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Think in English

Crystal-ball gazing is a foolhardy activity - you either say something mundane or you say something exciting... and wrong. There are classic examples, like Lincoln Steffens declaration, "I have seen the future; and it works", after visiting Bolshevik Russia in 1919. Worse still is when you underestimate the future, like the researcher who stated in 1949 that, "computers in the future will weigh no more than 1.5 tons"! Nonetheless, there are certain logical conclusions that can be drawn from the world we live in today. This article simply aims to draw those conclusions.

World Politics & Economics
The world will be increasingly divided into political and economic blocks. The most obvious is the European Union, but similar processes are beginning in Latin America, South-East Asia, North America, the Islamic World and elsewhere. At the same time, the world economy will be increasingly dominated by gigantic corporations existing within and across these blocks. Furthermore, the world and countries will be increasingly divided between those rich in information and technology and those who are not. Those without access to knowledge, skills, information and technology will increasingly become a world underclass unable to find jobs with a long-term future and uninvited to the expanding consumer society.

Some rogue state will probably eventually get hold of a nuclear weapon and use it because of nuclear proliferation. However, this will not be nuclear Armageddon but an unfortunate tragedy. We survived Chernobyl and we'll survive that.

In the long-term religion will continue to decline. As a political phenomenon, religion has no future because it is incapable of solving economic needs and wants for the majority of the people. Base motivations in the long-term are about full stomachs and prosperity, not spiritual salvation.

At the same time ideology seems to be pretty much dead and buried. As a result, national politics will be increasingly about identity, effective economic management and corruption. Single issue groups will continue to grow and they will have an increasing influence on politics. Since the environment will continue to deteriorate, environmental and health issues will continue to be important in national and international politics. A lot of marketing will be necessary to avoid the "Big Business vs. the people" scenario revealed by the genetic food war and Seattle 1999.

In the next few years your life and prosperity will depend on:

a) The success of European reform.
b) The continuing strength of the US econorny.
e) The continued growth of world trade and Internet business.

At the risk of suggesting that Kevin Costner is the great prophet of our times, we must recognise that water is going to play an important role in future world politics. First as sea-levels rise various places will be covered in it. When we lose the Seychelles and the Maldives this will be sad but hardly of global importance. We can assume that rich places like London and the Netherlands will continue to find solutions to rising sea-levels. However, when Bangladesh - with its population of over 100 million - disappears, we can expect severe geopolitical consequences.

On the other hand, drinking water is going to be increasingly scarce. Two thirds of the world's population will be short of it within the lifetimes of most us - that's scary, even if you and I are not amongst them. The necessity is the mother of invention" school of thought presumably assumes that we will find cheap and efficient way of converting thousands of tons of sea water into drinking water. Let's hope they're right.

Science will continue to dominate our lives. More specifically, biology will become the supreme science. By 2003 at the latest, they will have decoded the "Book of Life": the human genome. This will revolutionise medicine. Another ironic side-effect will be the death of the life-insurance industry. With increased information about what diseases a person is going to suffer from, the random element will be taken out of the industry and it will collapse. In ten years time scientists should be ready to create life.

However, space exploration will decline. NASA received so much money in the 20th. Century because of the Cold War. We will continue to learn about our universe but by analysing the information which comes here rather than going out there to get it.

Last January the Financial Times finally declared English a global language. You may think this is wishful thinking (more English-speakers, more potential readers of the FT) but it does make sense. English has now gained a critical mass. Not only do one billion people speak English, not only can you find English-speakers in every country in the world, not only is it the language of Internet and business, but it is also considered everywhere as the necessary second language. Anyone keen to advance professionally - from Japan, Vietnam and China to France and Russia - is learning English. There will be an increasing variety of English dialects but the media will probably ensure that the US-UK standard continues to be considered a model and that the varieties do not become mutually incomprehensible. Other major languages will not disappear. For instance, Spanish is, in fact, growing faster than English. Minority languages in rich countries will not disappear, either. What will disappear are rninority languages in the Third World which cannot effectively resist cultural imperialism.

The world's population will probably continue growing for the next fifty years. That will mean more people in our life-times but it is only a problem if there isn't enough food and water to feed them (there's still enough space to put them in). Of course, the real problem is that the extra people will be in poorer countries. The problem continues to be that they can't afford to eat, not that there isn't food to feed them. Over half the world's population now live in cities. Ever since the Romans, those that rule us have known that the most dangerous scenario possible is that of food shortage in cities. Nevertheless, Malthus's theory may yet be proved wrong, even if it is at the cost eating genetically-modified food.

Bye-bye Petrol
One of these days the oil is going to run out. That's not strictly true, actually. As it becomes scarcer, exploration will increase and uneconomic deposits will become profitable for production. But either way, petrol will become progressively more expensive, Eventually this will kill off that obsolete piece of technology, the internal combustion engine. It will also mean the end of cheap air travel and cities will have to be restructured. On the other hand, in the long-term the death of the private automobile will have positive environmental repercussions.

Few things in life are certain except death. For the Earth that will happen in 2.5 billion year time when life will disappear from this planet because the expanding sun will evaporate all the water. The only conclusion to be drawn from all this is: Go to the Maldives now while they are still there and you can still afford the flight!


crystal-ball gazing: predicting the future. A crystal-ball is a glass sphere used by clairvoyants to see the future
foolhardy: adventurous, risky, temerarious
to state: declare
ton: 1000 kg.
to draw (a conclusion): reach, come to, arrive at
within: in, inside
unable to (+ inf): not capable of (+ ing)
rogue: dishonest, inmoral, not accepting the established world order
eventually: in the end
to get hold of: obtain
pretty much dead and buried: a thing of the past, an obsolete idea
single issue groups: organisations which are only interested in one subject (feminists, environmentalists, etc.)

hardly: (in this context) not
scarce: in short supply, rare, insufficient
: frightening
amongst them: among them, one of them
random: unpredictable, arbitrary
wishful thinking: talking about sth. as if it were probable, when it is not, because you want it to occur
keen (to adyance): enthusiastic (about advancing), eager (to advance), interested (in advancing)
media: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and Internet
can't afford: do not have enough money
ever since: from the time of
shortage: scarcity, insufficient supply
the oil is going to run out: the oil will be exhausted, there will be no oil left.