2020: China Rises, the U.S. Declines and the Planet Strikes Back
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Progress will be evident in the development of renewable energy systems, such as wind, solar, and biofuels. Despite the vast sums now being devoted to their development, however, they will still provide only a relatively small share of world energy in 2020. According to DoE projections, renewables will take care of only 10.5% of world energy needs in 2020, while oil and other petroleum liquids will still make up 32.6% of global supplies; coal, 27.1%; and natural gas, 23.8%. In other words, greenhouse gas production will rage on -- and, ironically, should it not, thanks to expected shortfalls in the supply of oil, that in itself will likely prove another kind of disaster, pushing up the prices of all energy sources and endangering economic stability. Most industry experts, including those at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, believe that it will be nearly impossible to continue increasing the output of conventional and unconventional petroleum (including tough to harvest Arctic oil, Canadian tar sands, and shale oil) without increasingly implausible fresh investments of trillions of dollars, much of which would have to go into war-torn, unstable areas like Iraq or corrupt, unreliable states like Russia.
In the latest hit movie Avatar, the lush, mineral-rich moon Pandora is under assault by human intruders seeking to extract a fabulously valuable mineral called "unobtainium." Opposing them are not only a humanoid race called the Na’vi, loosely modeled on Native Americans and Amazonian jungle dwellers, but also the semi-sentient flora and fauna of Pandora itself. While our own planet may not possess such extraordinary capabilities, it is clear that the environmental damage caused by humans since the onset of the Industrial Revolution is producing a natural blowback effect which will become increasingly visible in the coming decade.
These, then, are the four trends most likely to dominate the second decade of this century. Perhaps others will eventually prove more significant, or some set of catastrophic events will further alter the global landscape, but for now expect the dragon ascendant, the eagle descending, the South rising, and the planet possibly trumping all of these.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency .