Search the Internet for the year 2100, and what you will invariably find are post apocalyptic scenarios where civilization has been destroyed by a combination of resource depletion, starvation, and environmental destruction.
It might turn out that way, if we make poor choices, but I do feel there are alternatives.
In 2013, 30+% of new energy infrastructure installed was renewable. We have reached the tipping point in which renewables are often the least expensive energy option, even cheaper than coal. As fossil fuels continue to deplete and renewable energy technology and scales of production continue to improve, this trend will continue and accelerate.
If Lockheed Martin makes good on their plans for a working prototype 100MW compact fusion reactor by 2017, and commercial units by 2022, then energy will become a non-issue, cheap abundant non-polluting energy. The only waste will be helium which actually is industrially quite valuable. Even without this, the trend in renewables will change our future drastically for the good.
If the energy issue is resolved, then so are many of our other resource depletion issues because with adequate energy recycling of many materials, now considered too energy costly to recycle, becomes viable. Metals, plastics, concrete, asphalt, paper, all are recyclable if adequate energy is available.
Food production is limited by the amount of arable land. What prevents much land from not being arable is lack of water. We have no shortage of water, just most of it happens to be salty and therefore not useful for things like growing crops or human or animal consumption. However, with adequate energy, desalinization becomes trivial, more land becomes arable, and food production ceases to be a problem.
Destruction of our environment is still an issue, carbon dioxide is probably still the number one issue, becomes a non-issue with these new energy sources. Other issues remain, medical wastes, industrial wastes, sewage, these are things we still need to address. Again energy helps.
Nuclear waste, what can we do with that? Well, a type of reactor that has the fuel dissolved in liquid salt, and uses on site reprocessing, can ‘burn’ the actinides, that is the waste products heavier than Uranium. In the process it can provide almost 100 times as much energy as the first past through a conventional reactor provided.
It leaves only fission products, most of which decay to safe levels in days to decades, not in 100,000 year time frames that many of the long-lived actinides require. Of those, only a couple of isotopes have significant half-lives, and those could be destroyed in accelerators, if we were willing to invest the energy to do so, and that investment would not seem to significant if we had adequate renewable or fusion energy available. It would be a bargain compared to trying to find a safe way to dispose of or contain this stuff for 100,000 years.
All of these gives me reason to believe that all the doom and gloom sites might be wrong. We need not run out of energy or destroy our environment creating it. We need not run out of other resources if we stop wasting them. And we need not glow in the dark and die an early cancer death from high radiation in our environment.
There are other concerns that I do have, like ZERO privacy as surveillance technology continues to improve, or a totalitarian government, a much larger difference between the haves and have-nots in society if greed continues to prevail, a society where the small percentage that are wealthy can live in near perfect health almost indefinitely owing to continued advancements in medical technology while the rest of us live an unhealthy life and die an early death.
These aren’t things we necessarily must experience, it’s a matter of choice now. I keep hoping that people will wake-up and make better choices than they are now.