Urban sprawl. We can see the effects of increased urbanization everywhere. Even the relatively small city where I live is being overrun by developers whose mission is to chop down every tree in the county and replace it with shopping, housing developments, restaurants, storage and mattress stores, and new schools everywhere they can. If this is happening in Columbia, SC, then I can only imagine what’s happening in larger cities. It’s sad that the local governments can’t appreciate the beauty and need for natural spaces because they only see tax dollars when these developers open their big checkbooks and offer them a “piece of the pie.” And yet, that’s life in industrialized society. It’s easy for a sci-fi writer to imagine the world becoming a cross between Corusant on Star Wars and a world taken over by the Borg collective on Star Trek. Obviously, there are protected areas or areas that just aren’t ideal for development, but we sure are pushing it. Writers have to ponder how the cross between increased urbanization and the next element will affect the physical world around us.
Perhaps the world will eventually turn into what looks like one planetwide city. Unfortunately, then you have the power struggles of governing such a massive thing. And that might just be the cure. Power and money are the two things that always rule the world. Then again, one must also consider whether this rapid urbanization can sustain itself.
Technology. Technology made tremendous strides in the past 30 years. The question is, will this progress continue? There’s a lot of talk about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and nanotechnology, but do we have the ability to sustain this rapid rate of progress? Another thing to consider is where the technology will evolve. A lot of advances have been made in medicine and communications. Will this expand into other areas, or will it remain confined to these areas? Advances in technology provide the most creativity, because this is an area with the most potential. You can tell a lot from a writer by how they project this into their future.
Where will it go in the future? The sky’s the limit. And perhaps someday we’ll actually make it back up there – and maybe to Mars, as they’ve talked about forever!
Overpopulation. Industrialization and technology have enabled people to have longer, more productive lives. The 20th century saw the greatest increase in global population: 1.6 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion in 2000. This growth has accelerated into the 21st century, as the current population is 7.7 billion. A growth of 1.7 billion in 19 years is significant! Like urban sprawl, we’re seeing the effects of population growth even in small cities. The population in Lexington County, SC, grew from 140,353 in 1980 to 295, 032 in 2018. No wonder traffic is terrible during rush hour! Our highway system, built in 1950 (when the population was 44,279, and there were a lot more trees than development) can’t handle the boom of an annual average growth rate of 1.5%. I can only imagine what’s happening in mid-size and large cities. While it’s great that more people are living longer, I think the last two Avenger’s movies used art to give us a clear picture of what happens when population growth continues unchecked: the planet simply can’t sustain all of these people, and it falls apart. This leaves us with two solutions: expand off Earth (which we don’t have the ability to do), or population control measures (which are considered unethical – consider the battles over abortion as an example of attitudes on regulating family and reproductive rights).
But there is one more thing that few consider: nature usually balances out the equation. The problem is, it’s indiscriminate on who gets “purged” in a natural disaster (think earthquakes, Category 5 hurricanes, Arctic weather, etc – your natural “Thanos finger snap”) or a plague-style epidemic (the refusal to vaccinate is catching up with us in outbreaks of diseases we thought were eradicated, not to mention antibiotic-resistant antibiotics and vicious viruses). The bottom line is that overpopulation is one of the biggest problems we face, and the one we’re most uncomfortable with discussing. But it’s there, and the future will deal with it. The question is how. Will we develop the technology to leave Earth and spread, lightening the load on our home planet? Or will it be “something else?”
Some scientists say the population will eventually level out by 2100. I hope so. Otherwise, the only “ethical” resolution is to leave it to chance, which is a cruel and uncaring master of balancing the scales.
Those are three of the six “big issues” that I believe we need to consider for the future. Next week, as they used to say, I’ll give you “the rest of the story.” Until then take care, and have a great rest of the week.