‘Both Promise and Peril’ Ahead for Future Governments
By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
The data speaks for itself. In the face of a down economy, there’s promise ahead for the future. But there’s also peril.
This is promising: In China alone, for example, 14,000 new cars are going on the road every day. That’s an opportunity for the U.S., said Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. “They need driving schools,” he said at The Council of State Governments-WEST annual meeting Saturday.
The audience of more than 400 state government officials laughed. It was such a simple proposition amidst the doom and gloom of an economic recession.
Thomas M. Sanderson, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, followed up to the governor’s comment. “I’ve lived in China and they do need driving schools,” he said with a chuckle.
On the flip side, enemies also don’t attack the U.S. in conventional ways—that’s the peril ahead. “Our adversaries are not going to take us on with a tank,” Sanderson said. “No one can challenge us on a conventional level.” Instead, attacks on the U.S. are asymmetric and unconventional.
“That means cyber attacks; that means terrorism,” Sanderson said.
A growing cyber society with high technology means sensitive information is increasingly compromised, Sanderson said. “We can no longer regard information as private and secure,” Sanderson said. That’s evidenced by high-profile cyber attacks on U.S. federal data.
Sanderson detailed the big-ticket forces at work in the world Saturday, identifying major trends shaping the future that state government officials need to know about.
Just as the world changes, so does government.
“When times to cut back a little bit were necessary, we did that because we knew we had a future ahead of us,” Otter said Saturday. “We deal with a much more confused world today than obviously Thomas Jefferson did.”
And he’s right. Today’s world has seven major forces driving its future, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ “Seven Revolutions” campaign. Here’s a look at what the data reveals about each trend:
By 2050, the life expectancy for the world’s population will be 75 years, Sanderson said.
Today, the world’s population is an estimated 6.9 million people, Sanderson said. That’s likely to rise to 7.7 billion by 2020, 8 billion people in 2025, 8.3 billion people in 2030 and 8.8 billion people in 2040, he said.
Population will likely taper off in 2075, he said.
If the world’s water supply were compressed to a gallon as an example—just 3 percent is fresh water and a mere two drops is usable, Sanderson said. Not only that, but the world will need 30 percent more water by 2030, he said.
That said, Canada and Russia have the largest amounts of unfrozen, fresh water supplies, he said.
We face a doubling of our energy needs in 2025, he said. But, the areas ramping up oil production—the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and Western Africa—are political “trouble spots,” Sanderson said.
Top technological advances to watch out for are computation (faster computers with larger capacities), robotics (such as artificial arms and other limbs), biotechnology (think the human genome project) and nanotech (miniaturizing power machines, chips and gears), according to the center.
There is less time to make decisions in a complex world, Sanderson said, forcing leaders and decision makers to react immediately—creating “instant pressure” in a more polarized world.
Global Economic Integration
China has taken 250 million people out of poverty and into middle class, Sanderson said, and also just overtook Japan as the number two economy in the world.
In 1985, the average Chinese ate 44 pounds of meat a year, Sanderson said. Today it’s 112 pounds of meat—that’s across 1.3 bill people. “That’s a heck of a great market for the U.S.,” Sanderson said, particularly for Western ranchers. “It directly affects you.”
There are 100,000 U.S. forces and troops in Afghanistan, Sanderson said, and 50,000 in Iraq.
“Our adversaries are not going to take us on with a tank,” he said. Sept. 11 changed everything. Enemies will take on the U.S. in unconventional ways.
“We need leaders to make sense of these trends,” Sanderson said. States must increasingly work with nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations and community organizations.
For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in two years awarded more money in annual grants than the World Health Organization, Sanderson said. Gates boosted immunization rates and shifted the focus to child and maternal health, he said.
So what does all that mean? Just as Sanderson said, there’s both promise and peril in these trends and what they tell us about the future.
“We are then challenged by almost everything we do,” Otter said.
But the good news: “We’ve been there before,” he said.