Here's what I think will happen in the next 300 years.
This is not a doomsday scenario. The human race will go on but every aspect of human life will change drastically just as it has in the last 300 years. Throughout history we have seen continual changes and the accompanying hardships such as war, famine, and plague. Political systems have come and gone; empires have risen and fallen. We should not expect in our modern era that things have become static; that national borders are permanently fixed, or that all cities and all countries will prosper and grow. Remember, in the last 100 years we've seen the worst world wars, genocide as had never occurred before, and the rise and fall of nations and empires. With the pressures of global warming, high population, and oil and energy shortages, the changes will be fast and severe.
We will one day wonder why we exported our energy resources instead of saving them for an all-too-soon-upon-us day of energy depletion.
We are hopelessly addicted to oil yet we stupidly subsidize the rich oil companies, driving business away from green alternative sources of energy. And weirdly, economic realities such as price points affect the success of initiatives.
Our infrastructure is all based on oil. We use oil for plastics, for food production, for transportation, for commerce, for energy, for everything. Letting go of oil will not be easy. Those who think we can have an easy transition off of oil are kidding themselves.
When oil becomes truly scarce (this day is soon upon us) we will go to war to get our "fair" share. Small countries will be denied any oil at all. Large countries will have to fight us for it. Regional and world wars will become the new norm.
Switching to a natural gas-based economy will not be too hard. Cars can be modified to use natural gas. Perhaps someone will figure out how to make oil from natural gas at economic prices.
We have enough natural gas for a while so we won't see total economic ruin for quite some time. But the fracking boom is a bubble, soon to burst.
Coal and Nuclear Energy
Once natural gas begins to run out we will switch to coal and nuclear energy. By then we will likely be in a constant state of martial law so the government will not need to listen to environmentalists anymore.
Nuclear Fusion will never have a significant role in providing energy because the power plants are too expensive to build and maintain, and because they require such advanced technology. The ITER fusion reactor currently under construction will cost over $20 billion to build and will power only 250,000 homes.
I should note that computer chip production is also based on advanced technology and has been wildly successful. The key difference between this and nuclear fusion is in the scale of the operation. One (relatively) inexpensive computer chip manufacturing plant produces many chips (at a terrible cost of pollution) while each fusion reactor power plant costs many times more and produces power for a relatively small number of people. To provide power for all homes in the world will require 30,000 fusion reactors each costing $20 billion — that's $600 trillion dollars which is 40 times the U.S. national debt.
Oil from Algae
Perhaps someone will figure out how to mass produce oil from algae. Depending on how much can be made and whether there is enough water to make it, this can help keep society from falling too deep.
The main disadvantages of biofuels are:
Perhaps biofuels will have a role once the population is smaller and people use less energy.
Wind, Solar, Thermal, Wave, other
These will help out but will never replace oil. They are complicated gadgets with a lot of moving parts requiring high maintenance. Solar panels need constant cleaning and salt water is very corrosive for equipment located in seawater. Just as the highway system and bridges are now wearing out and not getting proper maintenance, so also the wind, solar and other power plants will wear out and not get replaced.
Hydrogen is not an energy source because it doesn't exist naturally and can't be harvested or mined — it has to be generated using energy. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, but electricity is a better choice in my opinion.
Hydrogen will have very little role in providing energy; people will instead prefer to burn the fuel that would be used in producing hydrogen. And once you have small distributed power plants capable of doing this, why not just produce electricity?
Hydrogen fuel cells are used to convert the energy from hydrogen to electricity; why not just use electricity in the first place?
I think the only uses for hydrogen energy are...
The infrastructure costs of switching to hydrogen energy are enormous.
Energy in the Future
Some kinds of energy of the future will be sustainable, some will not. In considering sustainability we need to define the time period in question. If the resource used in creating energy runs out in 100 years should we consider it sustainable?
Siberia has huge tracts of forest which will likely be used once the climate is more moderate due to global warming. But these forests could one day be logged-out. Once an area has been deforested it takes a very long time for the forests to take hold again. Much of the industrialized world was once forest.
Steam power from burning wood is a low-tech form of energy but is only sustainable for small populations so the forests have time to grow back.
Wood is not a fuel of the future except in areas with fairly low populations. The Native Americans of North America lived sustainably before the coming of the Europeans but their population was small and they depended primarily on animals.
Coal is an energy of the future because there is so much of it. Of course, it will some day run out.
Much or our current infrastructure is low-tech: highway system, bridges, dams, electricity grid, refineries, railways. These require maintenance or society crumbles. In our day we are not repairing these quickly enough. Why should we think high-tech infrastructure such as solar power, wind power, and fusion power will be easier to maintain especially when we run out of cheap oil?
A sustainable economy should be based on low-tech infrastructure.
Iron and steel can be made from charcoal (which is made from wood) and coke (which is made from coal). Although charcoal production can result in deforestation, at low population and in heavily forested areas this will still be practical.
When the oil and natural gas runs out, transport via trucks will be abandoned in favor of railroads which can run on coal. But after the coal runs out, railroads will be abandoned also.
Aquifers are nearly empty. The fresh water from rivers is nearly all accounted for. Increasing population pressure will have devastating effects. There is only so much that conservation and recycling can accomplish.
Water availability will set an upper limit to population and determine where people can live. As glaciers melt and deserts form due to global warming, billions of people will be displaced or will starve.
In the future, people will tend to live where the water is.
Southern California is too arid to support the high population without large amounts of water being transported by aqueducts from elsewhere: the Owens Valley, Colorado River, Northern California. To support its current population with global warming will require Southern California to completely take over the Colorado River which will upset those in Arizona and Mexico who also depend on the water. If the population of Southern California were small enough, the water from the Owens Valley would be sufficient.
The future will be marked by serious water shortages.
There is a maximum population the world can sustainably support. Some think it to be 25 billion, some think we are already too populated. In any case, our current population requires cheap oil. Once cheap and abundant forms of energy run out, the population will only be sustainable at a much lower level. Global warming will reduce the level even further.
Sadly, reducing population will not be a happy occasion. Most population reduction will be caused by famine, plague, and war. Things would be a lot smoother if people worldwide stopped having children for a generation and then only had two per family after that. But that won't willingly happen. Even in China, with extreme population control measures in place, the population is still growing.
In response to the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act was enacted to increase the police powers of the U.S. government. I can imagine a time when food riots are widespread and martial law becomes the norm. It is an easy transition from long-term martial law to permanent tyranny.
We are used to having police around but there will be a time when there are military troops in the streets enforcing order. I suppose one way the government will help put people to work will be to hire them into the national guard.
As anarchy and food riots become commonplace the future world will lapse into Feudalism with aristocrats, peasants, and a warrior class (knights).
The aristocrats will live a lavish lifestyle and will provide physical protection and security for the peasants.
The peasants will live at bare sustenance level but because of modern technology in agricultural improvements their lot will be far superior to the peasants of the middle ages. They will have adequate food and will even be allowed time for entertainment so they will not revolt.
The warrior class will protect the aristocrats and peasants and will be well-cared for.
Peasants will have some access to energy and resources for their tools and equipment.
Water is King
I can imagine that someday after the current political system breaks-down there will be tribal rule by local "resource kings," rulers who have taken possession of a particular resource. For example, perhaps someone will own the Colorado River and sell water to neighboring tribes. This would require having a long fence around the river and armed guards to protect it. Most of the residents of this tribe would be in the water business: collecting water, hauling water, fishing, agriculture and irrigation.
Long before a resource completely runs out the aristocrats will shut off the supply to society at large. There are far fewer of these aristocrats so the supplies of scarce resources will last a long time.
In our modern era, large corporations have as much power as governments. I can't imagine they will ever give this up. A consequence of this is that countries will one day be ruled by corporations having their own military and laws.
In order for rulers to retain their power they must be willing to use force. This is one role of the police, national guard, and special armed forces. With widespread riots and anarchy, governments will be more and more willing to use force to stay in power.
The French Revolution demonstrates what happens when the government loses control of its power. In the French Revolution, each political party had its "day in the sun" with a final Reign of Terror followed by Napoleon's imperialistic empire with himself as dictator. Governments will want to avoid this kind of revolution since the likely outcome for those is power is they will be killed.
Large countries will be better able to retain power and will likely gobble up smaller countries to increase their power and resource base. Once the whole world is under martial law, there will be no compelling reason to disfavor a broader kind of violence (imperialistic wars of conquest, followed by martial law.)
Some out-of-the-way parts of the world will devolve into tribal war such as we see currently in Afghanistan and parts of Africa. As long as these places have no resources needed by the bigger nations, they will be left alone.
Even large countries will contain regions having continual riots and anarchy that will be left to fend for themselves. National governments won't waste their precious resources on such places but will prefer instead to focus on areas having resources and skilled workers; the violence in these useless regions will be kept from spreading using the minimum amount of force necessary.
It amazes me that someone like Alexander the Great could be so successful. He wanted to conquer the world for no good reason (except perhaps to spread Hellenism.) It seems that charismatic and unscrupulous leaders are able to guide world events in ways of their own choosing, whether or not it benefits anyone at all. This kind of thing will continue on into the future. Once in a while someone like this will come to power and the world will change in unexpected ways.
Some effects of global warming:
Positive effects of global warming:
The Long, Slow Decline
As cheap energy becomes a thing of the past there will be gas rationing and high gas prices ($20/gal). People will no longer be able to afford to commute to work and will move back to the cities. This will drive up rents and only the well-to-do will be able to afford the good life.
High-unemployment will become a permanent feature of our society leading to food riots and high crime.
We should expect to experience censorship and discrimination. We see this trend already: in the name of multiculturalism there is discrimination against the religious.
Stability and Peace
Once the tyrants take over and suppress social unrest, life for most will become stable. The enlightened tyrants will try to keep the peace by providing for everybody's needs: food, employment, health care, housing, entertainment. It will be cheaper to let the exploited workers entertain themselves rather than repress them with police.
Not all will have it so good
Unenlightened despots will still try to control people the old-fashioned way: through fear and violence. In these societies some will have peace and some will become victims of repression.
A free market, laissez faire economy has certain good and certain bad side-effects. Good effects:
Once resources are scarce and the rulers attempt to cling to power, Capitalism will be cast aside because it interferes with their grandiose schemes. They will be looking at ways to control and oppress the people. While Capitalism favors the rich, it does not favor the tyrants who want to control even the rich.
Sadly, there can never be a global green utopia. There may be out-of-the-way places with such a thing for a while but it cannot persist. The problem is that human nature and environmental pressures continually work against it. Just as the animals eat each other as a way of life and starve during bad weather, so it is with us humans. We will ever tend to over-populate, to steal resources from neighbors; and we are at all times susceptible to weather variations. In addition, unscrupulous charismatic rulers will dominate society. The weak masses can never unite sufficiently to oppose the strong and powerful.
The goal of life will be the same in the future as it is now: to live a morally pure life — the good life — honoring God and neighbor in the face of forces opposing goodness and beauty. The value of our lives are measured in making our individual decisions to follow God's way and to live pure, holy, righteous lives. The conditions around us provide opportunities to test our resolve to live a godly life. Although we join together into communities to enhance our life experiences, ultimately we are each alone in this world as we choose whether to love, serve, obey, and worship the God who created us.
All resources are being depleted: oil, coal, water, iron, forests, minerals. Since a large population requires the energy from oil, once oil runs out the population will decrease and the demand for all resources will fall. The final sustainable population of the world will probably be about a billion. But even at this, minerals will still run out. As energy runs out, high-tech solutions such as mining seawater will become unfeasible. Once oil runs out, the world will become low tech and the level of technology will decrease over time as resources are depleted. Perhaps the final human condition will be a society based on using animal products (bone, sinew, skins, fur, etc.) and plants.
Once the population is significantly smaller the need for resources will be less. Scavenging will become an important source of resources. People will scour through abandoned, decaying cities collecting steel, copper, glass, wood, plastic, chemicals, tools, etc.
In the future, people will tend to live where the resources are: such things as water, minerals, timber.
The shortage of energy for transportation will put pressure on people to move into the cities. The suburbs and exurbs will become slums. Once the cities no longer have room for housing the cost of housing will increase and only the well-to-do will be able to afford living in the cities. Life will progressively become harder and harder for all except the well-to-do.
No more Oil
When cheap oil becomes scarce the wealthy powerful nations will take the remaining oil for themselves. Weak countries will no longer have oil and their societies will collapse. Stronger nations will go to war with each other to get as much of the remaining oil as they can. Perhaps this will escalate to world war even involving nuclear weapons.
Droughts will be more common and will result in vast migrations as people seek to find habitable areas which will then become overpopulated.
In the future, people will tend to live where the water is since food production depends on water.