December 12, 2012

Read This Now: Global Trends 2030

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds on Monday, a quadrennial analysis of the major trends shaping the global security environment. The report is intended to provide a framework for a new presidential administration to think about the threats and opportunities that lie ahead in the future security landscape.

The report examined four medgatrends that analysts believe will shape the world of tomorrow: individual empowerment; diffusion of power; demographic patterns; and the food, water, energy nexus.

The latter two trends directly affect each other. According to the NIC’s analysis, “Demand for these [food, water and energy] resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population [demographics].” 

Climate change is inextricably linked to the growing food, water and energy nexus. According to the report:

Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources. Climate change analysis suggests that the severity of existing weather patterns will intensify, with wet areas getting wetter and dry and arid areas becoming more so. Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the US Southwest.


We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future. Many countries probably won’t have the wherewithal to avoid food and water shortages without massive help from outside.

Technology will play an interesting role in the future security landscape, particularly when it comes to energy, according to the NIC’s analysis. Technological breakthroughs in unconventional natural gas and oil production are contributing to an energy revolution in North America.

“The economic and even political implications of this technological revolution, which won’t be completely understood for some time, are already significant,” the authors concluded:

In a tectonic shift, energy independence is not unrealistic for the US in as short a period as 10-20 years. Increased oil production and the shale gas revolution could yield such independence. US production of shale gas has exploded with a nearly 50 percent annual increase between 2007 and 2011, and natural gas prices in the US have collapsed. US has sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs for decades to come, and potentially substantial global exports. Service companies are developing new “super fracking” technologies that could dramatically increase recovery rates still further.

On this point, it is worth noting that “energy independence” often means different things to different stakeholders. When writing about “energy independence,” I generally mean the ability of the United States to have control over production and the price of energy. The latter generally precludes energy independence, particularly when it comes to oil since it is a globally traded commodity. From the NIC’s analysis, I take energy independence to mean the ability to produce as much energy as the United States consumes – more like energy self-sufficiency. Energy self-sufficiency is important to economic security. By relying on fewer energy imports, for example, U.S. consumers can start to divert the nearly $500 billion a year spent on foreign energy back into the U.S. economy.

The other parts of the study are worth reading at length as well. Read the section on "Individual empowerment" with eye towards the link between this megatrend and issues like geoengineering, where individuals appear to be playing a more prominent role.

For now, this is just my quick take on the NIC’s report. We’ll continue to mine the report here on the blog in the coming days. So stay tuned for more from us. 

Photo: Courtesy of the National Intelligence Council.