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The models are good enough: 2050 and all that

Tip the globe so you are looking down on the North Pole. It is surrounded by seven countries. The Northern Rim Countries (NORCs), are the USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Canada.

Tip the globe so you are looking down on the North Pole. It is surrounded by seven countries. The Northern Rim Countries (NORCs), are the USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Canada. The NORCs are among the most trade-friendly, economically globalized, law-abiding countries in the world. They control a vast store of natural resources the rest of the world needs. Immigration will increase, agriculture will improve. Even the weather will get a bit better. You live in a NORC. Your future looks good.

Laurence Smith is professor of geography and earth & space sciences at UCLA. He set out to document the horrors of climate change. He ended up writing a book about the rosy future of the circumpolar world.

The book is 'The World in 2050: Four Forces Civilization's Northern Future.' It is already reshaping the way people think about the Northern Rim. It should be required reading for all our Northern Ontario leaders. Buy a copy for your MPP. Buy 10 copies for the ministers and their staff. Rick Bartolucci, there will be a quiz at the end of the month.

Northerners will be happy that Smith defines the Northern Rim as the territory north of the 45th parallel. This includes Ottawa, whether we want it to or not. It doesn’t include Toronto. Southern Ontario is a NORC the same way Denmark is –Denmark owns Greenland and southern Ontario owns Northern Ontario. Of course, Denmark is planning to give Greenland its independence. Silly Danes.

According to Smith, the prime socioeconomic role of the NORCs in the 21st century will be the same as the role Northern Ontario played in the 20th century: shovelling gas, oil, minerals and fish into the gaping global maw. There will be fast-growing towns in the North, but the rest of the landscape will be nearly empty. It will be a frigid version of Nevada, according to Smith.

Smith isn’t saying that 2050 will be all peaches and cream. There will be water shortages and growing deserts in the south. There will be vast amounts of methane released as the seas warm and permafrost vanishes from huge areas. The polar ice will melt. The world won’t be better off, but we will.

So where will you be in 2050? Is there any way you can respond to the four forces that Smith thinks will shape the future? Will you have made the best choices for your family and your country?

There is nothing you can do about demography, his force #1. The world population will reach eight billion by 2025 and could reach nine or 10 billion by 2050. If you are like the majority of Canadians, there is not much you want to do about force #2: the growing demand for natural resources. Most Northerners just want to cash in on the boom. Despite what Canadian economist Jeff Rubin says, even sky-high oil prices won’t stop globalization, which is force #3. Force #4 is climate change. Canada is committed to pumping as much oil as possible while prices are high. Like it or not, you are trying to cash in on global warming, too.

Smith is pretty conservative about his predictions. Genetically engineered algae that live on garbage and taste like chicken might solve the world’s food problems, but Smith doesn’t want his story to rely on long shots like that. World War III might deal with population pressure and climate change, but he rules out a world war. A major meteor impact, a pandemic killer disease or a global depression could change the path of history, too. But without a bit of magic or a major disaster, the four forces will drive us toward his version of 2050.

Smith is a scientist and he argues that we really do know what will happen with the climate and the economy. Our models are good enough. We can see what is coming down the track.

If you believe our models are good enough, then you believe the North is in for good times and big changes. And you believe our kids will face massive climate change, shrinking Great Lakes, massive forest fires in Northern Ontario and a crash in the moose population. Sleep well.