Crying Wolf: things we have to deal with or we screw the next generation
There's often a low-quality debate about who's saying the sky is falling, who's crying wolf. So I'll just come out and put my predictions on the line, much of this long-running and coming out of the Paradigm Discussion Circle in the early 90's... two of my "future" predictions I think we're beginning to see now, we've got one foot over slow-fall cliffs in each case. These are the issues I'd cry wolf about the loudest:
Climate Change *A
I'm calling this month the beginning of the Climate Change Era. Which is a pretty absurd thing to say. But I think the Russian heat wave and wheat harvest crash, and the related floods in Pakistan, even if not caused by GW (because if 1-in-100 year disasters start happening every 10 years, you still can't say "this one" with absolute certainty), looks like what the future will hold more and more of... with the failed crops being the herald of a new era. When these start to overlap: when we have two or three or four of the top four food producers also have disasters in the same year, people will clock the beginning of that new period to this year. (I'm daring out on a very "thin branch" with the detailed timing of this prediction, but the overall "tree" of climate change I think we can be quite confident will be looked on with as much disgust by the next generation as the last generation looked at Munich.)
Hormone disruptors and other chemical-soup saturation
People -- and regulating bodies -- tend to focus on cancer. I worry more about relatively subtle effect that change the way our brains work: depression, unbalance, lower IQs, a reduction in the long-childhood that is perhaps the thing that most makes us human (vs chimp). The evidence that we're doing very weird things to ourselves is out there a-plenty, but it's not striking and sexy enough for people to take notice. No predictions on whether we'll pay attention to this soon... nor do I know enough to tell if we're increasing or decreasing the overall stupidity. I worry we've gotten better at getting rid of the most deadly chemicals while increasing the overall chemical soup.
Peak Oil and other resources *A
Related to Climate Change and Economic Shifts, the competition for finite and perhaps soon dropping supplies of oil (but certainly far less oil per significant consumer, as China and India jump into the consumer pool) is likely to wreak havoc on our economy: I think we may already be in early-stage Peak Oil, where the Great Recession was partly caused by the high oil prices, and this recovery and future recoveries will keep smashing up against high oil costs preventing real recoveries. It's a matter of perspective, but I think the average future historian will look back at 2007 or 2008 as the crux year of the change. We can still produce enough -- Peak Oil isn't apocalyptic all by itself -- but perpetual bad economies tend to lead to angry governments in rich countries and hunger in poor.
Economic shifts unfriendly to yeoman capitalism. *A
Used to be easier to do an honest day's work and get an honest day's pay (or even half an honest day's pay after the elites took their cut) and live well. Small farmers in the early US exemplify this, and it works really well, economics tending to trickle up into politics. As land prices swamp building costs to have a home near jobs, oil and resource costs rise, and medical care shoots through the roof, the average working person is finding toys cheaper and necessities more expensive. This bodes poorly for future economic and political sanity.
Still eating food? Not blind and covered in skin cancer? Thank an environmentalist.
*A = Hunger in Poor Countries
The US has huge potential food surpluses. The world has been been moving farther and farther away from Malthusian terror ... until recently. We've gotten very good at extracting water from underground reservoirs, washing soil into the sea while growing a lot of food cheaply this year, building a food supply that efficiently takes limited oil-based feedstocks to create cheap food.