We may be in a race between the increasing proliferation of threats and our increasing ability to improve the human condition. This drama drives many people around the world to fight destructive fatalism by implementing innovations benefiting humanity. Yet the emergence of world conscience strategically focused on global challenges is too often distracted by trivia in the media, government pettiness, valueless marketing, daily complexities of survival, and all forms of information pollution. Nevertheless, enough wisdom has prevailed to accelerate human development for a growing majority of the world.

The insights in this year’s State of the Future can help decision makers and educators who work to counter hopeless despair, blind confidence, and ignorant indifference—attitudes that too often have blocked efforts to improve the prospects for humanity. Last year’s edition began with the statement:

After seven years of accumulative global futures research by the Millennium Project, it has become increasingly clear that humanity has the resources to address its global challenges; what is less clear is how much wisdom, good will, and intelligence will be focused on these challenges.

This eighth year of the Project’s work further confirms this conclusion. One of the greatest dramas is whether current and future efforts to achieve sustainable development will be sufficient to prevent global warming from seriously damaging civilization and life-support systems, eventually leading to a greenhouse effect growing beyond human control. Atmospheric CO2 has gone up again for another record year, three of the last five years were the warmest in recorded history, and the world could use more than twice as much fossil fuels over the next 50 years as over past 50.

We face numerous other daunting challenges: water tables are falling on every continent, agricultural land is becoming brackish, groundwater aquifers are being polluted, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation. By 2050 more than 2 billion people could be living in water-scarce areas, forcing masses of people to migrate into inhumane conditions. Without sufficient nutrition, shelter, water, and sanitation, it is reasonable to expect increased migrations, conflicts, and disease.

At the same time, millions of people around the world work daily to produce more intelligent human-nature symbioses. Although the interdependence of economic growth and technological innovation has made it possible for 3–4 billion people to have relatively good health and living conditions today, unless our financial, economic, environmental, and social behaviors are improved along with our industrial technologies, the long-term future could be more difficult. However, with cheaper materials and better automation we can easily cut inputs in half and double outputs; with better ICT we can more optimally match ideas, people, resources, and challenges worldwide in real time; with emerging global ethics and decision support systems, improved policies seem possible. But will this be sufficient to engage our thinking far enough into the future to get ahead of problems and seize opportunities?

The dynamics of urbanization coordinates with so many important improvements to the human condition that urbanization—once thought of as a problem—is now seen as part of the solution to poverty, ignorance, disease, and malnutrition.

By 2050 there could be 2 billion people who are 60 or older, which will be more than the number who are under 15. Assuming no major breakthroughs in life extension research, one UN alternative forecast projects that by the end of this century world population could actually be a billion lower than today. This would force changes in retirement and in health care systems and cultures worldwide. Yet the current population of 6.4 billion is forecasted to grow to 8.9 billion by 2050; 98% of this growth is expected in the poorer countries. The North is suffering from aging, declining populations and the need to provide retirement benefits, while the South is suffering from growing populations with very limited opportunities. It seems that a global strategy to match these needs and resources should be on the international agenda.

The number of democracies is growing, the number of dictatorships is decreasing, and more people will vote this year then ever before in history. At the same time, there are approximately 50 failed nation-states. What are the international community’s responsibilities for anticipating future failed states and rescuing current ones?

Globally oriented, future-oriented politicians are urgently needed. There is no escaping the need to educate the public, who could in turn elect more global future–minded politicians. The completion of the Human Genome Project, the Internet, AIDS, management of the International Space Station, globalization of the news media and the evolution of the WTO, NATO, and the EU—all relatively unthinkable just 25 years ago—are some of the factors that demonstrate the acceleration, complexity, and globalization that are increasing the need for global, long-term perspectives in our decisionmaking. Yet graduate programs in global futures research are scarce.

Meanwhile, the merging of information and telecommunications technologies is creating a self-organizing mechanism that can improve the collective intelligence of humanity. As mobile phones and the Internet merge, China is set to become a unique cyber phenomenon: it has the largest number of mobile phone users in the world and within two years it will also have the most Internet users. As the integration of cell phones, video, and the Internet grows, prices will fall, accelerating globalization and allowing swarms of people to quickly form and disband, coordinate actions, and share information ranging from stock market tips to bold new contagious ideas (meme epidemics). About 13% of humanity connects to the Internet, and the digital divide is narrowing. At the same time, civilization is vulnerable to cyber terrorism, power outages, information pollution (misinformation, pornography, junk e-mail, media violence), and virus attacks. (The probability of a catastrophic attack—global damages in excess of $100 billion from a chain of combined events—has risen from 2.5% for 2003 to about 30% for 2004, according to mi2g Ltd.)

In the past 20 years, income per capita has grown almost 10%, life expectancy has increased about seven years, secondary school enrollments have grown by 30%, and infant mortality has dropped by almost 40%. Yet without major policy interventions, the income disparities could grow enough to create global instabilities. The ratio of the average income of people in the top 5% to the bottom 5% has grown from 6:1 in 1980 to over 200:1 now.

More than 30 new and highly infectious diseases have been identified in the last 20 years, such as avian flu, Ebola, AIDS, SARS, and cross-species viruses in Africa; for many there is no treatment, cure, or vaccine. The Copenhagen Consensus rated the fight against HIV/AIDS as the most important issue facing the world, and our State of the Future Index studies also show this as one of the most important threats to the future in quantitative terms. Another study showed that spending $60 billion to promote condom use and distribute antiretroviral drugs would save $3 trillion. Meanwhile, nurses and teachers in some parts of Africa are dying of AIDS faster than they can be replaced. Yet some important progress is being made: the yearly cost of antiretroviral medicine available to some in developing countries has fallen as low as $300 per person, a new 40-hour AIDS test may affect the spread of the disease, and a genetically modified vaginal bacteria that can be stored in freeze-dried tablets may be able to protect women against HIV.

While the number of major armed conflicts (those with 1,000 or more deaths) continues to fall, some major powers have not fully understood that Industrial Age military force is not sufficient to counter asymmetrical warfare. Engagement of the disenfranchised by the more powerful is essential to reducing terrorism and ethnic conflicts. This engagement will be increasingly important since, according to one study, there are 285 minority groups that could be in future conflicts due to different forms of injustice, and within the next 25 years it is possible that single individuals acting alone might use advances in science and technology to create and use weapons of mass destruction. There are more than 53,000 UN peacekeepers (military personnel and civilian police) from 96 countries currently deployed in 15 missions on three continents. Yet the vast majority of the world is living in peace, trans-cultural ethics is being studied, dialogues among differing worldviews are increasing, formal EU and informal East Asia regional groupings of powers are adding to stability and intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing—the largest UN conference in history. Although it accelerated efforts to improve women’s lives, many nations have not fulfilled their commitments to international conventions, declarations, and platforms for improving the status of women in their countries, even though this could be one of the most cost-effective strategies for addressing the global challenges of our age. Meanwhile, violence against females between 15 and 44 years of age causes more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and even war. Amnesty International estimates that one out of every three women has been physically assaulted by an intimate male partner at some point in her life.

The more than $2 trillion amassed per year by transnational organized crime allows its participants to buy the knowledge and technology to create new forms of crime to generate even more profits. Nation-states can be understood as a series of decision points that are vulnerable to the vast amounts of money from crime syndicates. Transnational organized crime is increasingly interfering with the ability of governments to act. It is time for an international campaign by all sectors of society to develop a global consensus for action to counter transnational organized crime.

Most people do not appreciate how fast science and technology will change over the next 25 years. People are surprised to learn that even today we can see proteins embedded in a cell’s membrane tens of billionths of a meter across, that organic transistors with a single-molecule channel length have been developed, that gene variants for schizophrenia, depression, and other mental diseases have been discovered, and that light has been stopped by a yttrium-silica crystal and then released and has been slowed in gas and then accelerated, promising vast improvements in computer capacity. The synergies and confluence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science—known as NBIC—will dramatically increase individual and group performance and the support systems of civilization. Dramatic increases in collective human-machine intelligence are possible within 25 years.

Today, it takes 33% less energy to produce a unit of GDP in industrial economies than it did in 1973. Nevertheless, world energy demand is forecast to increase by 54% from 2001 to 2025 and to require about $16 trillion in new investments to meet demands by 2030. A Millennium Project international panel rated the commercial availability of non-nuclear fission and non-fossil fuel means of generating baseload electricity by 2025 at prices competitive with today’s fossil fuels as the most important mission for science and engineering to improve the future. Unless significant progress is made on carbon sequestration, the environmental movement may try to close down the fossil fuel industries, just as it stopped atomic energy growth 30 years ago.

The synergies of NBIC technologies plus robotics and genomics promise god-like powers with ethical implications beyond current discourse. Information overload makes it increasingly difficult to separate the noise from the signal of what is important to know in order to make a good decision. Because the unprecedented speed of change makes people unsure about the future and because globalization is challenging philosophical and religious certainty, people are unsure of the basis on which to make decisions. Chapter 1 presents executive summaries of 15 Global Challenges for humanity, while more substantial details for each are included in the CD’s Chapter 1.


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