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The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future Hardcover – September 23, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Smith, a UCLA geography professor, explores megatrends through computer model projections to describe "with reasonable scientific credibility, what our world might look like in forty years' time, should things continue as they are now." Laying out "ground rules" for himself--including an assumption of incremental advances rather than big technology breakthroughs and no accounting for "hidden genies" such as a decades-long depression or meteorite impact--he identifies four global forces likely to determine our future: human population growth and migration; growing demand for control over such natural resource "services" as photosynthesis and bee pollination; globalization; and climate change. He sees the "New North" as "something like America in 1803, just after the Louisiana Purchase... harsh, dangerous, and ecologically fragile." Aside from his observations of "a profound return of autonomy and dignity to many aboriginal people" through increasing political power and integration into the global economy, Smith's predictions, limited by his conservative rules, are far from earthshaking, and suspending his rules for a chapter, he admits that "the physics of sliding glaciers and ice sheet collapses" as well as melting permafrost methane release are beyond current models, and that even globalization could reverse, with "political genies even harder to anticipate than permafrost ones."
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From Booklist

How will civilization change over the next 40 years if humanity balloons to nine billion, sea level rises by a foot and atmospheric temperature by several degrees, and globalization continues apace? From those assumptions, Smith, a university-employed geophysicist, posits answers with a focus on the Arctic Ocean and its coastline. Familiar with the Far North through scientific field trips, Smith embeds personal observations into his predictions about the effects of boreal warming. Becoming more accessible to ships, Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska, and Canada will experience a raw-materials bonanza, with oil, natural gas, minerals, and water resources likely to be exploited as permafrost melts and summer sea ice recedes. Festooned with data, his discussions of such prospects valuably avoid either environmental or industrial advocacy and lay a factual foundation for his readers to learn how demographic and economic trends in the world’s southerly population belts might influence development of the Arctic. Concluding with a half-dozen events that could upset his forecast, Smith exhibits trend-spotting skill in this readable account of the Arctic frontier. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (September 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525951814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951810
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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