Customer Reviews for

The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted October 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A fascinating look at the future

    "The World in 2050" offers a highly readable and well-developed -- but perhaps somewhat conservative -- look at how global civilization will evolve over the next four decades. The book goes beyond simply attempting to predict the impact of climate change, and integrates four primary forces into its projections: (1) demographics, (2) natural resource demand, (3) climate change and (4) globalization.

    One of the central thrusts of the book is that people, agriculture, and geopolitical power will migrate northward, largely in response to the impact of climate change and resource depletion. The populations of countries like Canada, Iceland and Norway are all projected to grow by over 20%, while global population will reach just over 9 billion. People will increasingly live in cities and will be older and wealthier.

    As might be expected, water and energy are predicted to play vital roles. Smith offers a relatively optimistic take on potential conflicts over water, suggesting that they will be resolved peaceably, rather than degrading into war. Cities will win out over agriculture in the competition for water, and some regions will be maintained purely through global trade and the import of "virtual water" via grain. We will remain highly dependent on fossil fuels, but the energy economy will be more of a mix, with heavy use of natural gas and electric (or hybrid plug in) cars.

    One of the most interesting sections covers "alternate endings" and considers issues such as a reversal of globalization, carbon release from the thawing tundra, or a well-developed global water trade.

    My primary criticism of the book is its assumption (laid out clearly in the beginning), that technological advance will be "incremental." This is probably a reasonable assumption regarding radical advances in areas like energy or food production -- but it is not at all reasonable where information technology is concerned. Computer-based technologies have been, and will continue, to advance exponentially, and that is likely to have dramatic economic and social implications for both developed and developing countries.

    For insight into this issue, I would strongly recommend this book: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.

    Smith writes at one point that "technology is a fifth force, twining through the first four." I would go further and elevate technology to a full-fledged force that will play an increasingly important role in shaping the societies and economies of the future. The economic implications of technology, in particular, will have a dramatic impact on our ability to adapt to both climate change and resource scarcity. I'd suggest reading both "The World in 2050" and "The Lights in the Tunnel" in order to get a sense of how all five of those forces will interact.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    Scenarios are Compelling! Fun and Insightful Read!

    Professor Laurence C. Smith wrote a highly readable and ocmpelling book with many fact-based insights that will be sure to grab you from page 1 to almost the end. The book is notable too for his original research and observations at the ground (and water) level to numerous far flung places. Smith also gave an excellent webinar to me and my colleagues, which we all appreciated. You may quibble about his opinion on oil sands development in Canada and his opinion about carbon capture and geologic sequestration (CO2). But you will not be sorry for sitting through this book in a couple of sittings. It is a good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 19, 2011

    An outstanding contribution to global change literature

    It has been hypothesized that the prognostications of the Oracle at Delphi were driven by local effusions of ethane from the ground beneath the temple. It is probably safe to assume that the real power of the Oracle derived not from hallucinations but from a deep understanding of human nature and that the future would be much like the present or at least follow the same rules. In The World in 2050 Laurence Smith has provided a very readable, thoroughly-researched, realistic appraisal of the likely future course of the planet's northern quarter. Despite often very personal accounts of his Arctic experience, Smith adroitly avoids the sentimentality and flimsy opinions that mar many other works on global change. Throughout the book he remains cautiously optimistic while at no time downplaying the seriousness of the challenges that face the human race. The author posits four over-arching forces that he claims will inevitably shape the next four decades - demographic change (especially clustered population growth); natural resource limitation (both organic and inorganic); globalization of markets; and climate change. Of these four, Smith sees only one - globalization - to be in any doubt. Modifying these four forces, he lists four "Rules" (boundary conditions) that guide his analysis - No Silver Bullets and No Catastrophes (no deus ex technica, plagues or meteor impacts); no World War III; and, Computer Model Predictions are Fine. To these I would add a fifth unstated Rule which guides much of this text - People are People; human nature is not going to change overnight and what is best and worst in human nature will shape the future just as it shapes the present. Perhaps the only limitation of this text is that, as clearly stated in the subtitle, its focus is on the Arctic and the North. It begs extension to the rest of the world. How will the inundation of Bangladesh unfold? What will be the immediate and societal impacts of the next Katrina on New Orleans? How will Africa's economy evolve within the confines of climate change? The World in 2050 is an outstanding contribution to the literature of global change. It clearly establishes a standard, direction and theme for future analyses and prediction. Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2010


    The author, a geography professor at UCLA assembles four big trends where most writers would tackle only 1 (globalization, demand for natural resources, immigration and climate change). These are big controversial subjects but Smith sticks to the facts and doesn't preach making the book very convincing. But its not dry he has a very entertaining style and tells personal travel stories from the rainforest to New Orleans/katrina to the artic. There are very nice maps and photographs including a grizzly-polar bear mutant someone killed in Canada. After reading this book I feel smarter than before and also more hopeful for the future. No matter what your personal opinion is on these topics you will learn a lot of new information from this book and enjoy reading it too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 17, 2011

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    Posted October 15, 2010

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    Posted April 6, 2014

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