The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 26, 2012

Our View: The future is still what we make it

The Free Press

— There is much to glean from the “Global Trends 2030” forecast recently released by the U.S. intelligence community.

The most obvious is that the world is a smaller place than it was when the United States began as a country and moved steadily to a position of dominance. America can still make decisions alone that will largely determine its future, but our future, as well as our opportunities, are more dependent on the rest of the world than ever before.

As we wait for the calendar to pass from 2012 to 2013, we should remind ourselves that, individually, the “American Dream” is still within our grasp. But as a country we cannot ignore global economic forces — or the global political forces that will continue coming into play.

The National Intelligence Council has given America its best forecast on what to expect in the coming years. It warns that the U.S. superpower status could erode as Asian economies surpass the combined economies of North America and Europe by 2030. Rising populations in poor countries may lead to increasing conflicts over water and food as “nearly half of the world’s population” may experience severe water shortages. The forecasters say instability could even contribute to a global economic collapse, which could be more likely due to rapid climate change.

But there are also positive predictions to share. The U.S. will become energy independent, helped along by our great storehouse of natural gas. Acts of terrorism will wane (though cyber-terrorism will increase). Technological changes could bring about the solutions to many of the world’s problems.

But let’s take a deep breath here. Predicting the future is not an easy thing to do, and though the NIC gives us a fair look at where the world might be trending, the trends themselves could change.

Asian economies are rising now, but they could stall. Political changes could get in the way of their growth patterns. Increased global cooperation between China and the U.S. — a best-case scenario given the world’s competition for resources — may happen. Or it could go the other way, and today’s wary U.S.-China friendship could become more strained.

It’s understandable that with the U.S. drawing down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the intelligence community predicts an easing of terrorist violence. But again, we cannot say for certain that a new threat will not emerge elsewhere.

The bottom line is that the future is what we make it. Reports like those released by the National Intelligence Council urge us to be forward-thinking as opposed to reactionary, and that is good. Our government tends to move slowly when faced with large issues. To grab hold of a successful future, we need to be ready to act before it’s too late. This is our great challenge.

Empires rise and empires fall. They grow tired. There are signs already that America is tiring of its role as a world leader. We risk less. We spend less on our military defense to balance the budget, our manufacturing base stagnates and is replaced by a non-wealth increasing information base. We think more of luxury and comfort. Our gap between rich and poor accelerates, lessening our shared experiences.

We risk becoming merely an observer of global events. But our history has been to make things happen. We need to continue that.