21st Century – mobility on steroids


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The Old Believer Fjodor Kilin considers Dersu to be as close as you can get to this Garden of Eden.

Today National Public Radio had a program centered around the population of the earth and the challenges people and their habits are posing for the environment of the planet.  The guest argued against framing our environmental problems in terms of population.  It seems, demographers are no longer predicting yet another doubling of the earth’s population; 9 billion inhabitants of the earth is now seen as kind of a watershed point we will reach later in the century and from which it is likely populations will decline.  Even India and China are now viewed as close to topping out in growth.  But of course an end to the rapid growth will not solve all of the problems; number one the list of major global problems is our use of non-renewable and highly polluting carbon-based fossil fuels, next on the list is our use of the land for producing food and finally of course is the problem of human habitation – how to build healthy, sustainable environments and where to locate the people and the habitats.

When I started out yesterday on underwater hotels, I was at least partially being facetious.  Bu using the ocean for a variety of purposes, including housing, agriculture and energy is not a joke, it is a growing possibility and even an increasing necessity.  The oceans are the least understand part of the planet and probably offer  opportunities than we have yet to even imagine – and we are certainly going to need opportunities.  However, if the population growth levels off, we found renewable energy sources and phase our use of non-renewable polluting energy at that point we might be very much better sewarts of our environment than we have been up to this point.  The oceans could offer very sustainable environments for both agriculture and habitation.

In some parts of the world population itself or its effects on the environment are not so much of a problem, in fact a lack of people in those places can be a major problem.  For example, Germany is having difficulty, not in providing jobs, but in finding workers for the jobs that exist.  German like most of Europe has a stable or declining population and that can depress an economy as much as too many people and high unemployment.  Russia has a comparable problem, Siberia is not a fun place to live and after the break up of the Soviet Union, it seems people just don’t want to go there; cossacks and gulag prisoners are harder to come by these days.   So much so that the Russian government is recruiting – even recruiting former dissidents.  The Russian are focusing on a group called “Old Believers” who split from the main orthodox church nearly 400 years; Old Believers were always under extreme pressure from the church and government, but after the 1918 revolution many fled the country; many however retained their language, religion and culture.  Now Russia is welcoming – and paying – them to come back and settle in remote places in Siberia.

Mobility on steroids: a 21st century problem.  Collectively and globally in the 21st century, we are going to have to move the jobs and people around to meet the supply and the need.  There won’t be enough room in China, India or the United States and other locations, but in other locations, North Africa (providing the water issues are solved), Siberia and even some places in the Middle East in the post oil era are going to have room, but no people.  Dynamic economies like the German economy are going to have opportunities, but not enough qualified workers.  The Mexican economy is also improving and may in the future retain its worker and that would create a shortage of labor in some industries and parts of the United States.  The problems are going to be global, not national and that is going to require global and not national solutions; that gives a whole new meaning to bipartisan doesn’t it?

My family comes from a small town that looked like – and in part still does – the village in the picture.  We had no electricity in our house until just before the Second World War, we put water and indoor plumbing in the house in the late 1970s – I can really identify with those Old Believers thinking it is as close to the Garden of Eden as one can get; it represents another time and place, a pre-modern world.

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