College News


Dizzying Threats, Profound Promise

By Becky Wiese


This spring, the “Ten Years Hence” speaker series course examined critical emerging issues to evaluate forces already in our midst and create systematic analyses of future developments. Rather than accepting the uncertainties of a very dynamic world, we can develop some sense of a ‘knowable future,’ that, with forethought, can be positively influenced. Lectures touched on concerns as diverse as resource management, asymmetrical warfare, nanotechnology, and global aging. Some facts and predictions may surprise you:

• India and China will soon become the axes of the global economy: China will surpass U.S. purchasing power in the 2040s, while India will pass Japan in the 2030s.

• The United Nations estimates that one flush of a Western toilet uses as much water as a citizen of the developing world uses for a whole day’s washing, drinking, cleaning, and cooking.

• Ten of the top 45 world economies are now companies, not countries. Wal-Mart’s 2002 revenues made it the 20th largest economic entity in the world.

• The world population is now adding 146 people every minute, and by 2025 is expected to reach 7.8 billion (up from 150 million in Julius Caesar’s era). Feeding 7.8 billion will require doubling global food production.

• Growth in population, however, is not expected in much of the developed world. Russia is depopulating by 2,200 people per day, meaning the Russian Federation could contract by one third by 2050. France, Germany, Spain, Japan, and Italy anticipate a 40 percent contraction in working-age population by 2050.

• Two years ago, 3.4 billion people lived within 200 kilometers of the world’s coastlines. In 2025 over 6 billion will.

• IBM is building the two fastest supercomputers in the world, with a combined peak capacity of 74,000 calculations per second for every human on the planet.

• Water experts believe that by 2025, more people could die of water-related diseases than HIV/AIDS.

• The World Health Organization predicts that a baby girl born today in Japan has a 50 percent chance of seeing the 22nd century, while in Afghanistan, one quarter of baby girls will fail to reach their fifth birthdays.

• We may have consumed more natural resources over the past 50 years than in all previous history before World War II.

• Cow, goat, and fish stem cells will produce animal

protein and meat by 2015, eliminating the need for the animal “middle man.”

Jerome Glenn, co-director of the United Nations University’s Millennium Project, says “we may be in a race between increasing proliferation of threats and our increasing ability to improve the human condition.”

Despite the seismic changes on the horizon, Glenn says, “humanity has the resources to address its global challenges.; what is less clear is how much wisdom, goodwill, and intelligence will be focused on these challenges”.

To read lectures or view video clips from the “Ten Years Hence” series, log on to the magazine’s archive at


Copyright © 2005 University of Notre Dame All Rights Reserved Last Updated on: May 27, 2005