North young man!,
This review is from: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Hardcover)The author is a UCLA geography professor. His specialty is the geophysical impacts of climate change. And, he is a scientist member of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). His original intent when writing this book was to study such climate change impact at high Northern latitude. As he engaged into this investigation, his study became multi-dimensional as he realized there were many demographic, economic, and political issues worth studying. Thus, his resulting book addresses far more than climate change.
The author derives that our future is driven by two dominant forces: demographic growth and economic growth. Both will push upward our consumption of natural resources. And, this growth in resource consumption will butt against the constraints of resources availability.
Our demographic growth appears predictable. Relying on relevant data, the author anticipates by 2050 the World population will increase by 31% or from 7 billion currently to 9.2 billion. However, the urban component will nearly double from 3.5 to 6.4 billion. While the rural population will shrink from 3.5 to 2.8 billion. Population growth will be unevenly distributed and mainly concentrated in Third World countries. Many Third world cities will become gigantic. And, many of them will become unsustainable, chaotic, violent slums they already are today (example: Lagos in Nigeria projected to hold 16 million by 2025). Others may emerge as the next Singapore or Hong Kong.
Another predictable pattern is that the entire world is aging. Nations will incur rising dependency ratios with more retirees per actively employed individuals. This will strain fiscal solvency due to rising entitlement costs worldwide.
Economic growth is a huge multiplier of demographic growth in terms of resource consumption. The author mentions that if the entire developing world living standard rose to the West level material consumption would skyrocket. Let's say the US, EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore combined have a population of 900 million. And, that the average living standard of those countries is 10 x greater than the remainder of the World (6.1 billion). If the remainder of the World catches up to the developed group, it would cause overall material consumption to increase by 4.6 times! Where would all the oil, water, food, metals come from to support such a worldwide high living standard?
That's where resource constraints kick in. He uses an interesting metric to capture that: Reserves of a given resources divided by yearly production or the R/P life index. For instance, oil has an R/P of only 42 years. That's why there is all the fuzz about Peak Oil. But, other critical resources have far shorter R/Ps. Those include many elements that are key to manufacturing our hi tech electronics (batteries, computers, screens, TVs, etc...). They include lead (R/P 22), nickel (21), silver (14), and indium only 8 years. Thus, how are we going to produce all our hi tech gear 40 years from now for a potentially far larger customer base?
The author indicates that this demographic & economic growth multiplier is a far stronger causal agent on our future than even climate change alone. That's even though the mentioned multiplier is also a cause of climate change.
Regarding resources constraints, the author pays special attention to: water. That's because the majority of the population growth will occur in developing countries who are already water stressed. They will be even more so in 2050. They will depend even more than currently on food imports for survival.
Water is not only essential for life on Earth, it is also essential for supporting energy production and industrial manufacturing. Without it, civilization grinds to a halt. This is why the author became extremely interested in the Northern latitudes (north of 45 degree).
The Northern Rim Countries (NORCs) include Northern Canada and US (Alaska), Norway, Sweden, Finland, part of Denmark, and much of Russia. This region has a very promising future on several counts. First, it will strongly benefit from climate change as the region is expected to warm substantially. The NORCs are anticipated to experience much sustainable population growth, economic development, and agricultural expansion. The NORCs also benefit from a ton of water resources that will soon be the next oil (the author calls it Blue Oil). It is likely that it will export water transfers down south through two means: one being export of foods (that the author calls virtual water trade) and the other through actual water projects (aqueducts, pipeline) as the US has already extensively developed throughout the West. Such projects linking Northern Canada to Southern Canada and the US are likely.
The NORCs have much more than water going for them. The area has huge unexploited oil reserves (Canada tar sands and Alaska North Slope) and natural gas reserves (Russia). And, the NORCs have much more than resources going for them. Those countries have economies that are very well integrated within our trading system. And, except for Russia, they are peaceful and provide much political freedom.
The NORCs represent a formidable economic region. Its GDP at $7 trillion (as defined on page 253) is half the US or the EU. It is 43% of the BRICs. And, although it is not a trading block like the EU, the NORCs have far more in common than the BRICs (that are either indifferent or antagonistic towards one another). It has also more in common than many European countries.
The NORCs (except for Russia) have empowered their respective aborigines populations through various land claims, mineral rights, treaties, and even independence (Greenland vs Denmark). See interesting map on page 212. Thus, as NORCs develop the local populations will strongly benefit. This is why for instance in Alaska, the natives are very much in favor of oil and gas exploration. The author makes a convincing case that such economic empowerment is far more enlightened than Russia's hypocritical effort to maintain their traditional way of life. That means enslaving them to a dire poverty while forbiding them from reaping any economic benefits from the land they live on.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Smith goes to the arctic,
A notable departure from the Al Gore approach in "Inconvenient Truth", Mr Smith writes a very believable account of what we should expect in a couple generations. There will be changes, sea levels will rise, the polar ice cap will likely be ice free in the summers, etc. However, The World in 2050 does not spell gloom, despair and agony on we. Accompanying these changes will be new opportunities for energy exploration, new shipping routes, a rise of new energy/commerce centers in the far north. There will also be infrastructure/engineering challenges as permafrost becomes less perma, and water challenges in many of today's major population centers which will require trade in water - virtual and real - which has already started, but will become more imperative.
Mr Smith tells the story of how the Northern countries - Canada, US (largely via Alaska), Nordics, Russia - are positioning themselves for the outcomes of these changes. He also paints a surprisingly optimistic picture that cooperation on these matters has been, is, and is expected to continue to be quite good.
The conservative assumptions reflect a truism that people don't change their behavior until they recognize the need to; the conclusions show that we will have to; the reflection on what governments and businesses are doing today show that the preparation is underway, at least in some respects.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful vision of the future,
An excerpt was published in the Wall Street Journal: [...]
Also, something recent in the LA Times: [...]
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get their head out of the economic recession and start thinking about the future beyond our immediate circumstances.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tense yet oddly hopeful,
This review is from: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Paperback)In projecting the future, Smith uses a bold and brilliant approach. He identifies four big trends and extrapolates incremental changes from today's most reasonable models to forecast what the world will look like tomorrow. We will move to cities. Work and trade will be more globalized. Competition for natural resources will be fierce. And things will be a lot hotter. The thawing of the North will make resource extraction easier and turn Pole hugging countries into political and economic powerhouses. Smith also applies the incremental but progressive model to technology, thereby avoiding the overt optimism of Jeremy Rifkin's decentralized and green power grid presented in the Third Industrial Revolution as well as flying cars and space colonization.
A couple reviews take Smith to task for not being normative. One even misreads the book, viewing it as a call for exploration and exploitation that fails to be sustainable. This misses the point. Smith's thought experiment is not about what should happen but what is likely to happen. It may be that innovation in solar power and a massive government-subsidized push for panel construction eliminates our need for fossil fuels. It may be that governments come together on a Manhattan project for carbon capture to reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. But those radical technological and political changes are not currently apparent. And without them, humans are going to keep on eating meat, squeezing oil from shale, moving to cities, and burning natural gas to boil water.
This does not mean the book is perfect. Smith's extrapolations avoid the negative. They barely scratch the surface of crop failures, the increased ferocity of hurricanes, water stress, population dislocation from rising sea levels, and all the violent conflicts, starvation, and disease likely to come with all this. Without vertical farms, biogas, self-powered buildings, and fishing treaties that actually work, large parts of the world - perhaps the world itself - are Easter Islands waiting to collapse a la Jared Diamond (who endorsed the book). Although scarcity and environmental destruction are clear themes underscoring the entire book, Smith does not go far enough in saying what it will mean when 50 million Bangladeshi have no place to live and nothing to eat. Yes his focus is on how the North will change. But he knows how to find and use the numbers. And he should have done a chapter on the "rest of the world" for the sake of completeness.
Still, even if lots of death had been in it, the book would have likely had a hopeful feel. It is clear we are ruining our world and that the current pace of exploitation and the burning of fossil fuels must end. But based on Smith's extremely well presented and argued projections, we may still have time to do something about it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight, detail, but too limited scope,
This review is from: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Kindle Edition)I'll start off with the positives right up front, because I think the author, Laurence C Smith, deserves it. He has written a wonderful book, chock full of great information and insights, about a hugely complicated subject and with a difficult task and did an amazing job breaking it down and into a useful form. I love the fact that he is very measured in his predictions even though I'm sure if you're looking for a pie in the sky, gee-whiz, futurist vision, you'll be disappointed. He doesn't rely on or try to predict the black swans or easy answers to arrive at his main predictions. He does look at some of the larger out-of-tolerance scenarios at the end though which is refreshing and shows the scope of his thinking. Some books I've read such as the Next 100 Years try to do way too much and try to be too cool, thus eliminating their usefulness. Mr Smith is very realistic in his approach and what he bases his predictions on. The world doesn't make such leaps as our imagination can handle like flying cars and crazy technology but moves at a logical pace; when disruptive tech does arrive, the world and society are a very large ship to turn. Mr Smith realizes this. I learned a lot from what he sees in demography and as other reviewers have noted, things like grain as water transfer and the relationship of water to, well, everything. I also love how he is a true scientist and can be critical of his own results and conclusions and is a big factor when I read things like this.
Now here is the negative part, though negative is too strong of a word. This would be more aptly titled "The North in 2050," as the northern states such as the NORC countries are the primary focus of the book and his predictions. He sets up global forces such as demography, climate change, resources, and globalization (the push) and combines them with what is happening in the north (the pull) to predict how we will transition north. I believe all his predictions are fairly accurate as I mention above and I strongly believe this kind of specialization is needed in predictions... now it just needs to be combined with the rest of the world. I can completely understand why he takes this tack, as the Northern latitudes are his academic baby, so it is what he sees in the world and sees it as the most important. Luckily, his insight and passion (combined with his wit and writing style) add greatly to our knowledge and understanding. It just means that the book doesn't accomplish the breadth it advertises though it benefits from its depth.
Overall, you WILL learn something (or really a lot of something) from this book and appreciate the work he has put in. It adds to the discussion in a realistic and logical manner and breaks down a complicated subject. It will open your eyes to the north and get you thinking. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the future, the north, or just for a good academic read about where our world could be headed. Well done Mr. Smith!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Wait,
This review is from: New North: The World in 2050 (Hardcover)I first ran across the work of Laurence Smith in late 2007 when he did a short piece on edge.org that does not seem to be there anymore. It nevertheless acquired my attention in such a way that I got in touch with Dr. Smith and periodically checked on the progress of the book until it came out. It has been a while since I got such value for my book buying buck. This is a worthy addition to the literature on a problem of truly global proportions.
About the only folks that might want to avoid this book would be "climate change skeptics" that hold that position for ideological rather than rational reasons. Not that it would change their positions, but it would surely make their positions less comfortable. Anyone else convinced that climate change is real and happening or even with an open mind will find it fascinating reading.
Bravo, Dr. Smith, I can't wait to see what you do next.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic overview,
This review is from: New North: The World in 2050 (Hardcover)This book is a timely reminder of the changes taking place in the Arctic, and the possible impacts. One would expect the book to be either pro or con global warming but that is certainly not the case. The author has great respect for scientific methods and is not trying to convince the reader of A TRUTH.
The four forces that the book focuses on are explained in a very understandable way. This is a book for anyone, not just experts, and reads like a novel to those interested in the Arctic.
This book is a must for those who want to have some idea what the future will hold, if current trends continue.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting New Ideas - Enjoyable Reading,
In the discussion of global warming, I've not seen much mention of this impact -- only on the fate of the polar bear, not on the speeded development of the North. The author considers changes that might occur for land development and particularly for the aboriginal populations in the North. Maps and photos add to the understandability of the text. I was able to find on his maps the places that the author mentions in his text -- such a rarity among books! And the footnotes were presented at the end in one continuous sequence so that I didn't have to keep finding the chapter to which the footnote belonged -- thank you, Professor Smith! This was a good read about a subject I knew almost nothing about.
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The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future by Laurence C. Smith (Hardcover - September 23, 2010)