The New North

World2050_HP Fred Pearce reviews Laurence C. Smith's The World in 2050, in Seed:

The World in 2050 is the best new geography book of the year. If that sounds underwhelming, it shouldn’t. Geography is the new hot discipline. A new generation of geographers is integrating the myriad concerns of the world, whether economic or political, social or environmental.

They are making sense of the globalisation of economics and environmental concerns in a way potentially as important as the cartographers of the middle ages. They are charting our limits and firing our imaginations. In this “thought experiment” into what kind of a world we may face just 40 years hence, Larry Smith shows the power of geography superbly with some literary ability.

To set the scene, he offers four global forces that will shape the coming decades. The first is escalating human demand on diminishing global resources, from water to oil to food. Smith skilfully sums up the global revolution created by the widespread use of fossil fuels in a sentence. “Packed inside a single barrel of oil is about the same amount of energy as would be produced from eight years of labour by an average-sized man.”

And he poses a central ethical dilemma with similar pithiness, asking: “What if you could play God and do the noble, ethically fair thing by converting the entire developing world’s level of material consumption to that now carried out by North Americans. By merely snapping your fingers you could eliminate this misery. Would you?” He adds: “I sure hope not.”

Then there is demography. He looks forward to the completion of the “demographic transition” and the end of population growth, but wonders how close a stable population may be.