Global political and economic systems are in a period of immense transition
As the final decades of the 21st century unfold, humanity faces a crisis unparalleled in its history. Where previously had been resource scarcity, climate change has taken centre stage as the most immediate threat to world peace.* Natural and human systems alike face the prospect of permanent collapse. Of the nine planetary boundaries, three – biodiversity, climate change and nitrogen levels – had already been passed by the year 2000.* Now humanity has shot past its limit on land use, freshwater and ocean acidification, as well.* Population, having reached a peak in the 2050s, is now going into decline as millions perish due to war, starvation and environmental disasters. New and terrifying threats have also emerged, such as nanotechnology terrorism.** The global economy, already undergoing rapid change, has entered a period of intense disruption, with traditional free market capitalism beset with problems it is structurally incapable of addressing.* Corporations which have operated for many decades seem to disappear overnight, unable to adapt. So too will governments have to change, as increasingly angry and frightened citizens pile pressure on world leaders to either adjust or step down. Every organisation and institution survives or falls according to its response to this crisis. By 2100, the world will be unrecognisable compared to its earlier status. Political, economic, social, technological and environmental change will have hit so swiftly that these four decades will appear unlike any other period in history.
Much of the world in the 2060s has moved into a rapidly degrading geopolitical situation. Driving this crisis is the seemingly unending stream of climate refugees attempting to cross national borders.** Throughout this period, increasing numbers of equatorial countries are reclassified as failed states, with collapsed governments and directionless populations. Civil war is becoming common in many regions as a result.** For many of the countries adjacent to these equatorial regions, this is leading to severe political and social strife, as desperate measures are introduced to either keep refugees out or try to adjust.* This is a particular problem between Europe and Africa. The Mediterranean has become highly militarised – with Italy, Spain and Greece especially hard hit, resulting in hardline, nationalistic governments coming to power. Many European countries are in political deadlock over food and water sharing. At the other end of Africa, the previously stable country of South Africa is being overrun by refugees from Botswana, which has been almost entirely consumed by desertification.*
Similar problems are proliferating in Asia as well. Bangladesh is slowly being emptied of its populace, with many fleeing to neighbouring India. The latter, however, is unable to support this surge. As a result, vast shantytowns have formed along the Bangladesh-India border, home to many millions of people. Lawless, overcrowded, and with disease epidemics spreading rapidly, this region has become one of the most dangerous in the world.* China too is facing a political crisis as divisions grow between coastal areas and the eastern plateaus. The country's population has fallen into steady decline as many people move northward to more stable climates.* Russia is now negotiating with Beijing to stem this tide of Chinese refugees, further dividing the region. Meanwhile, much of the Middle East has been reduced to a wasteland of anarchy, with only a few semi-stable countries remaining.*
North America has seen a dramatic shift in power. The United States and Canada have established a system whereby American citizens are employed temporarily in Canada – similar to the Mexican-American bracero program utilised over a century ago. This is due to both America's disastrous economic situation and Canada's ongoing rise* as a superpower. In any case, large numbers of Americans are moving to Canada permanently whether legal or not. This is creating a great deal of friction between the two countries. Canada's rise has prompted some to call for more aggressive action by the United States, possibly even war. Though not widely supported, the situation is exacerbated by growing violence originating in American enclaves throughout Canada.
At the southern border, the situation is much more pressing. A massive flow of immigrants from the Central American countries, but primarily Mexico, is entering the United States, radically shifting the demographics of southern states. This is encouraged to a certain extent, in response to the loss of American labour to Canada. However, the loss of jobs through mechanisation and the limited regional food production is now forcing American authorities to close off the flow of immigration, leaving a large population of Mexican Americans displaced. The fact that the majority of these people are stuck in the southwest only makes the situation worse. This area is now one of the most destitute in the country, with food and water rationing required almost permanently. Combined with often violent methods used to seal off the border, deep regional and cultural divides are erupting in the United States, the likes of which have not been seen since the Civil War.** American anti-immigration has grown in response, and by now has reached extreme levels. Previously confined to the more radical ends of the Republican Party, numerous off-shoots have sprung up, with new parties supporting extreme nationalistic and neo-fascist ideals. In light of the turmoil America is experiencing, some of these groups in recent elections have come closer to the presidency than any third party has before.
South America is in even worse shape. Though Brazil and Argentina have managed to retain a degree of stability, the mountainous northwestern countries are facing collapse through extreme drought. Some – like Peru and Bolivia – have degraded into a set of armed camps, each protecting their own respective water supply.** Because of geographic barriers, the vast majority of refugees move northward. However, endless droughts and civil wars found throughout Central America mean that only a small portion of these people actually make it to higher latitudes.*
Many of the islands in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean have been completely abandoned. Most of the survivors have moved to Australia.* Several new political organisations have formed out of the remaining island nations, attempting to get their voice heard on the world stage. On Papua New Guinea, shifting populations have led to hundreds of unique languages and cultures dying out.
Geopolitical power has seen a drastic restructuring on a global scale. With the United States focusing on its own internal problems, and China and India having stalled in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions, a new group of countries is emerging to take over. The most prominent are those few nations who have actually benefited from climate change – such as Canada, Russia, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries.** These nations are developing into relatively prosperous eco-technological societies, with some even able to accommodate significant numbers of incoming refugees. The United Kingdom,* New Zealand* and Japan* have managed to stabilise by cutting themselves off from the mainland completely and becoming self-sufficient.
In the harder-hit regions, countries that have been able to adapt have found themselves in new positions of power. Mexico, for example, has attained some degree of stability thanks to mass deployment of desalination technology and the use of salt-tolerant biofuels. This is largely thanks to American efforts in earlier decades to control and stabilise Latin America and, by extension, its southern border. Turkey is another example, having escaped the worst of peak oil relatively unscathed due to its large oil and natural gas reserves.* It is now a major regional power, sealing off its borders and hiding behind a shield of nuclear weapons. In many cases, countries have been split into both stable and chaotic regions. Examples of collapsed regions include southern Mexico, southern Italy, and northern India. As a result of all this change, and the collapse of many of their members, organisations such as the UN and NATO have either disappeared entirely, or lost all of their influence. New coalitions are forming based around the rapidly evolving power structure.
While geopolitics has evolved immensely, political practice is undergoing its own revolution. The children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers are now entirely in control of the political and economic systems, and it is obvious that neither system is functional. Being born in a rapidly degrading world, most of these new world leaders are openly acknowledging the failure of older methods, and are actively seeking a new path forward. The traditional growth economy – still clung to in the 2050s – is finally abandoned during this period, though the transition is long and difficult.** The emergence of the new regional powers to the north – for now seemingly immune to the worst effects of climate change – is creating a more cooperative international community in this part of the world. For the remainder of this century, the world enters into a vast mobilisation of green technology and geo-engineering in the face of disastrous climate change. In terms of scale and effort, it is greater than the industrial output seen during the World Wars, and involves an unprecedented degree of government intervention, in ways that would have been politically impossible in the past.* As the World Wars had proved, resistance to such action quickly evaporates in a life or death situation. Humanity from the 2060s onward is in survival mode.
The growth of AI and robotics – in parallel with bio- and nanotechnology – is offering some hope, making the crisis more manageable than it would otherwise have been.* Human-like AI, previously confined to more strategic and planning roles, is now shifting into more direct control of the world's governments and corporations. With vastly greater capacities for foresight and detail, while lacking human emotions or prejudices, these artificial beings prove an integral part of the adaptation effort.* As well as coordination, they are also used to develop new technologies and to model future climate patterns (along with their social/demographic effects) to ultra-high levels of accuracy. The soaring influence of AI causes public concern early on, many people still viewing such entities with suspicion. However, the more immediate threat of climate change soon overshadows this fear. The fact that humans are upgrading and merging in various ways with AI has made the average person more receptive to their existence than before. Indeed, global warming is offering a path towards wider acceptance of AI in general, now that they are needed in order to sustain civilisation. By the end of this century, their influence will have greatly surpassed humanity's.
Altogether, the new stock of politicians, the emergence of strong AI, the changing geopolitical map, and the sheer difficulty of overcoming the climate crisis, are mobilising whichever countries are able to do so to both address the immediate concerns of global warming and to fix the root underlying problems in the political and economic system. Generally, there are two responses over this period.* The first is the old economy trying to apply traditional mechanisms and assumptions in order to adapt some new form of capitalism to the world. This stance, taken mainly by the old corporate interests, and the more endangered governments, attempts to leverage existing political and market action to try and combat the looming threat of climate catastrophe. The second response is a more radical departure from traditional thinking, looking to reshape the basic fabric of society. This stance – taken by the younger generations, more dynamic corporations, relatively stable governments, and vast majority of AI programs – focuses on long term action and shifting to an entirely new type of economic paradigm.
The first proves to be the dominant response in the early years of this transition, as most countries do not have sufficient energy or resources to address both the immediate effects and underlying causes. Many still incorrectly believe that older economic models could continue if only they were decoupled from CO2 emissions. For now though, a government-regulated, World War II-scale industrial mobilisation proves the best at addressing such a rapidly growing problem in the short-term.* Efforts to address global warming had of course been pursued since the beginning of the century. These measures proved to be woefully inadequate. Now however, action is stepped up by an order of magnitude. Since human CO2 output has dropped to insignificant levels, work is now directed towards geo-engineering to reverse the damage done by emissions in earlier decades and centuries.*
The survival response to global warming is originally confined to the more stable countries, but quickly follows in almost every other country that can. Because of the huge time lag between deployment of clean energy and a slowdown in warming, the carbon itself must be addressed.** A variety of methods are used. Carbon sequestration, which began to get underway in the late 2020s, is now deployed on scales large enough to remove billions of tonnes of CO2 each year.* This is often done in conjunction with food production, offering a controlled supply of CO2 gas for plants.* In addition to removing carbon, some geoengineering techniques are undertaken that directly address the temperature rise, but not the CO2 level itself. The most common is painting roofs or large open spaces white, thereby reflecting more sunlight and lowering temperature (darker colours absorb more heat).
Other more radical methods are employed. One involves seeding marine stratocumulus clouds with water droplets or nanotechnology particles, making them more reflective to incoming light. Another emulates the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions through the deliberate release of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. This is so potent that a single kilogram has the potential to offset several hundred thousand kilograms of CO2.* These approaches caused much debate in earlier decades, due to unpredictability about effects on rainfall.* The science has since improved, however, while simulations provided by quantum computers have removed any lingering uncertainty over the best methods and locations to use.
Other problems are tackled. Ocean acidification is now wreaking havoc on marine environments, with potentially deadly results. The gradual disappearance of algae, for example, threatens a significant loss in oxygen production,* while fishing has become almost non-existent. One answer to this is the introduction of ground-up olivine rock into certain areas of the ocean, which binds to carbonic acid to form bicarbonate. This actually fertilises coral while reducing overall acidification.* Lime is also used in a similar way, on a large enough scale that it actually reverts some parts of the ocean into carbon sinks.* Along with natural means, artificial substances and synthetic organisms together with nanotech are utilised to even greater effect. Despite this, the sheer scale and speed of the problem means that it will be decades before humanity gains full control over the situation.
As the equatorial regions are gradually depopulated, the more stable northerly nations are moving in to develop land for renewable energy and carbon sequestration projects, as well as resource recovery. Farmland is also taken advantage of, though with controversy over whether doing so actually benefits the remaining local population.* Along with mining of asteroids and the Moon, fresh metal and mineral supplies are now becoming available on Earth, thanks to advances in nanotechnology which enable machines to perfectly separate each individual substance out of a rock sample. Phosphorus reserves, for example, are secure now, since even the abundant low quality sources can be mined. Recycling is expanded yet further during this period, reaching 100% in some countries,* once again thanks to nanotechnology. Entire cities, abandoned due to climate change, can in a sense be "recycled" via swarms of automated robots programmed to extract and process useful materials from decaying infrastructure. Landfill sites are particularly rich in this regard.* An additional factor in the easing of resource scarcity is, of course, the collapse in economic demand as the old "growth" paradigm finally grinds to a halt.**
As this effort continues, the second response to the disruption – which supports an entirely new and different kind of socio-economic system – begins to take hold.* Though it had a slower start than the more traditional approach, by the final decades of the 21st century this second view inevitably comes to dominate. The older model proves again and again unable to yield a sufficient long term solution, despite the ruling elite doing everything in its power to maintain the status quo. Many countries have to endure violent revolutions and periods of semi-anarchy before genuine progress is made, but a new zeitgeist begins to solidify, aided by the spread of information technology. Though not yet advanced enough to wholly reverse climate change, humanity is able to establish an equilibrium, preventing a worst case scenario and avoiding a collapse of civilisation. Meanwhile, the refugee problem eases during the 2080s, since most have either reached their destination or died trying. With those nations able to save themselves having already done so, and with few nations left to fail, the world enters into a kind of chaotic peace; humans confined to stable northern enclaves amid a ruined and devastated environment.
With this relative stability, the final transition unfolds. Efforts to assign blame for the catastrophe mark this period, with surviving corporate and political figures targeted by members of the younger generations. Most of the worst affected countries see the original industrial nations as the source of their misery. Those which have maintained a coherent government demand to be compensated. As debates rage over a permanent solution to future progress, many call for drastic reform of the global monetary system, or even the elimination of money itself. It is clear that the economy must be based on physical or human capital, rather than assumed value. GDP is gradually dropped as a measure of a nation's wealth, replaced by more genuine markers of human well-being and success. One such model adds life expectancy to overall life satisfaction and divides the result by the ecological footprint, giving an idea of the current generation's quality of life and its effect on the quality of their children's lives.* Artificial intelligence now takes on even more advanced roles – fully controlling the guidance of farming, mining, manufacturing and energy production in order to maximise efficiency and minimise environmental risks.*
The end result of the first response was a form of steady state economics* in the developed world. In light of material constraints and increasing automation, people were buying less, working less and paying less. The effects of this transition are now causing a shift in focus – away from materialism, to more altruistic concepts of family, community and creativity. This is undermining the older established view that money and individual success are vital for happiness.** People have more leisure time and consume far fewer resources. Technology is helping this trend in myriad ways. Virtual reality, for example, allows people to use goods and services that have little or no impact on the real world. Governments are beginning to establish limits on inequality, recognising the drain it has on society,** made clear by AI and quantum computers running simulations and forecasts in precise demographic detail. The basic necessities of life are becoming a shared commons. Crime, poverty and other social problems are gradually being reduced as a result.
The world is far from a utopia, of course. Global warming and sea levels remain a significant threat,* and progress does not occur at the same speed everywhere, or in the same way, due to the differing cultures around the world. There are still many challenges to overcome, but civilisation as a whole is proving more adaptable and innovative than it once was – thanks to the ongoing march of science, which is greatly expanding humanity's intellectual and educational base. This transition continues beyond 2100, culminating in a true model of sustainability.*
barriers are erected in New York
level rises and storm surges have begun to threaten even the business,
financial and cultural heart of America. By 2060, what used to be a
once-in-a-century type of flood is becoming a regular occurence.* This has led to the construction of sea walls, breakwaters and locks
to the south of Manhattan, including one very big lock at the harbour
entrance.* JFK Airport and other parts
of the island are receiving protection too. This is
one of the largest public works projects in US history, and comes at
huge cost. However, the costs of not acting would have
been unimaginably greater. Many other
cities around the world are enacting similar measures now.
Tropical cyclones are wreaking havoc in the Mediterranean
Until now, the near-landlocked Mediterranean Sea was largely immune to the more violent forms of ocean weather. The worst storms that the sea experienced were the so-called "Medicanes" – comparatively tame versions of the much larger and more destructive Atlantic hurricanes. The most notable example occurred in 1995, when a storm created a hurricane-like spiral for a short period of time, complete with an eye.
By 2060, however, normal weather patterns around the world are evolving drastically as a result of climate change. With global temperatures over 3°C (5.5°F) above the 20th century average, the Mediterranean Sea is now home to a prolific hurricane basin.** Warming seawater, combined with increasingly common low pressure systems, is turning the region into an ideal incubator for tropical cyclones. These are now devastating coastal communities throughout the southern coast of Europe and the northern coast of Africa.
These areas were already facing collapse due to heatwaves, chronic drought and sea level rise. Most of Venice has been abandoned, after failed attempts to save it from sinking.** Cities such as Athens, Barcelona, Tripoli, Tunis and Alexandria will soon be following.
extinction rates are peaking
destruction is reaching its apex now. Tropical forests are
being especially hard hit, with 0.5% of animal
and plant species going extinct each and every year – nearly ten times the rate
seen in 2000.* As a result of so much tree loss, more and more carbon is being liberated.
the early 21st century, around one in five of the European population
was aged over 65. This meant that the pension costs, public health and
transportation needs (and sometimes the housing and social-welfare requirements)
of each senior citizen were supported by taxes and other deductions
from the incomes of four working-age people (aged 15 to 64).
birth rates stayed low throughout the first half and into the second
half of the century, whilst longevity was extending through better medicine,
gene therapy, nanotechnology, improved lifestyles and so on. This
meant that the ratio of young to old began to shrink dramatically. By 2060
there are 50m fewer workers and 67m more seniors, so the ratio is changed
to one in three. In other words, only two working-age people
to support each senior.
impacted hugely on government budgets, leading to a radical overhaul
of social welfare. A similar pattern has emerged in other parts of the
world. Japan has faced the biggest change of all, with 40% of its population now aged over 65, double the figure in 2006.
Helium-3 mining on the Moon
number of private ventures now have automated mining operations
on the Moon.* One of the latest resources for extraction is Helium-3,
for use in the reactors of fusion power plants. This material is rare
on Earth, but plentiful on the lunar surface. It is exceedingly valuable, with a single shuttle-load being enough to power an entire country for months.
Technology has transformed modern education
Exponential progress in the fields of communication, information technology and computer science continues to reshape society. Some of the most important advances have occurred in education. Although many countries are being ravaged by global warming, access to learning is now so effortless and inexpensive that – paradoxically – even the poorest and most destitute of places can take advantage of it.
Schools and classrooms as people from the 20th century would know them have largely disappeared by 2060. Networking has replaced in-person learning for the vast majority of students, who now take part in decentralised, online and virtual classes. Strong AI has supplanted most of the roles that were formerly held by human teachers. These artificial instructors have instant access to vast repositories of data and knowledge, greatly expanding the horizons of learning environments. Students are exposed to a much wider variety of culture and ideas, since classes are no longer limited by geographical proximity. Connectivity allows young people with similar interests and abilities to learn together and be optimally matched in terms of personality types. Universal translators have removed any language barriers such international classrooms would have experienced in the past.
Full immersion virtual reality allows modern "schools" to exist as purely online institutions, with a seemingly infinite variety of classes and subjects. These can be experienced through self-guiding neural implants – or more commonly, by simply wearing an external device like a headset or visor. Free software and the negligible cost of hardware have brought unprecedented levels of education to Third World countries. The lack of required physical infrastructure and reduced need to pay teachers* has given even the poorest neighbourhoods access to a range of study far beyond anything seen in the past. While schools and colleges still exist in the physical world, these are declining in number and have been heavily influenced by information technology. Instead of paper or textbooks, students make use of portable tablet devices with essentially limitless power and bandwidth, again at negligible cost. As a consequence, global illiteracy has fallen below 1%.**
As well as technology, the process of education itself has evolved to meet the changing needs of society. With the continuing trend of mechanisation, the bulk of manufacturing and physical labour has been relegated to machines. Even many white collar jobs have disappeared thanks to the emergence of strong AI. As a result, human work is increasingly confined to subjective, abstract and/or creative professions – such as science, art, design, law, etc. This has turned high education into an absolute necessity in many countries. Methods for teaching students have changed in response.
In the past, most systems of education consisted of a set period of time that people would move through school. The grades they received played a large role in determining what opportunities they would have later in life. Regardless of how well students did in school, and regardless of whether they even understood the material, they would all complete their education at roughly the same time with whatever skill level they had managed to acquire. Now, this method has been reversed.* In the most developed countries, semester-based learning has been replaced with a go-at-your-own-pace style of learning. The proliferation of virtual teachers has made it possible for a person's education to be exactly tailored to their own learning abilities and interests. This avoids the issue of exceptional students being held back, and struggling students being left behind. The overall result is that time spent in school has become variable, while the level of knowledge and skill one gets out of school has been given a floor.
The physical (and virtual) classroom environment itself has also changed. It is common now to have a single class be taught by more than one teacher, allowing them to play off their individual strengths and give students a broader base of information. Teaching is much more reciprocal, with students learning from teachers, learning from other students, or even imparting their own knowledge back onto the teacher. Also, the classic lecture environment has been replaced by a more hands-on approach. Much more of schooling involves practical application with teachers demonstrating exactly how their material can be used in the real world.
Technology is bringing further innovations to education. A profound and world-altering paradigm – referred to in earlier decades as the 'Singularity' – appears to be on the cusp of emerging. For increasing numbers of people, direct merger of their brain with cloud-based, non-biological artificial intelligence* has become necessary in order to keep up with the truly staggering amount of new information appearing each day.* These upgrades are having a significant impact on the process of learning. Personal AI can guide a person's educational progression using detailed knowledge of their brain structure and learning abilities. By the end of the century, this method of assisted learning will evolve into a system of downloads, with new skills and facts seamlessly inserted directly into a person's brain. This will ultimately lead to the end of education in the traditional sense, with a new species of transhuman emerging based on automatic, instantaneous accumulation of knowledge and vastly amplified intelligence.
most famous of the periodic comets, Halley's Comet last appeared in
the inner solar system in 1986. Like most comets, it has a highly elliptical
orbit – taking it close to the Sun for only a short time. Several unmanned
probes are sent to explore it during this year, including the first
population reaches 80 million
UK is now the most populous country in Western Europe, with more people
than France (72 million), Germany (71 million) and Spain (52 million).** The population
of Europe, as a whole, has been declining since the 2030s. However,
strong growth from immigration and a younger average population, combined
with favourable environmental conditions have allowed the UK to prosper
and become the leading economic power in the region.
ethnic makeup has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, becoming
far more diverse and geographically integrated. In particular, black
and Asian persons in the most affluent areas have greatly increased.*
has become a true mega-city. Its urban population (in the continuous
built-up area surrounding the city) has swelled to almost 12m, while
its total metropolitan area now encompasses the entire southern
half of England. An extensive network of high-speed rail joins its
various satellite cities. Other infrastructure being planned includes a series of tunnels spanning the Irish Sea.*
are a mainstream consumer product
all-purpose, desktop machines can reproduce a seemingly infinite variety
of items. In effect, they are like miniature factories – more advanced versions of 3D printers seen in earlier decades. They have been
around in certain military, corporate and medical environments for a while,
but are now a mainstream consumer product.*
they resemble a combined washing machine/microwave oven. Raw
materials are purchased separately and can be loaded in solid, liquid
or powder form. An interior compartment is accessed via a small hatch,
where objects are constructed atom-by-atom. The process takes a
matter of minutes and the assembled items can be used immediately. New schematics can be accessed
from the web and programmed into the machine.
Leadbeater's possum is going extinct in the wild
Leadbeater's possum – also known as the fairy possum – evolved around 20 million years BC. First discovered in southern Australia during 1867, it later became the faunal symbol of Victoria, the most densely populated state in the country. A shy, nocturnal and fast-moving creature, it was rarely seen – occupying the highest parts of trees including the mountain ash (the world's tallest flowering plant), where it leaped athletically from branch to branch. Previously common in this region, concerns grew that it would go extinct after the draining of swamps and wetlands for agriculture in the early 1900s. Following the Black Friday bushfires in 1939 – which burned 20,000 km² (4,942,000 acres, 2,000,000 ha) of land – it was thought to have vanished. However, the animal was rediscovered in 1961, surviving in the Central Highlands about 80 km (49 mi) northeast of Melbourne.
Map: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species / Chermundy [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Leadbeater's possum, by Pengo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Leadbeater's possum began to recover, with numbers peaking at 7,500 by the early 1980s. They declined sharply from the late 1990s onwards, due to a population bottleneck and the combination of fire events and land use activities such as logging. The Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 – the country's worst ever natural disaster – were particularly damaging and destroyed 43% of the animals' habitat, reducing their wild population to just 1,500. Legislation passed in 2013 allowed a timber corporation access to these forests until 2040 and to be self-monitoring, a move that conservationists described as a death sentence for the remaining possums. The incoming Liberal/National coalition was similarly hostile to the environment.
For millions of years, these primitive marsupials had been largely unchanged, still resembling their evolutionary ancestors in appearance and behaviour. Within a geological eye-blink, they were in danger of being wiped out completely. The so-called "old growth" trees – on which they strongly depended – covered about 4% of the Central Highlands area in 1964, but this proportion fell to 1% by 2011. As well as helping to regulate the rainfall patterns and water supply of Melbourne, this region also contained the world's most carbon-dense forests.
Although protections were eventually increased, these efforts proved to be too little, too late. Alongside the ever-worsening droughts, heat and fires resulting from climate change, many decades of logging had caused fatal damage to the possum's ecosystem. These forests would not recover in time to save the species. By the middle of this decade, their population is heading for complete collapse.*
treatments able to halt aging
Various combinations of treatments are now available that can essentially halt the aging process, at a cost low enough for the average person. This is changing society and culture in profound ways. Rather
than being a single process, aging was found to be caused by seven key
types of damage.*
– inside cells
2. Junk – outside cells
3. Cells – too few being produced
4. Cells – too many being produced
5. Mutations – chromosomes
6. Mutations – mitochondria
7. Protein crosslinks
As such, there was no "silver bullet" to aging. It required a number of different approaches. In the 2010s, it was possible to extend the human lifespan by only two months
per year. However, the "actuarial escape
velocity" of twelve months per year was eventually reached as subsequent decades witnessed a revolution in medicine, with major advances in the use of stem cells, gene therapy, nanotechnology and other techniques. This allowed the wealthiest members of society to stay biologically young and healthy.* Ever smaller and
more sophisticated devices were gaining the ability to scan, identify and treat the most elusive of defects, with tiny robots going directly inside cells to perform surgery. Cost reductions, made possible by the exponential growth of information technology, are now enabling the vast majority of people to benefit from these procedures. As with many previous medical breakthroughs, debates
have raged over the ethics and implications of defeating aging, but there is generally strong support from the public.
buildings made 100% from nanotech
– the control of matter on an atom-by-atom basis – has swept the world,
transforming society in myriad ways.* At
the same time, new methods of automation are displacing the need for
human labour on ever increasing scales. A growing number of industries
have seen their workforces shrink dramatically, with robots and AI handling
the bulk of operations. Around the world, unemployment has soared.
Construction companies are being particularly affected now. By the middle of this decade,
it's becoming possible to build entire homes and offices using nanotechnology
alone. For a typical square or rectangular plot of land, this takes
the form of self-assembling machinery, based around a scaffold system
that initially resembles a giant, four poster bed. Vertical columns,
one in each corner of the site, support a platform that gradually rises
from the ground, adding successive layers of material beneath it. The
columns rise in tandem with the platform, whilst also relaying material,
until the building is finally topped out.
these machines are like substantially bigger versions of 3D printers
and nanofabricators. For
some of the more "unique" building designs or features, traditional
methods of construction and engineering are still incorporated. Even
these will eventually be replaced by self-assemblers as the technology
atom, these intelligent machines lay the foundations, core, framework,
flooring, electrics, doors and other components – while robots inspect
the interior, perform safety checks and make adjustments where necessary. By the
2070s, even skyscrapers and other tall structures can be erected using
this method. The process is so rapid, it takes a matter of days from
groundwork to final completion. Humans are
rarely if ever needed on site.
Archival Discs are becoming unreadable
Archival Disc was a successor to the Blu-ray format, commercially introduced in 2015. In addition to a much larger storage capacity (initially 300 GB, later expanded to 1 TB), it also featured a longer lifespan. Various factors were known to affect the read/write quality of magnetic media – such as temperature, humidity, dust and other conditions, frequency of use and compatibility between disc and device. Archival Disc was designed to maintain readability for at least 50 years. By 2065, the first generation of these Archival Discs are becoming degraded. Any data on this storage medium that has not been backed up or transferred to an alternative format will now be lost.*
wrought by accelerating climate change has led to most insurance firms
filing for bankruptcy.* In the United States, widespread flooding has resulted
in hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of damage. Coastal cities
are particularly badly hit. Much of the infrastructure in the southern
states has been destroyed by category 5 hurricanes, with Houston and
New Orleans lying virtually abandoned. Along the
west coast, gigantic fires spread by the tinder-dry ground have
ravaged much of the land. The economy
of California is in tatters. Many of
the biggest insurance firms have been nationalised by the government in
a bid to avert economic collapse.
The first generation of antimatter-powered spacecraft is emerging
A hundred years have passed since humans first ventured into space. For much of that time, manned craft were limited to the Earth-Moon system with only small, incremental advances in propulsion systems. After the legendary Apollo missions, it had seemed like anything was possible – even travel to the stars.* But disappointment followed, as the Space Race ended and priorities shifted elsewhere. The goal of colonising the Moon, putting men on Mars and exploring the outer Solar System became a distant prospect: relegated to the realm of science fiction.
As the early years of the 21st century unfolded there was a perception among many that this trend would continue. A number of setbacks reinforced this view – such as the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the cancellation of NASA's Constellation program and the relative lack of excitement around the International Space Station, along with an emerging financial crisis.
In reality, however, great strides were being made in a number of areas. For a start, information technology was growing at an exponential rate; a pattern that had remained consistent for many decades and showed little sign of slowing down. Computer processing power, memory, data storage, bandwidth and a host of other measures were doubling in performance every 12-18 months, whilst declining dramatically in cost. This greatly accelerated the pace of research and development, as knowledge could be shared quickly and easily around the world. Billions of people gained access to the World Wide Web, fostering education and innovation on an unprecedented scale.**
Previously restricted to government agencies, space began to open up, becoming commercialised and industrialised. Entrepreneurial efforts by wealthy individuals led to a thriving market for space tourism,* while crowdfunding and other creative options gave rise to many smaller-scale enterprises. The emergence of new players such as China and India further helped in reinvigorating space research.
As the decades passed, a new generation of rockets was developed. Materials based on nanotechnology enabled stronger, lighter and cheaper spacecraft. Artificial intelligence was another byproduct of the information revolution, enabling systems to effectively design themselves.* By the middle of the century, launch costs had been reduced by orders of magnitude.*
Alongside all of this, many important breakthroughs were made in the understanding of scientific processes and physical phenomena. Among the most significant of these was in antimatter production and confinement. In 2010, particles of antimatter were trapped for the first time at CERN in Geneva. Researchers produced, trapped and then released a few dozen atoms of antihydrogen for around two-tenths of a second.* The following year, this feat was achieved again but for 17 minutes – nearly four orders of magnitude longer than before.*
With stupendously high energy density (roughly 10 billion times more powerful than chemical reactions such as hydrogen and oxygen combustion),* antimatter held potential as the ultimate source of spacecraft propulsion. Unfortunately, it was extraordinarily difficult and expensive to produce, with a few grams costing trillions of dollars* and total production from 1950 to 2010 being just 10 nanograms.
However, scientific and technological progress in the early-mid 21st century was occurring at an exponential rate.* Anti-proton production began to increase substantially, aided by ever-more sophisticated models and simulations, together with AI programs that were beginning to match – and even exceed – human intelligence.** This happened in parallel with rapid advances in engine design, materials science and fusion power. By the late 2060s, the first prototype antimatter-powered spacecraft is demonstrated.*
The "fuel" for this vessel consists of tiny pellets containing deuterium and tritium – heavy isotopes of hydrogen with one or two neutrons, respectively, in their nuclei (hydrogen normally has no neutrons). Inside each pellet, this fuel is surrounded by uranium. A beam of anti-protons, with an electrical charge of minus-1, is then fired at the pellets. When the anti-protons collide with the uranium nuclei, they annihilate, generating vast amounts of energy which triggers fusion reactions in the fuel. This provides thrust via magnetic confinement and a magnetic nozzle.
Using this propulsion system, a trip to Jupiter can be achieved in just four months, using 1.16 grams of anti-protons. By the 2080s, a number of manned missions are being conducted. Further advances in antimatter and ship designs will pave the way for interstellar travel in the 22nd and 23rd centuries.
Artist's concept of antimatter propulsion system. Credit: NASA
and female salaries are reaching parity
In the developed world, the gender gap has narrowed to such an extent that salaries
and rights are pretty much equal for both sexes. Women are
now playing a greater role in business and government than ever before.
Just one consequence has been a significant reduction in military spending. The money and resources saved are being
diverted to education, healthcare, transport and environmental programmes,
improving the living standards and opportunities for many. With less
male aggression in world affairs, more balanced and rational discourse
is taking place on international issues. The world of capitalism,
too, is undergoing some of the biggest changes in its history,
with less pursuit of short term profits and a greater emphasis on long-term sustainability.
have been responsible for this shift in focus – such as the terrifying
depletion of natural resources, which has forced a radical change of
priorities. Widespread use of AI in neutral, passive, consultative roles
is also helping to strengthen cooperation by providing more "logical" solutions to global problems.
the 2068 Olympics, a major landmark is passed when a black male athlete
completes the 100m sprint in less than nine seconds. Improved lifestyles
and training techniques – including use of VR for mental enhancement
– has seen the world record continue to fall during the last few decades.
However, these records will soon be hitting a barrier as it becomes
physically impossible for humans to run any faster without the use of
A new breed
of "super athlete" emerges, as the authorities begin to legalise
certain implants, drugs and muscle-enhancing devices. There is talk
of splitting the games into three separate events – the Paralympics
for those with disabilities; a "classic" group for natural,
unenhanced athletes; and a third "cyber" category for those
with biotechnology enhancements.
will eventually disappear altogether as literally all physical and visual
disabilities are overcome.
anniversary of Apollo 11
Exactly a century has passed since Neil Armstrong made the first historic landing on the Moon. This anniversary is marked by celebrations in the
lunar colonies. It later becomes the first off-Earth national holiday. By this
date, Apollo 11's landing site has been turned into a UNESCO world
heritage site and tourist destination. Visitors can walk around the
lunar module and see the famous footprints left by the astronauts.
However, although the spacecraft is perfectly preserved, the American flag has been long since bleached white by UV radiation on the lunar surface. The flag was also displaced from its original location when the astronauts blasted off.*
91 "By 2040, it's expected to cost only tens of dollars per pound to launch humans or cargo to space; today, it costs as much as $10,000 per pound."
See JSC Celebrates 40 Years of Human Space Flight, NASA: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/jsc40/jsc40_pg20.htm
Accessed 16th September 2012.
99 We have taken this reference as meaning 55 years from now – i.e. 55 + 2012 = 2067.
"[Antimatter propulsion] is probably not a 40-year technology, but 50, 60? Quite possible, and something that would have a significant impact on exploration by changing the mass-power-finance calculus when planning."
See Antimatter and Fusion Drives Could Power Future Spaceships, Space.com: http://www.space.com/17537-antimatter-fusion-engines-future-spaceships.html
Accessed 16th September 2012.