James Martin, one of the world's most widely respected authorities on the impact of technology on society, argues that we are living at a turning point in human history. If we are to survive, we must learn how to manage them all. In a clear, penetrating and insightful style he addresses the key questions of our age and proposes an interconnected set of solutions to its problems.
Review: " A fire bell warning. Any political or business leader or young person eager to make history should begin by reading James Martin's hopeful and crucial blueprint.
Ian Sample on James Martin's book The Meaning of the 21st Century | Global | The Guardian
He lectures all over the world and has written extensively on management and technology. Much of what needs to be done, however, is not happening. The grand-scale transition of the 21st century could occur gently. For example, we are drifting towards irreversible climate change faster than we are taking any actions to stop that happening. Water is essential for food production, but we are taking water from aquifers at a rate that will cause many of them to run dry.
In addition to water depletion and soil degradation, food production will also be seriously lowered in some countries by drought and heat waves caused by the rising quantity of greenhouse gases. Particularly alarming, we may cause Gaia, the control system of the planet, to wobble into a new state.
There are many solutions to our problems but it is common to find corporations resisting the solutions, and government that seems incapable of taking the actions needed. If we continue to have roadblocks to correct behaviour, negative events will overtake us. The planetary damage caused by the successful countries will breed anger among the unsuccessful.
It will enhance the recruiting capability of al Qaeda and terrorist protest squads. There is ultimately no way of avoiding the 21st-Century Transition. If governments continue to take almost no action, the transition, when it eventually happens, will be traumatic, expensive, and often violent. Large-scale catastrophes will trigger change.
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But the problem with the catastrophe-first syndrome is that the potential catastrophes are getting bigger. The worst famines and the worst pandemics in human history are yet to come. A war with the anger of World War II and modern technology could set back civilization for centuries. To make the 21st-Century Transition as painless as possible, its various changes should be made as early as possible, before the problems become too bad. However, in almost all areas this is not happening. Where steady transitions are possible, for example with the change to non-carbon fuels, almost nothing is being done.
The US Environmental Protection Agency tries to repair environmental damage after it has happened, but it seems to have almost no ability to change the economic practices that cause the damage in the first place. World Summits on Sustainable Development have had agendas of immense importance but have taken almost no action on anything. Their follow-up can be described as studied avoidance of any changes that are controversial.
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In many areas the situation is worse than doing nothing. There are enormous subsidies paying for the oceans to be over-fished. The subsidies that damage the environment are massive, and subsidies that could help the environment are small. If taxpayers were given a listing of subsidies they pay, sequenced by the net harm from those subsidies, they would be in revolt.
Not surprisingly, governments tend to hide this information. The longer the transition is delayed, the more difficult it will be.
The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future
The Transition Generation will be increasingly frustrated and angry about the roadblocks to transition. Their anger will lead to discontinuous change — revolution, not evolution. As often before in history, revolution will be the consequence of complacency. Historians of the distant future will describe two extraordinary transitions: the Industrial Revolution, which set into motion the change that grew into the thundering avalanche we have today, and the 21st-Century Revolution, which prevented the avalanche from wrecking our world.
The Industrial Revolution and the 21st-Century Revolution complement one another. The new revolution does not stop progress. On the contrary, it is the beginning of fundamentally new forms of progress, which greatly enhance affluence and culture while healing, rather than harming, the environment.
Historians will regard the early 21st century as a barbarian world — seeing there was no need for all the environmental damage, the destruction of ocean life, or the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The 21st-Century Revolution will bring a brave new world of transhumanism, nanotechnology, biotechnology, post-Singularity computing, genome-based science, and transponders linking our brains directly to networks.
The fast growth of the massive new consumer class in China and elsewhere is redrawing the world economic map. The First World has a population of 1 billion. China and India will have a joint population of 2. Young people in the new consumer classes are building up a fever pitch of excitement about their new lifestyles. Cities need large amounts of water, both for hygienic living and for their new industry.
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There are many situations in cities around the world in which they will pay thousands of dollars per ton for water. Because of this, water is increasingly being diverted to cities, and this leaves water-short farmers with even less water. Cities are prepared to pay much more for water than farmers can afford to pay. In China, new cities are springing like mushrooms. A similar pattern is developing in India and other countries. The economic forces behind this are immense.
Many city governments have signed contracts to buy water for the next 50 years or more. San Diego brought rights to million tons of water per year for the next 75 years. However, it needs more grain because the hordes of young people in its new consumer societies want to eat meat instead of rice, and they want high-quality meat from well-fed animals.
Meat production is very expensive in terms of grain and, hence, in terms of water. The amount of water increases as the quality of meat goes up. Buying a ton of grain is equivalent to buying a thousand tons of water, and buying 18 pounds of meat is equivalent to buying roughly a ton of grain. China will have to buy huge amounts of grain and this will cause the price of grain to go up. They will neither be able to grow the grain they need nor purchase it. Global warming will make this situation worse by lowering farm productivity in many water-stressed countries.
Many farms will close down.
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