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

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"The World in 2050 is a compelling portrait of the future and vividly relates the big challenges facing the world now."
-Jared Diamond, author of Collapse

The world's population is exploding, wild species are vanishing, and our environment is degrading. What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren? Just who will flourish-and who will fail-in our evolving world?

Combining the lessons of ...

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

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"The World in 2050 is a compelling portrait of the future and vividly relates the big challenges facing the world now."
-Jared Diamond, author of Collapse

The world's population is exploding, wild species are vanishing, and our environment is degrading. What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren? Just who will flourish-and who will fail-in our evolving world?

Combining the lessons of geography and history with state-of-the-art model projections and analytical data, Guggenheim fellow Laurence C. Smith predicts how the eight nations of the Arctic Rim (including the United States) will become increasingly powerful while the nations around the equator struggle for survival. Like Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, The World in 2050 is as credible as it is controversial, projecting the looming benefits as well as the problems of climate change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[The World in 2050] is a lively and impressive book, among the first in what promises to be an important publishing category, the explication of how the human landscape will be altered by artificially triggered climate change."
-Wall Street Journal

"Smith's planetary palm-reading would be impressive enough, but he also managed to pull it off with literary gusto. He combines a wide-angle-lens analysis reminiscent of Jared Diamond with a knack for narrative, including tales of numerous visits to the Arctic."
-New Scientist

"Cleverly executed."
-Mother Jones

"One of the most head-turning books I've ever come across recently."
-Thomas PM Barnett, World Politics Review

"A charismatic rising star vividly relates the big challenges facing the world."
-Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

"This is a blockbuster of clear argument, sophisticated use of multiple empirical sources, and cogent writing that makes a convincing case for the emergence of the deep Global North as the main beneficiary of emerging climatic and economic trends. Intelligently discussing the future requires exactly the balance of discerning empirical analysis and wise interpretive judgment to be found here."
-John Agnew, Professor of Geography UC, Los Angeles

Publishers Weekly
Smith, a UCLA geography professor, explores megatrends through computer model projections to describe "with reasonable scientific credibility, what our world might look like in forty years' time, should things continue as they are now." Laying out "ground rules" for himself--including an assumption of incremental advances rather than big technology breakthroughs and no accounting for "hidden genies" such as a decades-long depression or meteorite impact--he identifies four global forces likely to determine our future: human population growth and migration; growing demand for control over such natural resource "services" as photosynthesis and bee pollination; globalization; and climate change. He sees the "New North" as "something like America in 1803, just after the Louisiana Purchase... harsh, dangerous, and ecologically fragile." Aside from his observations of "a profound return of autonomy and dignity to many aboriginal people" through increasing political power and integration into the global economy, Smith's predictions, limited by his conservative rules, are far from earthshaking, and suspending his rules for a chapter, he admits that "the physics of sliding glaciers and ice sheet collapses" as well as melting permafrost methane release are beyond current models, and that even globalization could reverse, with "political genies even harder to anticipate than permafrost ones." (Oct.)
Library Journal
Smith (geography, Univ. of California-Los Angeles) presents a world shaped by demography, resource demand, globalization, and climate change in which people, agriculture, and political power move northward. Northern Rim countries will flourish as equatorial countries struggle. Water scarcity, heat waves, energy needs, and urban growth figure prominently in Smith's discussions, which, at their core, address the complex relationships among people, the natural world, the built environment, and technology. He effectively uses personal experiences, maps, photos, and analogies to make science accessible and interesting to the nonscientist. Although Smith offers reasons to feel upbeat about a world undergoing forceful changes, he also presents a future full of challenges and solutions that may create difficulties of their own. The notes are a useful addition for readers interested in Smith's research. VERDICT Smith demonstrates the breadth of geography and emerges as a champion of the discipline. His engaging style and understandable prose will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in social and environmental sciences. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.—Robin K. Dillow, Oakton Community Coll., Des Plaines, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452297470
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 520,611
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurence C. Smith earned his PhD at Cornell University, and is now professor and vice-chairman of geography and earth space sciences at the University of California in Los Angeles where he also lives.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • 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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