Eugene Linden's look at life in the 2lst century is scary stuff--and a warning the world should heed
By CHARLES P. ALEXANDER
Don't ever invite Eugene Linden to your party. The author and TIME contributor is a pleasant fellow, but his ideas about the future could have taken the fizz out of even the best champagne. Though Linden writes most often on the environment, he thinks about everything, and his new book, The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability, is a broadbrush look at life in the 21st century. What he sees is not pretty: if the economic depression and plagues don't get you, the floods and famines will.
You have to admire Linden for the courage of his pessimistic convictions. In the summer of 1997, at a time of unprecedented world peace, prosperity and stability, he was perversely working on a manuscript about the coming global chaos. His effort seemed destined to join Paul Erdman's The Crash of '79 and Harry Figgie's Bankruptcy 1995: The Coming Collapse of America on the shelf of prophecies that never panned out. But by the time Linden published his book a year later, he was right on the money. Asian currencies had collapsed, Japan had gone into cardiac arrest, Russia was bankrupt, and El Nino had spread fire and storm around the globe. Even Wall Street was down. Suddenly, The Future in Plain Sight became one of the timeliest tomes at Amazon.com.
So what if the markets are jumpy and the weather erratic, you might ask? Hasn't it always been that way? Not like this, Linden would reply. He devotes a chapter to explaining how globalization of the financial system has institutionalized instability on a grand scale. Worse, modern civilization's foundation--the favorable climate humanity has enjoyed for 8,000 years--will turn nasty. Global warming, fueled by the consumer society's relentless production of greenhouse gases, is likely to increase the frequency and power of storms. Changes in polar-ice configurations could affect climate patterns and raise sea levels, threatening coastal areas from Boston to Bangladesh.
You've probably read all that before, but Linden goes beyond the familiar warnings to describe a pattern of trends that he thinks will burst the bubble of human progress. Among the causes of future instability that are in plain sight, but often out of mind: the spread of diseases because of overpopulation and climate change; deforestation and the rapid extinction of animal and plant species; the burgeoning income gap between the world's rich and poor; the rising tide of eco-migrants, who are forced off exhausted land; and the march of fanatical religious fundamentalism. All these unsettling developments are likely to accelerate as climate change curbs food production and economic output.
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