By the year 2050, the world population, estimated to top 9 billion, will require twice as much food as today, and water demand will double — possibly stretching the “carrying capacity” of the planet. A second “Green Revolution” will be necessary to meet the needs of a burgeoning population.
Sustainability will rely on technology, one of seven “revolutions,” driving forces that will dictate global change, to feed and clothe a more populous planet, says Erik Peterson, senior vice president, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Peterson also serves as director for the Global Strategy Institute and holds the William A Schreyer Chair on Global Analysis.
He presented the keynote address at the Sourcing USA Summit in Austin, Texas.
The seven revolutions include: population and demographics, resource management, technology, information, economic integration, conflict and the challenge of governance.
“These issues are critical no matter where you live,” Peterson said. He outlined how each revolution would affect global societies.
Changing demographics will drive economic issues in “one key country after another and affect security and stability.”
He said the period from 1969 through 1974 marked the fastest level of growth ever. Even with a subsequent decline in rate of growth, another 78 million souls are added annually.
At that rate, population in 2010 will be 6.9 billion; by 2030, 8.3 billion; by 2040, 8.8 billion; and will top 9 billion by 2050. “That may pressure the carrying capacity of the planet,” Peterson said, “but it’s less than we thought 10 years ago.”
He said global aging is affecting world resources. “For the first time ever, we have more old people in the population than young. Life expectancy (global), expected to be 75 by 2050, was just 50 in 1950. Peterson said by mid-century, the world will have 400 million people older than 80 and more than 2 million older than 110.
More people will live in cities in a trend Peterson calls “hyper urbanization.” It’s already happening. “In 2008, for the first time, more people in the world lived in urban areas than in rural. By 2020, 60 percent of the population will be urban. Mega-cities will define the economic and political fabric.”
Resource management, revolution No. 2, will be crucial, especially for food, water and energy. “How much food will we need for 9.2 billion people?” Peterson asked. “We need another green revolution and to understand the capacity of technology to bring water to fields. The challenge to feed the population will be absolutely critical going forward and we will need to double the amount of water with each generation.”
He said energy demand will require both traditional and innovative techniques. “And environmental concerns must be at the forefront.”
Technology, the third revolution, has already “changed lives. The challenge is to stay abreast,” Peterson said. He cited computation, robotics, biotechnology, genomics and nanotechnology as factors of change.
Information is the fourth revolution. “Death of distance has already arrived,” Peterson said, referring to how rapidly data transfers across the globe. “Our challenge is that we’re not acting on the information we have,” he said. “We have reduced (amount of) time to make decisions.”
He said global economics, the fifth driving force, faces “tremendous volatility. Our well-being is threatened by nationalism.” He said the rise of China, Brazil and India as economic powers also marks “a fundamental shift in world economics.”
He said conflict, the sixth revolution, will be less between countries than within countries. He also said the lesson of 9/11 is that even “the most powerful military power in the world can be vulnerable. Terrorist groups have no return address.”
He said bioterrorism could be a significant danger.
The last revolution, governance, may be influenced as much by companies as countries. The gross national product of some corporations rivals that of some countries, he said. “In 2007, nine of the top 50 (economic) entities were companies, not countries.”
Peterson said the future holds both hyper-promise and hyper-peril. “We will need vision, leadership and planning. Our challenge will be to think of more than the immediate and the urgent.”
He said attitudes need to change. “Do we increase consumption of goods or conserve resources? For the world to maintain the (current) consumption level of the United States would require two or three more planets.
“Enlightened leadership that’s not subject to moods will be critical.”