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Unsustainable population growth

One billion children will become consumers in the next 15 years – the biggest jump in human history. 

Today in Africa 350 million children see glimpses of your lifestyle and compare this to their own, surviving on less than $3 a day. Most of them will spend their entire adult lives living in cities, chasing dreams of wealth.

By 2025, most people on the planet will be in Asia. 

85% of the world’s population will be living in emerging markets or today’s developing countries by then, mostly in cities. 

Only 1 in 7 will be in today’s developed nations, driving less than 10% of the world’s economic growth.

As a Futurist Keynote Speaker working with over 400 of the world's largest companies, and with governments, what do I tell them about when it comes to big risks and opportunities?

11 billion population by 2070

More than 9 billion people will be living on earth by 2040, around 2 billion more than in 2014, despite the fact that the number of children born per couple globally has already fallen to only 2.4 (replacement level is around 2.2).

Many experts predicted that population would peak at just over 9 billion by 2050, but African nations like Nigeria still have far higher birth rates than those models assumed. We could see as many as 11 billion people on earth by 2100.

Many nations have young populations, that is, with up to 50% of their population under 25 years old.

Even if there is not a single baby born in these communities over the next 20 years, this one age-bulge guarantees a boom in the number of parents over the same period – barring global plague or a catastrophic world war.

How to provide food, water and a good life for 9 billion people

A huge challenge will be to feed, clothe, shelter, power up and water even 9 billion people without destroying the planet, especially with economic growth and increasing personal incomes.

Population growth cannot be slowed suddenly without creating other crises, with huge population bulges of elderly people that will dwarf the problems faced in Europe or Japan today.

Expect 1 billion people over the age of 60 by 2025, and 1 million people over 90 in Italy alone by 2026 - enough to alter the outcomes of every election.

Vast populations are on the move

Around 1.5 billion people will be drawn to cities over the next three decades, in search of a better life.

Over 300 million people will migrate from rural areas to cities in China alone over the next 25 years, 300 million in India, and a further 475 million across Africa.

Half the world’s GDP growth over the next 20 years will come from around 450 cities in emerging markets, mostly places that global executives have never heard of, often in nations they have never visited.

These cities will create the world’s greatest new markets, with hundreds of millions of new city retailers – many of whom will be street traders. Tens of millions of new car repair workshops, furniture makers, air-conditioning installers, fast-food sellers.

This growth will generate clusters of new global companies. Over half of the world’s largest 500 corporations will be based in emerging markets by 2035, compared to just 5% in 2000.

Wealth contrasts will drive migration

When a third of the entire human race lacks basic necessities, such as running water, basic sanitation, and adequate food, it is hardly surprising that these people want to move to where such things are taken for granted.

More than half our world is living on less than $3 a day, and 22,000 children die each day from poverty.

Nearly 1 billion people cannot read or write.

Every day around 840 million are hungry. Almost one in three of those in the least developed countries die before the age of 40.

Vast wealth inequalities will drive huge revolutionary forces

The wealthiest 1% in our world own 50% of the world’s wealth and 20% own 75% - their income per head is 60 times that of the poorest 20%, and the gap is increasing rapidly. 

Expect contrasts to keep growing over the next 30 years until 1% in the world own 60-65%.  This issue is the greatest moral challenge to the future of humanity and the greatest threat to peaceful existence.

The richest 80 people on earth own as much wealth as the poorest 3.4 billion people.

Around 1,600 billionaires own $6.4 trillion, more than the combined income of the poorest 120 countries in the world.

In America, the wealth owned by the top 3% in the country rose from 51.8 to 54.4% between 2007 and 2013 while the share held by the bottom 90% fell from 33.2% to 24.7%.

And the same kind of shift has taken place in most other developed nations.

The contrasts are greatest in rapidly growing cities. In Mumbai, for example, in the shadow of the most expensive real estate in the world, you will find slum dwellers in shacks of plastic and plywood, and street pavements crowded with sleeping workers at night.

If just 0.1% of low-income migrants become politically motivated and organised the result will be new protest movements and revolutionary forces that will dwarf anything our world has ever seen.

As in the past, such movements will mainly be seen inside nations against their own privileged class, coupled with settling old tribal / cultural grievances.... but also influencing far beyond.

Every large corporation should take note: expect closer public scrutiny, rapid mood changes, and severe judgment on companies that are seen to be irresponsible, corrupt, too powerful, unethical or uncaring.

Living in cities will be what almost all people do

More than half the world already lives in cities, of which a large number are megacities of more than 10 million people.

A decade or more ago, many forecasters came out with wild, idiotic statements about declining cities. They claimed that many millions of wealthier people would move to rural areas, working virtually, driven away by noise, pollution, house prices and fear of violent crime.

It was obvious to me then that this was nonsense.

As we have already seen, people love being in busy communities.

They love the buzz of cities, the range of opportunities, bars, cafes, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres.

And crime rates in many cities have fallen significantly.

Cities are good for the environment: they pack people into small areas, protecting countryside from sprawling destruction.

Cities are very efficient, with smaller distances from work to home, school to home, shops to home, home to hospital and major economies of scale for rail or roads.

A billion live in city slums - but most slums are changing rapidly

In most emerging market cities a taxi driver can drive you in 15-30 minutes from a smart hotel district to jam-packed slums, where makeshift homes rise precariously to three or four stories.

Take a walk down dark and narrow pot-holed streets.

You will see children and animals playing in open sewers, stagnant streams blocked by piles of stinking rubbish, tangles of electric cables strung from house to house, no running water, few pit toilets, disease and deprivation.

Yet if you have the privilege to be invited as a guest into such homes you will usually find immaculately kept rooms, mobile tech, well-educated, ambitious young people, and maybe parents with professional qualifications.

Come back in a decade and most of those slums areas you visited will be steadily developing into emerging middle-class districts, with concrete homes, running water and sewage. But another million new people may have arrived, building new shacks, and so the city growth continues.

Some slum-dwellers becoming millionaires

Urbanisation is creating real estate millionaires in what were urban slum districts – people who built informal dwellings on land some time ago, and somehow gained land rights, surrounded gradually by high-rise blocks of smart new apartments.

More than 2 billion people will find themselves empowered by new wealth over the next 25 years, with more choices, better access to health care, online media, e-commerce, financial services, and so on.

At least 1 billion will be first-generation middle class – first to go to university; first to own a car; first to take regular holidays or own property.

Limits to megacity growth

Many megacities are likely to plateau in size at around 20-25 million people, as infrastructure limitations start making life unpleasant.

So for every million low-wage migrants that arrive, another million middle-class workers will leave for smaller cities or town in nearby areas.

And the process of rural migration will end when the great majority have already left for cities.

This is already the case in Brazil, for example, where cities like Rio de Janeiro are no longer being hit to the same extent by large waves of new migration into densely packed favelas.

Mega-infrastructure spending and commodity instability

Megacities will need more mega-facilities.

Expect more new investment in infrastructure from 2020 to 2055 than in all human history - schools, hospitals, power stations, national grids, water supplies, sewage treatment, roads, railways and airports.

Linked to this, we will see many booms and busts in real estate, construction and commodities.

Rapid urbanisation will create instability and chaos at times in commodity markets such as steel, copper or aluminium.

Commodity crises - price boom and bust

Expect many more large price spikes and falls as speculators try to cash in on uncertainty.

Steel prices will be affected by real estate booms and busts in China, and by global overcapacity, with 1.6 trillion tons a year produced.

China uses twice as much steel as India, America and the EU combined.

Mining companies will be forced to mine deeper for lower quality ores, and will need to take a 40-50-year view of prices, to recoup investment.

As commodity prices rise, waste (slag) heaps will be re-mined to extract additional material. China will snap up mining rights, mining companies and mining technologies.

Countries with the greatest mining wealth will be forced to spend more on armies and internal security. They will be more likely to have ultra-wealthy leaders, see huge finance siphoned out of the nation, to have a corrupt judiciary and to experience civil wars.

They will also be more likely to have under-performing economies, because exchange rates rise as soon as commodities start to be exported. And as soon as that happens, every other exported good and service becomes less competitive, so the rest of the economy suffers.

Impact of infrastructure spending will last 10,000 years

Much of this infrastructure will last far longer than most people think.

The impact of each growing city on the landscape will be clearly visible for at least 30,000-50,000 years into the future, even if that city is abandoned or destroyed for some reason.

Many of our new motorways, railway cuttings, embankments, quarries, tunnels and sea ports will be used by travellers or traders for thousands of years.

Consider that many Roman roads built 2000 years ago are still busy highways today. Many Stone Age earthworks are also clearly visible in rural areas, even though they were abandoned 5000 years ago.

Extract from Patrick Dixon's Futurist book:  The Future of Almost Everything

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