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The World of Our Grandchildren Part One

Good morning. This is the chance for us to be completely outrageous. We will be talking about a subject that none of us know anything about—and therefore I hope you will all join in—which is our grandchildren’s future, the year 2050.

            It’s the kind of conversation we should really reserve for late at night after a dinner such as we had last night. The early hours of Sunday morning are harder to deal with in this capacity, but I’m sure you will all jump in and help us out.

            All ideas, however outrageous, will be gratefully received, and to show you that it doesn’t matter if you make a fool of yourself, I intend to make a fool of myself now by predicting the kind of world in which we might be living by 2050. It will of course be a world in which China will be the major power. China, which will by that time have merged with Taiwan, will have colonized Japan, will be pushing north into the empty regions of Russia, and will be casting more than envious glances at the open spaces of Australia.

          China will have some two billion people with a wealth equal to that of the United States today on an individual basis. Taken as a whole, it will be vastly wealthier than America. It will be glowering at its main rival—the United States of Canada, America, and Mexico, that fine country in 2050 of 600 million people. It would perhaps be slightly more willing to flex its muscles if it didn’t have the example in its mind of the small nuclear war in 2030 between India and Pakistan that wiped out 200 million people in the Himalayan region and that was a salutatory reminder to all people of the folly of war.

            And anyhow, by 2050 America has its all-powerful Star Wars nuclear shield up and finally working to prevent any possibility of an initial strike.

            In Europe, of course not many people are left. The population of Italy has fallen by 30 percent, which need not be a bad thing. It means that my grandchildren will be able to see the pictures in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence rather than just the back of someone else’s head.

            The European Union by that time, of course having a single currency, will stretch from the Urals in Russia to the Atlantic. It will encapsulate a mere 300 million people, who constitute at that stage only a tiny fraction of the world’s population and its wealth. Europe in 2050 will be feeling the pressure of its neighbors: those 300 million people on that narrow strip of sand between Casablanca and Istanbul, pressurizing its southern border.

            But if those are the threats in 2050, what are the things that we can have our grandchildren look forward to? A world, of course, awash with energy. Fuel cell technology powering our cars, powering our houses at virtually no cost; unlimited energy from clean nuclear fuel—by this time the brains at the chemistry and physics department at The University of Texas will have gotten their minds around that. Unlimited fuel and unlimited information, the cost of information of all kinds of information being zero and the amount of information and one’s ability to use it being infinite.

            In fact, if it weren’t for those glaring populations elsewhere in the world, it would be a glorious time to be alive, and boy, will you be alive for a long time. Your grandchildren by 2050 will have had any little bits of DNA that may have needed correcting already corrected in the womb. They will be looking forward to a life span of, well, 100, 150 years, and of course will be completely immune to many of today’s killers. The computer chip imbedded at the time of birth will make quite sure that there’s an immediate alert if anything does go wrong with the DNA programming.

            So it will be a great time to be alive.

            What will be the divisions? They won’t be “Are you black or white or yellow or anything else?” They will be “Do you come from a family of parents who are married?” There will be a new class. There will be a division between those children who are brought up in stable homes with funny things (good parents who happen to be around for the first 15 years of their life) and those who do not know their parents, certainly do not know their fathers. All of the massive studies that have been done in the United States and in Europe show that this in the future will be the single biggest divide there will be in society. It will be a divide between those children who come from married homes and stable homes and those who do not. It will show up in the grades for exams on Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, the grades in the physics or chemistry papers that they’re getting, and in the jobs that they subsequently get.

            They will be good human beings: open, liberal—and I use that in the British context. I’m always aware it’s a word that doesn’t travel the Atlantic necessarily well, but open minded, tolerant of everything except intolerance. That is the result of the freedom of information flow that they will receive.

            They will be worried by the 400 million people who have been displaced by 2050 by the rising waters caused by global warming. These will be people who live along deltas and estuaries, whether it be in New Orleans or Bangladesh. They will know that the height of the sea will rise by another eight inches within their own lifetime, flooding yet more vast plains.

            Water indeed will be on our grandchildren’s minds, and not just that which is flooding in from the sea. Water will be the main worry and concern, the main subject of war in 2050, because that is the one thing that will not be plentiful. It won’t be plentiful in New Mexico and it certainly won’t be plentiful in the enormous cities of Central China and Africa and of Asia.

            One country will cast an envious eye over another country’s river supply and will be willing to go to war to make sure that it gets its water. There will be the certainty of rationing because there will not be enough, not nearly enough to go around.

            But if these are the worries that our grandchildren will have, they will on balance be a happier generation than ours, and that is because, by and large, human beings progress. Our lot gets better. We are more reasonable. When we look back at the past, we look at the past as being unreasonable, and you can be quite sure that your grandchildren when they’re my age will look at all of us as being completely unreasonable.

            So with those few remarks and having made a complete fool of myself, I hand over to the sober Steven Murdock, who will show us how it’s going to be in 2050 in Texas.