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on 24 March 2017
An interesting view of things to come...
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on 24 March 2011
This must be the best geography book in a very long time - a really compelling study of the world in 2050 - and of the emergence of a new region, comprising the Arctic zones of North America, Scandinavia and Russia. I was hooked by both these themes, for Laurence Smith writes in a similar, compelling vein to his UCLA colleague, Jared Diamond. He gets his knowledge across very much story-first, beginning with the extraordinary tale of a pizzly - a grizzly bear-polar bear hybrid, and a sign, perhaps of the reality of encroaching climate change. And Smith is a wonderful forager of stats and tables, which he presents with jaw dropping clarity. The growth of megacities (10m plus population), for example, from three in 1975 to 19 today, to 27 projected by 2025. Or the ageing world population, particularly in countries like Japan (already with a median at 44.6 years), but also in places you don't expect like India, where today's median is 25 years but is set to rise to 38 by 2050. There are a lot more of these fascinating projections in The New North. And a lot of legwork, talking to people across the Arctic regions. A highly recommended book.
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on 23 March 2011
This is a fascinating book about science, environment, economics and geopolitics. The author identifies four `mega-trends': climate change; the battle for resources (not just the obvious ones like oil and water but also minerals like copper, silver, indium (used in LCD screens and semiconductors) and nickel; demographics (especially aging populations in the developed countries) and globalisation. But although many places (especially those nearer the equator including California where the author lives) have an uneasy future it's not all doom and gloom. Some countries, he suggests, might even benefit. These are what Prof Smith calls the `Northern Rim' countries - Northern America, Canada, and Russia, Scandinavia - the NORCs for short. Their cities will grow and attract migrants (it's too bad that some of them seem to be among the most dismal places on earth). There's been a lot of discussion the BRICs recently (Brazil, Russia, India and China) as the countries with the most dynamic future. So it's interesting to see that Russia appears in both lists, although it has its own particular problems.
Professor Smith's writing style is really compelling: there's a huge amount of data in the book, but despite the academic rigour that's not overwhelming because he tells some great personal stories too (having travelled in the region for 15 months). Above all it's a book about humans, and how we adapt to the changing world. Although I wouldn't say that the book turns the world upside down (as the blurb says), it certainly gives you an entirely new perspective on a part of the world I knew little about.
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on 15 October 2010
"The World in 2050" offers a highly readable and well-developed -- but perhaps somewhat conservative -- look at how global civilization will evolve over the next four decades. The book goes beyond simply attempting to predict the impact of climate change, and integrates four primary forces into its projections: (1) demographics, (2) natural resource demand, (3) climate change and (4) globalization.

One of the central thrusts of the book is that people, agriculture, and geopolitical power will migrate northward, largely in response to the impact of climate change and resource depletion. The populations of countries like Canada, Iceland and Norway are all projected to grow by over 20%, while global population will reach just over 9 billion. People will increasingly live in cities and will be older and wealthier.

As might be expected, water and energy are predicted to play vital roles. Smith offers a relatively optimistic take on potential conflicts over water, suggesting that they will be resolved peaceably, rather than degrading into war. Cities will win out over agriculture in the competition for water, and some regions will be maintained purely through global trade and the import of "virtual water" via grain. We will remain highly dependent on fossil fuels, but the energy economy will be more of a mix, with heavy use of natural gas and electric (or hybrid plug in) cars.

One of the most interesting sections covers "alternate endings" and considers issues such as a reversal of globalization, carbon release from the thawing tundra, or a well-developed global water trade.

My primary criticism of the book is its assumption (laid out clearly in the beginning), that technological advance will be "incremental." This is probably a reasonable assumption regarding radical advances in areas like energy or food production -- but it is not at all reasonable where information technology is concerned. Computer-based technologies have been, and will continue, to advance exponentially, and that is likely to have dramatic economic and social implications for both developed and developing countries.

For insight into this issue, I would strongly recommend this book: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (Also has a Kindle Version).

Smith writes at one point that "technology is a fifth force, twining through the first four." I would go further and elevate technology to a full-fledged force that will play an increasingly important role in shaping the societies and economies of the future. The economic implications of technology, in particular, will have a dramatic impact on our ability to adapt to both climate change and resource scarcity. I'd suggest reading both "The World in 2050" and "The Lights in the Tunnel" in order to get a sense of how all five of those forces will interact.
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Professor of geography Laurence C. Smith makes a fine oracle. His ambitious, candid and accessible book predicts what the world will be like in 2050. He's well-poised to make climate predictions, since he combines academic training with firsthand observations in the far north. He translates dense academic data into common language and - perhaps most importantly for a hotly debated topic like climate change - he's clear on what science knows and what it doesn't know. Smith optimistically voices the hope that humanity can correct its current course, but he doesn't give many specific suggestions for what the reader might do to slow the pending upheaval. His study and projections range from shifts in agriculture to the likelihood of armed conflict and new national boundaries. getAbstract recommends Smith's forecast about the impact of the great thaw to those interested in science and the results of global warming, and to those planning ahead for changes in worldwide resources and markets.
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on 16 January 2012
A very enjoyable read that surprises you in it's ability to keep you turning that page. Very familiar American humour and story telling throughout. You can feel the passion and commitment in every page and Laurence Smith is unbelievably thorough in his research and stats. This is an expensive read but if your interests lie in Geopolitics, Human geography and Climate change then it is also a must read.
I purchased the kindle version and it was excellently formatted but some of the tables of stats were impossible to read and the maps unfortunately were too small to gain anything from. So if you're serious about this book, then it's best to fork out the extra money and get the real thing.
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on 24 March 2011
This is an extremely interesting -- and extremely well written -- book. In order to get to its core idea, which is that the far northern part of the world will emerge not just as a coherent new region but as a region of ever-increasing influence, the author cuts a swathe through a wealth of thinking demography, energy, hydrology, climate change, globalisation and geopolitics. Hence we read about urbanisation in Lagos to make sense of the future of Scandinavia, and about demographic shifts in China to make sense of the future of Canada. Like Jared Diamond (who gives a glowing quote on the cover), Smith is both an synthesiser of information and a great writer. What emerges is a complex picture of a region that will increasingly loom large on the world stage, but which will battle with a host of social and practical issues - from indigenous land rights through to the melting of ice roads. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the world we live in and the world we'll soon live in.
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on 7 January 2012
The future concerning the northern (large) part of the earth... Photographs, original
maps and tables says it all about climate change! This is a compelling account of the
challenges facing the world during the next thirty eight years plus.

The North (at approximately 45 degrees N latitude and above) and its hinterlands form the heart of
a "New North." We are talking about 12 million square miles.

This is an essay about the 'unfreezing Arctic assets' and should WAKE-UP us all!

Maybe, this book should be required reading - to those concerned and to those indifferent!

Dag Stomberg
St Andrews, Scotland
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on 6 November 2012
Smith shows great energy and enthusiasm tracking down the changes, statistics, trends and possibilities for both the South and the North. He lays out the biggest forces for global change, and then focuses on nations bordering the Arctic Ocean. In scientific sea voyages, tours of Siberian petro-cities, or interviews with Aboriginal leaders across the Far North, he explores what could happen as the Earth warms up. The issues are sobering, but clearly many northern people in Alaska, Canada's Nunavut, Greenland, Scandinavia or Russia, are excited about the future.
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on 12 December 2016
A refreshing book but a rehash of previous knowledge. Population explosion; Malthusian idea rehashed. Northern Food & Water stress are some interesting thoughts. Wealth impact on infrastructure is very articulate but not much on the trajectory of employment and social upheavals.
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