Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Many and the FEW

The whole premise of our ‘Communities of the Future’ project is based upon two assumptions. The first is that, by 2025, global population will have increased from its 2000 level of 6 billion to a new level of 8 billion. These are ‘the Many’. This is a mid-range estimate, and there is a likelihood that population could be higher or lower than that figure. However, for the purposes of the project we shall assume that the mid-range figure will be more or less correct.

One of the implications of this rapid population growth is that we shall need to grow more food. In doing so, we shall use more energy and we shall use far more water. The second assumption is that the supply of these resources is either fixed or growing at a rate that is slower than the growth in demand for these resources. For our purposes, we shall assume that the growth in demand far outstrips the growth in the supply of resources, giving rise to a period of acute scarcity. These scarcities are likely to be further exacerbated by the impact of climate change and peak oil.

In the period to 2030, we do not envisage a substantial change away from the reliance upon the price mechanism as a means of allocating scarce resources. There is a case for a more formal rationing system for key resources – such as electricity – towards the end of the period, but we do not feel that a consideration of a fundamental change in the current distributional system is warranted.

In which case, the era - as we see it - will be one of high prices for basic commodities. This is likely to cause a certain degree of social stress, as we see the incidence of fuel poverty rising and we see the possibility dietary standards declining. However, it does create an incentive for the construction of social technologies to counter this. We feel that people are likely to become more communal and sharing in their lifestyles, as a means of coping with the problems that they face. The challenge to social enterprises will be to create the institutional structures to deliver a more sharing way of living.

Initially, high prices for basic commodities will act as a brake upon commerce (this is the ‘income effect’). The high cost of inputs is likely to reduce the levels of economic activity for the first part of the period under review. However, this will also create a commercial opportunity for those creative enough to find it. The initial shock of rising prices is likely to stimulate ways of using resources more effectively (the ‘substitution effect’), and those entrepreneurs who unlock the substitution effect are set to do very well.

Ultimately, the relative high price and scarcity of resources will stimulate investment in resource saving technologies. We see these as starting to have an effect towards 2030. This investment is likely to act as a stimulus to economic growth – ‘green’ economic growth!

© The European Futures Observatory 2011

Click Here for more information about the ‘Communities of the Future’ project.

Click Here for more information about the session ‘The Many and the FEW’.

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