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Predictions for Global Future Trends from Think Tanks

Three forces shape the future, according to Rob Salkowitz in his book Young World Rising: a large youth cohort in developing nations while the developed world ages; ICT and global databases made possible by wireless Internet and mobile broadband services, and smartphones; and entrepreneurship from the bottom-up. He notes that another positive solution is the empowerment of women as “patriarchal structures are increasingly challenged.” There’s a lot of work to be done since women comprise the majority of illiterates living in poverty around the world.  In Futurecast  (2008), Robert Shapiro agrees that the forces shaping the near future are globalization and an aging world population and also places importance on the role of the US as the military superpower.

In addition to technological advances and environmental problems shaping our future, The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) identified “The Seven Revolutions.” The major areas of change that will impact our future are: population growth/decline, aging, migration and urbanization; resource management of food, water, and energy; technology including biotechnology; information and knowledge including a vast amount of data; economics and security vs. transnational threats; and governance including corporations and NGOs.[i] The Center believes the Millennial Generation has a different worldview with which to deal with these changes, and is more globally aware and technologically savvy.  UCLA’s Global Studies program adds the influence of global media and communication, which inform us about global phenomena such as environmental degradation, epidemic disease, mass migration, and human rights issues.

The National Intelligence Council’s examination of global trends leading to 2030, the analysts state that the first megatrend is the hegemony of the US and the West is over.[ii] The financial crisis is fragmenting Europe and China is the main challenge to the “liberal international order.” Instead of the US continuing as the superpower it has been since 1945, it faces “the rise of the rest–” Russia, China, the EU, India, Japan and Brazil. Goldman Sachs lists the “Next Eleven” rapidly developing middle-tier countries as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam. Emerging countries will face a “middle class explosion” which will change internal politics with more demand for democracy and products like cars and meat that strain the environment.

It’s possible India could balance China’s rising dominance—one of the main questions of the century. By 2030, India will surpass China’s population, will be the third-largest economy, and have the “youth dividend” of more young workers. A related question is whether China’s one-party rule or India’s chaotic democracy will prevail. Will the multiplication of powerful economies be able to work together for good or will disorder ensue? Will the US get its economic house in order and provide continued leadership? A British CEO of an NGO, Jeffrey Gedmin asks the central question, “If the West cannot solve its problems and set a convincing agenda of its own future, how can we pretend to influence and manage the peaceful rise of the Rest?”[iii]

The economics of globalization have spread the West’s beliefs in science, individualism, separation of government and religion, and the rule of law, but new hybrid ideologies could emerge influenced by local culture, the increasing focus on religion, environmental issues, and growing power of individuals through IT.[iv] The report predicts, “The role assigned to religion by the state and society probably will be at the center of these ideological debates within and across societies.” Migrants to cities tend to gather by their religious affiliation, such as Muslims in Europe. Political Islam is increasing in the Sunni world with Islamic parties in charge in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Gaza, Libya, and perhaps Syria. Nationalism will also intensify. A similar report in Europe predicts that values will converge as people face similar economic and political problems.[v]

The Global Trends report’s second megatrend is the increasing power of individuals due to reduction in poverty, more access to education and IT for both women and men, and better health care. For example, 65% of Africans have smartphones. This power of individuals or small groups can be used for good or for violence with bioterrorism and cyber weapons. For the first time in history, a majority of the world’s 8.3 billion people will not be poor, as the middle class will double from the current 1 billion.[vi] The most rapid growth will occur in Asia. An expanding middle class is associated with greater democracy as well as populist dictators.[vii]

The third megatrend is rapid aging of the world’s population that will rise to 8.3 billion, especially in Japan, Europe, South Korea and Taiwan. This “pensioner bulge” isn’t good for economies but it is good for the development of peaceful democracy which is more stable when youth bulges decline and when incomes increase. However, the costs of care for elders could cause younger people to “feel a growing sense of inner-generational inequality.”[viii] These influences are happening in China where income is increasing and the population is aging. But today more than 80 countries have populations with a median age of 25 or less. Increasing participation of educated women in the workforce will mitigate some of the economic problems of an aging population. The report predicts that the fastest pace in closing the gender gap will be in East Asia and Latin America.

Fourth, with a growing middle class and increasing world population, this will lead to scarcity of food and water, as well as not enough jobs. Demand for food will go up by 35%, for water by 40% (with a belt of the most water stress in northern Africa, the Middle East, central and southern Asia, and northern China—also the areas of largest projected population increase), and energy by 50%. Nearly half the world’s population will live in areas with severe water shortages. Global warming will increase these resource scarcities, which will encourage migration to urban areas (which will house 60% of the world’s people) and to other countries to find work. Inequality will remain between rural and urban dwellers, encouraging migration to cities. These megacities, “localism,” and regional alliances will be increasingly powerful.

In regards to the possibility of increasing democracy in China, although we see frequent protests and increasing ability to get around government censorship on the Internet, the education system does not allow for critical thinking. When I asked Yuan why secondary school students don’t ask questions in class, he said part of the reason is with class sizes of 50 to 100, there isn’t time for individual dialogue. But the main reason is, “The education system is brainwashing–they are taught to believe something, to only know the textbook is the truth. Students may not even have the ideas that they should question anything. They just take in. For the few independent thinkers, they might ask the teacher privately after class about their doubt.”

A girl from Oman also does not value democracy or critical thinking, “Opposition is not a common thing in Oman because we know how much our leader did for us in the past 40 years and we know that all he wants is the best for his people” (Afra, 17, f). However, in a country where 45% of the population is under age 25, the problem of youth unemployment is causing some unrest even under the absolute rule of Sultan Qaboos.[ix]

Another report on the future uses the UN Millennial Goals as a framework.[x] The Millennium Projects’ global futures research began in 1996. On the positive side, the researchers report humans are getting richer, healthier, better educated and more peaceful. People care about the effect of disasters on others and provide aid to devastated countries like Haiti and Japan, while supporting the spread of democracy. With 30% of us connected via the Internet, more people are aware of the need for unified action to end global warming and other environmental hazards now that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in at least two million years.

On the negative side, the UN futures’ report points out that half the world lives in poverty, undermining stability as the gap between the rich and the poor widens dangerously. The population in developing countries is increasing while food prices are rising, water resources are drying up, corruption and organized crime are on the rise, and climate change is accelerating. The researchers point out that we have the solutions to these problems. They look hopefully to the coming biological revolution to bring answers more profound than even the industrial or information revolutions. This revolution may develop synthetic life forms for food, water, medicine and energy. Information sharing via computers and the Internet could lead to tele-education and tele-medicine to make this information available to more people.

In another report on global trends for 2030 presented to the European Union in 2012, the authors identified three major trends that will shape the world. First, the growing middle class (it will number 4.9 billion) will empower the individual—including women–with education and IT. The report predicts the global literacy rate may pass 90% by 2030. These educated people may generate a growing feeling of belong to a world community with an emphasis on human rights and environmental issues. Second, more importance will be given to sustainable development because of scarce resources and global warming, but progress could be slowed by corruption and border disputes as between China and India over water resources. Third, power will shift from national governments and from the US as the dominant nation to NGOs, corporations, regional associations, and megacities in a “polycentric world.”[i] As more people are educated, an expectations gap could result due to governments’ inability to improve the quality of life. The US and China will probably be the most influential countries, India will continue to rise in power, and Russia and Japan lose their great power status of the 20th century.

[i] Álvaro de Vasconcelos, ed., “Global Trends 2030: Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World,” European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), April 2012.


The Millennium Project report suggests that a simple step forward is eating less meat as it adds more greenhouse gases (18%) to the atmosphere than transportation. It takes 2,400 liters of water to make a hamburger. China moved past the US as the largest polluter but it leads in searching for green alternatives, allocating $600 billion for green growth in its Five Year Plan for 2011 to 2015. Lester Brown lists various environmental solutions in his free book Plan B 4.0, including raising taxes on carbon emitters.[xi]  The central issue is we have the solutions to the enormous problems that face our planet but not the will.

[ii] Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council, 2012. http://www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends

[iii] Jeffrey Gedmin, “The Rise of the Rest; Decline of the West?, Global Trends 2030, p. 6. http://gt2030.com/2012/05/27/the-rise-of-the-rest-decline-of-the-west/

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council, 2012. http://www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends

[iv] Ibid., p. 13

[vi] Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, p. 10.

[vii] Ibid., p. 11.

[viii] Ibid., p. 56.

[ix] Brain Whitaker, “Oman’s Sultan Qaboos,” The Guardian, March 4, 2011.


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