Back in the 1980s, a big part of pop culture focused on dystopian reality, that is to say, movies and literature that portrayed a post-apocalyptic world. Of course, this is something that has been written about for a long time. Books like 1984 by George Orwell or Aldus Huxley's Brave New World gave thought to what would happen if society as we knew it fell apart.
Now ask yourself the question – what is required for society, as we know it, to exist? What do nations need to continue in the world of today? Food. Fuel. Energy. Transportation. Without any one of these things, one country has to necessarily rely on others for its continued growth and existence. It is that simple.
It is the year 2023. Currently, we are emerging from a worldwide pandemic. We have a war between Russia and Ukraine which threatens to destabilize much of the world. China, for its part, is currently going through its own battle with Covid 19, something which the rest of us dealt with over the space of the last two years. And, of course, there are the challenges that the United States and dealing with as a nation that need mentioning – as the saying goes, when America gets a sniffle, the rest of us catch the flu.
Why mention any of these things? The answer is in the title of this piece. What if? Fast forward a year from now. A decade perhaps. What can we expect?
In terms of Russia, war with Ukraine may actually have been inevitable. Since the two world wars depleted the male population of that country to the point where women outnumber men almost three to one, the demographic has been deteriorating to a point where Russian people, as a group, are literally threatened with extinction. This may seem bizarre, but when you think about it, why not? Just as with many other societies around the world, the Russian population is ageing, and when you throw Vladimir Putin into the mix, a dinosaur relic from the Cold War era who runs the country with an iron fist akin to Stalin, it makes perfect sense. An autocratic leader. An extreme reliance on rail as opposed to road transport. They need their satellites just as much now as they did during the Soviet era. They need the logistical ability to move the food they produce, the energy they produce, and Ukraine is just the first piece of the puzzle. Next it'll be Poland. Thereafter, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Perhaps even Finland. Without these avenues to waterways and, by extension, markets, they are quite literally doomed.
Regarding China, it turns out that their capacity to protect their own people from the virus produced in Wuhan is not nearly what they would have liked the world to believe. They are facing the loss of almost 1/3 of the population over the next year or two. Xi Xinping, much like Putin, has also taken the route of the autocrat, cracking down heavily on any dissent or opposition within his country. As it turned out, while China has been copying many of the technological innovations of the West over the last 20 years, they are not in a very good position when it comes to innovations of their own. Much of the sabre rattling is just that, and by now they are aware that the party for them is largely over. If they were to face sanctions like those imposed on Russia, for example, it would set them back 50 years.
Our world is changing. In South Africa, since 2006, we have had to come to terms with intermittent electricity supply and soaring costs of living. But, in the grander scheme of things, we are still okay. However, we need to protect our ability to feed ourselves, our transportation infrastructure, and our fuel reserves zealously, going forward. We have seen what the degradation of any of these can lead to already. Just look at Germany, and what it is going through at the moment. They are a first will country but are in the grips of staggering price increases.
And then we have the United States. Right now, their southern border is under siege, but it may be that this is merely the Biden administration attempting to import cheap labour. Their inflation, however, is no joke. If one compares the price of food in America at the moment to that which we are having to pay in South Africa, it is four times as expensive. Even in the world's biggest economy, that is taking its toll.
The question of "what if" is not so hypothetical as it sounds. We will all need to get used to a very different reality over the next three decades, as we head to 2050. Will we keep bickering amongst ourselves over issues such as race, or where our neighbour came from? Or will we join hands and learn from one another toward a better shared future? As a world, we are on a tipping point. I sincerely hope we can collectively put on our big boy pants and do the right thing for our children's futures.