Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year to Be - Nine Predictions for 2014

Medellin, Colombia
As the physicist once said, prediction is hard, especially about the future.  But as the New Year is about to open, I think I'll try my hand at this fools' game.

In general, I think 2014 will continue a time of great caution and lack of vision among those who hold political and social power.

The status quo has become more brittle due to a bundle of interrelated issues including,

the over-exploitation of the seas, soils and biosphere

the destabilization of the climate

the plateauing of fossil fuel production

the impending cresting of economic growth

the dissatisfaction of global publics who cannot be allowed democracy or democratic discourse

and last but not least, the dishonesty and intellectual bankruptcy of the cult of Progress and infinite growth.

Paradoxically, the very fragility of the status quo, the lack of imaginable alternatives, and the fact that no one wants to overturn the boat, mean that we will muddle along without much in the way of change this year.  Still, things will happen, and here are nine predictions I'm willing to make . . .

Caldas, Colombia

Tokyo, Japan
  • In US politics, Republicans will spend another couple of months convincing people that their greedy insurance companies are actually Obamacare, before they pivot and take credit for all of the things that are popular about the program.   
  • Democrats will get some credit for successfully pushing for minimum wage increases, and Republicans will mostly get out of the way eventually.  Life will improve slightly for millions of people and small businesses.
  • Having disappeared almost entirely from the political and media discourse, climate change will be back in the news as hot weather, drought, and sea level rise continue to intensify.  Notably, it will be treated not as a problem to be solved, but rather as an inevitability that must be adapted to.  The solution that dare not speak its name (i.e. changing our way of living) will continue to be tabu.
Quito, Ecuador
  • Among the Chinese, there will be unrest in 2014 stemming from ecological degradation -- especially pollution in the air, soil and food.  The Chinese government will react by purging some high-profile officials and when that doesn't settle things, it will look for a pretext to stir up the distraction of a nativist backlash against the Japanese, Tibetans or Uighurs. 
  • Energy production will limp along at a plateau, just enough to keep the global economy sputtering, while food prices will be kept just low enough to avoid riots and revolutions.  Predictors of doom and predictors of a new prosperity will both be disappointed.
  • On the tech front, Google Glass and smart watches will fail to extend their reach beyond the chic geek digerati.  But late in the year there will be the first incarnations of true digital assistants - programs that can adapt to individuals and manage their social networking and digital connectivity.  The nimbler of the telecoms will get on board and start working on these new digital PA's.
Quito, Ecuador
  • The Sochi Olympics will be a fiasco impressive even by Russian standards.  The one upside being that few people will go in person so the inadequacies and brutalities of the effort won't become as notorious as they might have.
  • One of the world's great monoculture crops will mostly fail this year.  Although this will be blamed on a new pest or blight, the failure will actually be due to a combination of narrow genetics, unstable climate and the decline in agricultural research.
  • On the global spiritual front, the push by Pope Francis for a more modest, non-consumerist and even ascetic spirituality will be echoed in popular movements within religions around the world, including evangelicals, muslims and others.  Governments will be unsettled and ambivalent about this development.
Rhode Island, US
So, if there is still an internet at the end of 2014, I will revisit these predictions and we can see how prescient I was or wasn't . . .