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Two recent reports on the future of human civilization agree on one important point: We’re not totally screwed.
“People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, and increasingly connected, and they are living longer,” concluded the Millennium Project’s 2013-2014 State of the Future, an annual report card on the future of civilization.
A second study—The World in 2025: 10 Predictions in Innovation—had a similarly optimistic take on the coming decade. Collated by Thomson Reuters, the list of predictions include solar power becoming the dominant power source on the planet, babies routinely getting their genomes mapped to assess future disease risk, and teleportation evolving into a legitimate transportation method (albeit for non-human matter).
The one area that the studies significantly clashed over was access to healthy food. The World in 2025 authors argued that food shortages and price fluctuations are on the way out.
“In 2025, genetically modified crops will be grown rapidly and safely indoors,” the study said. “Crops will also be bred to be disease resistant. And, they will be bred for high yields at specific wavelength.”
“Because there is reduced risk of crop failure, price fluctuations and food shortages will become things of the past.”
While the Millennium Project agreed that food access is improving generally, it found that the subsequent quality of nutrition is decreasing, resulting in “hidden hunger.”
“Although the share of people in the world who are hungry has fallen from over 30 percent in 1970 to 15 percent today…FAO estimates that 30% (2 billion people) suffer from ‘hidden hunger,” the State of the Future report said.
“This is a situation in which the intake of calories is sufficient but the amount of vitamins and minerals is not. Some researchers argue that industrial agriculture reduces the nutrient content of crops, thus escalating the risk of hidden hunger.”
The Millennium Program was likewise not as optimistic as The World in 2025 authors regarding the death of food price fluctuations. “A concentration of power gives the agricultural biotechnology companies a near monopoly over a large part of global food, undermining small farming and farmers’ rights and most probably driving up costs,” their report said.
“Although 95 percent of the world’s farmers live in the developing world, producing the majority of the world’s food, they are the poorest and most vulnerable to hidden hunger.”
At the risk of erring on the pessimistic side, the Millennium Project’s report has more credibility, plus a far more exhaustive approach to its research. It boasts the largest internationally peer-reviewed set of methods for assessing future possibilities ever collected in one source. That includes both good and bad possibilities, whereas the Reuters researchers solely focused on emerging benevolent technologies.
Even so, the Millennium Project authors provided plenty of reason to be optimistic, and proposed dozens of ideas for chipping away at hidden hunger from multiple angles. Indeed, every major problem covered in the State of the Future report—climate change, obscene wealth gaps, civil wars—was met with a litany of refreshingly reasonable solutions.
On top of all that, the Millennium Project authors managed to came up with one of the best backhanded compliments ever written about humanity: “When you consider the many wrong decisions and good decisions not taken—day after day and year after year around the world—it is amazing that we are still making as much progress as we are,” they wrote.
That should really be our species’ tagline. Humanity: accidentally avoiding extinction for 80,000 years.