The National Intelligence Council (NIC), the forward-looking think tank of the U.S. intelligence community, has produced its latest quadrennial assessment of global trends, a forecast of how the world might change between now and 2030. It identifies a number of “megatrends” and “game-changers” before concluding with four quite different potential scenarios, thus underlining the inherent uncertainty in predicting the future. The first major trend will be an increase in individual empowerment, stemming from declines in poverty, the growth of a global middle class, and more widely available communications and other technologies, including destructive ones. Second, power among countries will become more diffuse, as emerging markets grow rapidly and many rich countries age and grow slowly. Third, demographic changes will take place slowly but inexorably, since aging in many countries will be accompanied by significant youth bulges elsewhere, urbanization, and major migrations. Finally, as populations grow and increased consumption levels strain existing resources, access to food, energy, and water will become ever more crucial and closely related. The nic declines to attach probabilities to its various scenarios, but this is nonetheless a thoughtful exercise in futurology.
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