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RIO+20 The Future We Want

RIO+20 the future we want

Mark Kurlansky: The Future We Want

Mark Kurlansky

It is difficult when contemplating the future not to have some sense of dread. But I have a far stronger sense of optimism. Much of that optimism comes from what I see when I look at the young people who will be in their thirties in twenty years. Already these are people accustomed to a free flow of information even though this also means a cacophony of too many voices. They know a great deal about making themselves herd. They disdain bigotry, view it the way Emile Zola viewed anti-Semitism as simply backwards. I do see a future with less bigotry.

These young people who know how to make themselves heard are appalled by what is being done to our environment and our going to do something about it. Just as many of the polluting practices of the Industrial Revolution are broadly inacceptable today, many of today’s practices will be rejected in the future.

Oil will still be an international business but it will be far smaller and of less significance than it is today because there will be so many cheaper cleaner ways of providing energy. Automobiles will undergo their first major revision in more than a century of use. The internal combustion engine will be outmoded. Commercial airplanes, for the first time since the 1950s will also be redesigned. The leading energy companies will be the companies that manufacture the equipment to build and service the new energies and the leading energy countries will not be the ones with energy resources but the ones with the imagination to have developed these industries.

Nuclear energy will not be one of these new energies unless technology manages to find safe ways of disposing of waste, of being secure from earthquakes and tsunamis. In an age of internet communication with a wide choice of energies, unpopular energy won’t sell. There is no future for a power plant that everyone is afraid to live next to.

The oceans will be healthier. There will be fewer risks of tanker disasters and with lower oil demand. Most off shore oil production will simply not be viable. There will be a turn away from excessive use of plastic, glass bottles will return and societies will be better organized to prevent plastic ending up in the ocean. There will also be more care to keep toxic heavy metals out of the sea although removing the ones already there will remain an unsolved puzzle. And global warming with its melting ice and rising seas will at best have been stabilized, certainly not reversed.

Fishery management will become far more sophisticated so that sustainable fishing will be the normal and efficient practice. However whether this fishing is still done by family operations or is taken over by large corporations is an open question. But fortunately most ideas for sustainable fisheries favor small operations.

The world will be more populated and the demand for food will be greater. Small scale organic farming will survive but will not be the primary source of food unless such farmers can find a way to make it more affordable. Agro-industry will turn away from chemical fertilizers but toward genetic engineering unless more evidence is found than exists to day that such practices are harmful. But as that business expands such research might turn up the evidence to stop it or alter its ways. Fish farming will also expand but techniques will be developed to make it less environmentally threatening. Farmed fish cannot continue to feed on factor trawler made meal. But fish that are not fed wild fish, that are not penned in a polluting way and are not fed chemicals could become one of the big foods of the future.

A pecking order will establish itself on the internet. Some sources will earn a reputation for being more reliable and they will get the greater followings and more prestige. But it will remain a tool for popular protest. Governments are going to be hearing more and more from "The people" and that will change the way they do things. Far fewer people will have what we think of today as jobs. Many people will be self-employed working out of their own homes or their own offices and earning a good living. This combination of facts will put tremendous pressure on governments to provide greater social safety nets for both the employed and the self-employed. The movement today by governments to cut social spending in the name of fiscal restraint is extraordinarily backwards in its vision and will be reversed to avoid economic and social disaster.

A world in which people can demand what they want will be a world in which the hungry are fed, children are educated, people have access to the marvels of a medical science that will give us much longer lives, and the earth will be kept clean. The financing of huge standing armies and weapons arsenals, what since 1940 has been eating up the fund for social spending, especially in the United States, will be cut back as one of the few budget savers possible.

I’m looking forward to it.

Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times bestselling author.