I am writing these words with a caveat. They are the comments and musings of a very old man. From time immemorial, old men have expressed their fears of the future and tend to believe that the world is going to hell. Perhaps this is just another Jeremiad of such an old curmudgeon.
Recently I participated in a broad ranging discussion with a younger colleague. Toward the end of the program a listener posed a question that I did not understand. In retrospect I believe he was asking our ideas about the future. I will attempt to make a few comments about that subject.
I am moderately pessimistic about what lies ahead. I believe that the present generation will be confronted with challenges of a magnitude that no previous generation has ever faced. Allow me to present several areas of potential threats to world stability.
THE POPULATION BOMB: Demographers predict that the world’s population will continue to grow. Sometime in this century it will level off at approximately ten billion people. Already, significant numbers of humans live on the verge of starvation. Will the world have sufficient resources to feed an additional three billion people? Will wars erupt over agricultural land and the scarcity of food?
AVAILABILITY OF WATER: Significant areas of Asia and Africa are deserts. In many places the deserts are expanding resulting in insufficient supplies of water for agriculture and domestic use. The additional pressures on this resource can only exacerbate with with the growth of population. It is not inconceivable that wars of the future will be fought over water and other vital resources.
CLIMATE CHANGE: The primary source of water in the subcontinent of Asia arises from glaciation in the Himalaya. These glaciers are receding rapidly, posing a potential threat to the the water supply of a large area. At the same time, melting of the Polar ice caps will result in the rise of the oceans. Costal lands will be inundated causing displacement of populations with inevitable social upheaval. Some climatologists also believe that the warming of the planet will result in more episodes of severe weather. Others feel that global warming will damage agriculture, leading to more starvation. These are speculations regarding the future. As we know, predictions are always uncertain. Perhaps, in an era of advanced scientific knowledge, these prognostications can be reversed.
A CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS: Already we have witnessed tribal conflicts between various groups. Some of these have persisted over many generations. The strife between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and the ongoing conflict between Jews and Palestinians illustrate such tensions. Many have existed for long periods of time. Each morning the newspapers tell us of Kurds versus Turks, Shiites versus Sunnis and numerous other inter-ethnic conflicts. However, I believe the greatest potential clash of civilizations will be between the Western European cultural values and those of the Islamic world. I believe we are already seeing the onset of such turbulence in countries such as France.
In summary I believe that this generation is faced with great challenges. Whether these challenges can be surmounted remains to be seen.