On days when the woes of the world are too much with us, do you ever think what life on the planet in 2040 will be like? That’s the year the Doomsayers say will be the End Times or the Apocalypse. The theory is that by 2040, planet earth will no longer be able to sustain its estimated population of nine billion.
There are serious arguments for that proposition – extreme weather events caused by climate change, lack of sufficient food and water and ever-worsening pollution. There is the ever-present threat to life on the planet of nuclear war and a rolling series of civil wars which have driven millions of refugees into other countries, with consequent social and political disruption.
Imagine 2040, then. I’ll be 91, Nibbler will be 29 (which is old for a dog); Donald Trump will be 94, ex-wife Ivana 91 and current wife Melanie a spritely 70. Sir Paul McCartney will be 97 (should his long and winding road last that long), and Justin Bieber just 46!
More importantly, children being born now will be 21 in 2040 and quite angry about the state of the world they have inherited from their parents. Those who currently are angry teenagers will already be in their mid-to late 30s and maybe producing children of their own.
The key concern for life on the planet in 2040, just 21 years away, is the ever narrowing prediction about the effect of climate change on weather patterns and sea levels.
Most scientists and some futurologists will say the No 1 problem (I call it the giraffe in the wood shed), is over-population. Bluntly, the world just will not have the resources to feed nine billion people. Already futurists are saying that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be getting our daily protein from faux meat and insects.
It’s tempting to lean towards flippancy in a 1,200-world commentary on what the world could be like in 2040. Let’s imagine two affluent Poms meeting for breakfast at a café in downtown London 2039 (having got there in minutes by Vactrain from their bucolic suburbs 60 kms away). Smashed avocado on toast will cost something like 29 Europounds, a flat white about 8 Europounds. The waiter already has the order as Paul texted (by thought) while Vactraining. Henry will want to talk about the EU and how long can it last – surely one more year? Paul, feeling guilty about a story he read on the Vactrain newsfeed about six million Brits living in poverty, mutters about Brexit and what a disaster it was.
“That’s ancient history, Paul,” says Henry, adjusting his virtual-specs so he can scan headlines while having a conversation, as you do. Meanwhile the waiter returns (on his hover board) to say there are no avocadoes, despite reports of a glut, but they can do smashed grasshoppers.
Someone with a flair for satire could easily take a similar lead from the occasional quirky statistical forecast in futuretimeline, a community database/blog maintained by futurologist William James Fox.
For example, the autopsy report for Elvis Presley will be made public in 2027, thus scuppering the obsessions of the Elvis-lives club. By 2035, Millennials will be enjoying an inheritance boom, just ahead of a 2039 forecast that scientists will have found a cure for ageing!
By 2039, Alzheimer’s will be fully curable. This will be too late for some people already affected, but should I start to become forgetful at 87, whoever is in charge can take me along to the clinic. Hopefully, it will be bulk-billed.
Flippancy aside, most serious science-based forecasts focus on climate change, because of its potential to ruin everything.
Forecaster quantumrun.com cites an optimistic number for 2040 – the rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels will be 1.62 degrees. That’s just above the 1.5 degrees limit recently set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
That won’t impress Sweden’s Greta Thunberg or her generational cohort. Born in 2001, she is part of what Forbes Magazine calls Generation Z, people born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. In 2015, Gen Z represented 25% of the US population, a larger group than both Baby Boomers and Millennials.
Then aged 15, Greta sparked an international movement when she started a 20-day strike outside Sweden’s parliament in August 2018. News travelled fast on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. By November 30, the movement had gone viral. In Australia, 15,000 schoolchildren went on strike to call for action (despite much blustering in Parliament). In January this year, 35,000 European teens invaded the European Parliament in Brussels. Over the next fortnight more than 50,000 Belgian teens walked out of their classrooms.
You’ll see more of this next Friday (March 15), when the Youth Strikes for Climate movement stages a global walk-out.
Thunberg, who has since been the target of social media abuse accusing her of being a Green plant (har har), resolutely dug in. In an editorial published in the Guardian Weekly recently she told readers “Adults need to act like their house is on fire – because it is.”
She has pledged to continue her protest until global leaders act to meet the IPCC call to reduce carbons emissions by at least 50% within 12 (now 11) years.
Greta’s lone vigil outside Sweden’s Parliament led to her being invited to give a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland.
“Some say we should not engage in activism,” she told delegates. “Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will?”
Meanwhile I’ve started watching Season Two of a Netflix political thriller, ‘Occupied’. The plot (set in the near future). envisages a ‘silk glove’ occupation of Norway by Russia (in cahoots with the EU), to ensure Norway’s oil and gas pipelines continue to service Europe.
In the first episode of Season One, Norwegian PM Jesper Berg announces that Norway will no longer produce or export fossil fuels, instead favouring thorium* energy plants. The series (based on an idea by Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbo), shows how conflicts might arise should a brave, futurist politician defy the status quo.
*thorium is a weak radioactive element that can be used in a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Climate change aside, one of the great challenges for life on the planet in 2040 is what to do with old farts like me! In 2017 the United Nations estimated the number of people in the world aged over 60 will double to 2.1 billion by 2050. The UN also expects the cohort of people aged 80 years or over to increase threefold to 425 million by 2050.
Susan Muldowney, writing for CPA Australia’s newsletter, said that by 2040, one in five Australians will be aged over 65 and 1.2 million of them will be older than 85.
“Australia’s aged-care sector has been largely government-funded and dominated by not-for-profit providers,” Muldowney wrote in the accounting association’s newsletter, In The Black.
“However, this may change over the next decade. The number of private, for-profit start-ups is expected to grow in line with the new regulatory push toward consumer-directed aged care and the generational shift from the frugal post-Depression generation.
“The culture-changing baby boomers are used to having choice – even if they have to pay for it,” she added.
Right, then, I’m off up town to order smashed avo on toast. Enjoy it while you can, I say.