• Question: what might happen to the world in a cuple of years or so?

    Asked by rawritsjoe to Daniel, Derek, Ian, Phil, Upul on 22 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Derek Mann

      Derek Mann answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      Well in theory anything and everything! But I imagine not much as 2 years is quite a short time in the history of a planet that has already been around for millions of years. Longer term we have to think about the effects of pollution, greenhouse gases and global warming which might (but not certainly) change the way our plant looks and behaves. There is also the slim chance we might get hit by a large meteor like the one we think wiped out the dinosaurs. But we already have lots of scientists using telescopes to track the movement of large objects in space and so we would get lots of advanced warning and time to prevent us being hit (I hope!!).

    • Photo: Ian Sillett

      Ian Sillett answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      If I knew that you could call me Mystic Meg!

    • Photo: Daniel Mietchen

      Daniel Mietchen answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      It is clear that we are running out of some of the major resources that sustain our human societies, especially in the Western world: These include fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) but also fish, or even Uranium (an essential ingredient to nuclear power generation, often heralded as a solution to our energy problems once we run out of fossil fuels) and Helium (which is used, e.g., to cool the superconductors that create the strong magnetic fields that allow MRI machines to take images of the brain, so that we can analyze them).

      This means that we need radical shifts in our use of natural resources, and these will not be possible without shifts in the way our societies are structured. Most of this is politics (and psychology of politicians, lawyers and business people) – much of the science about it has already been know for decades (though details remain to be worked out).

      This is just one perspective on the future. Another one (and equally valid) is that technological development will continue to accelerate (provided the resources for that to happen are still there), and that we will reach a technological singularity by the time your kids will be as old as you are now. Some of these developments are nicely summarized in the video linked from “accelerate” (a bit US centric and also outdated in several respects already, but well worth its five minutes of your time).

      What does this mean for you? Well, at least that getting to know the world better is crucial, both in terms of how it is today and how it could be improved. Science is one of the best ways to go about that.