Friday, February 19, 2010

The World in 2100

June and I are delighted to announce the birth of Natalie June Seat on February 16. Natalie is the daughter of Ken and Mina Takazaki Seat and our seventh, and probably last, grandchild. We are very happy to welcome this new member into the Seat family and into the world.

There is a strong possibility that little Natalie will live to see the year 2100—and that is also possible for her big sister, Naomi, who was born in 2004. After all, Natalie had three great-grandparents to live past 90, and her only living great-grandparent will likely live that long. And what with medical advances and all, we should be able to expect children born in 2010 to live longer than people born in the 1910s. Or should we?

I have no doubt that the earth will still be here in 2100, but what about the human race? Will there be a U.S. presidential election that year? Will the Summer Olympics be held? Will there be as much resemblance between 2100 and 2000 as there was between 2000 and 1900?

While there is not, at present, a strong threat of a nuclear war, such as was the underlying fear of so many people a half-century ago, there are other ominous signs that make me uneasy about human society in 2100. I guess my three main concerns are the possibility of massive changes on earth due to global warming, the likelihood of enormous problems due to the depletion of water resources in much of the world, and the constant increase in the population of the world.

When I was born in 1938, the world population was under 2.3 billion. This year there will likely be exactly three times that number of persons on earth. Even though the growth rate has slowed greatly, the population of the world may reach nine billion several years before 2050, and who knows what it will be by 2100.

Population growth is one of several reasons why the world’s supply of clean, fresh water is steadily decreasing. Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world. In my lifetime, let alone in Natalie’s, we may see major warfare over water. And who can say what dire effects of global warming may be seen in the coming thirty, sixty, or ninety years.

All I know is that there are great problems that all people of goodwill need to be concerned about and working diligently to solve. I want to keep doing what I can to work for a just and sustainable society, for the sake of Natalie and my other grandchildren and as well as for the sake of all the children of the world.


  1. Let me be the first to say congratulations to your family, and to you and June especially. From what I know of your family, I cannot imagine anyone who will feel more welcomed and loved into this world than little Natalie. Plus, you and June are the epitome of Qohelet's notion that if God gives one the ability to enjoy life, one should do so to the fullest.

    Of course, joy turns to brooding when you bring up--in the same post, no less-- the topics of burgeoning world population, natural resources to sustain it, and a tenuous future for the world. The ironic dimension is not just that Natalie will herself likely have to face these things, but she is herself, like all of us, a part of the cause for these things. Still, I don't sense that you or any of us laments with Job, "Why should the sufferer be born to see the light? Why was life given to those who find it so bitter?" (3:20) That is likely because, unlike Job, we know it's not God that is behind such problems, but we ourselves. So, what ideas, what meta-narratives, must we embrace or even create to solicit sustainability?

    Does the Xian story offer an ethic of sustainability for the environment? We may need to refashion it--reinterpret it--so that it does so unambiguously; frankly, I'm not sure that the sustainability question as we are seeing it emerge was on the minds of the first century writers of the New Testament.Or, if sustainability is the real issue, perhaps the Xian meta-narrative is one that ultimately cannot be so utilized, at least not with integrity. Perhaps religion in general, Christian faith included, are only instrumental with respect to smaller issues within the larger problem and need to be marshalled to address this larger problem. Who knows (to allude to Qohelet, again)?

  2. When it comes to deer or wolves, we can calculate the optimum and maximum populations. For ourselves, we do not know, for we change the very requirements of life, even as we change our population. Yet we know that our population looks very much like the bubbles that have burst in tech stocks and housing. What would it mean for the human population bubble to burst?

    Religion frequently enough not only fails to address such issues, it even fights against that very discussion. Christianity is as ready to produce a theology like "Quiverfull" as it is one where birth control, sex education, and gender equality are open norms. Why is not a great mystery. Some possibilities are almost too painful to contemplate, so we tend to avoid thinking about those subjects, even to the point of silencing others who do. Why have a painfully honest discussion, when you can have a tea party instead?

    The prophets combined fierce candor with amazing hope. We live in an age that calls for both. Our economy, our environment, even our very society, are all at critical thresholds. Yet we stand at this juncture with incredible resources. Like deer and wolves, we can fall blindly into our fate. Or we can choose to rise above it. As God said to Job from the whirlwind, "Gird up your loins like a man, for I will ask questions, and you will answer!"

  3. While in the short term I am quite skeptical about our ability to get our acts together in a timely manner, when it comes to 90 years from now I am primarily optimistic. A great deal has happened in the last 90 years that I would not consider progress, probably most of which though is negative side effects of things that I would consider progress. For example, our overuse and misuse of pharmaceuticals is a negative side effect of amazing advances in medicine; or our living in cyber-worlds rather than in neighborhoods (as I type a comment on a blog to my cyber-friends!) is a negative side effect of important advances in communication and information acessibility. Even global warming is a terrible side effect of things that have radically improved the quality of life for many people. One of our human tasks I think is always mitigating the side effects of our progress. Who knows yet what the effects of everyone discarding their worn out hybrid cars or photovoltaic cells will be?

    So, even though there will be many more fires to put out, many side effects to deal with, I think the progress and improvements underlying those will be great as well.

    In fact, what I have just typed reminds me of something else Qohelet said: "There is nothing new under the sun." Humans will keep making things better and worse at the same time. This is what we do...

    I am also optimistic about the world becoming a more just place. There are still many, many oppressed people throughout our world as well as right up the street from us, but with a big picture view of the last 90 years, I would certainly argue that we live in a more just world. Of course, I am an educated white man, so maybe I don't get to make that call...

    The last thing I have a comment on regarding 2010 is religion/worldviews. As globalization permeates our perspectives and expands its influence to more people, I think we will continue to see increases in secularization, agnosticism, pluralism, and fundamentalism. As we encounter the worldviews of others, I think primarily react in one or more of the above mentioned ways. (Hopefully the kind of fundamentalism we see will decrease in violence, but I think as long as there is pluralism, there will be its opposite.) Now, whether you think this development is progress or negative side effect is up for interpretation. Or perhaps it's both at the same time?