With 2011 around the corner, what big developments might be expected in the coming year? Here are a few possibilities, bad and good:
Bad: Freshwater shortages. China is depleting its aquifers at an alarming rate in order to grow rice, the most water-intensive cereal. Freshwater supplies are approaching critical in much of the Middle East.
Discussion of climate change has focused on rising temperatures, which in and of themselves aren’t a threat and have some positives (such as lowering winter heat demand). As UCLA geographer Laurence Smith shows in his important new book The World in 2050, nearly all our globe’s surface freshwater is in glaciers and snowpack. Warming is causing “more of the world’s water to leave the mountains to run to the sea,” warns Smith, and “no amount of engineering” can reverse this loss in the short term.
Good: The boom resumes. Call me zany, call me wacky — the conditions are in place for a resumption of significant global economic growth. The world economy was hit with a broadside and shook but didn’t sink. This shows the fundamentals are sound. An up cycle is due.
Bad: Air strikes against Iran’s nuclear installation. Israel, lacking long-range force projection, could mount only a token strike that would destabilize the region but accomplish little. The United States has the means to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities from the air, but would kill many civilians in the process — as well as kill Russians, potentially restarting the Cold War. In 10 years, everything would be rebuilt anyway.