The Bones of the Future
By Ralph Meima

Human choices, human actions, and the action of the natural universe put flesh on the bones of the future, so that every moment in time is seen in hindsight as a full beast, alive and complete. But the bones of the future can be seen vaguely in advance, even if no soft tissue yet exists. A skeleton is not a whole creature. It is simply the general shape as defined by the hard elements that provide structure, leverage, and protection for the soft parts. The soft parts – muscles, connective tissues, organs, fluids – are what bring the skeleton to life and form a whole creature, manifesting its nature and nurture.

The future is always being brought forth. Let’s cultivate our ability to adapt to whatever that process generates by considering its bones. Below is a table containing significant “bones,” with descriptions of varying degrees of severity along with notes about both how Inter States is imagined and how I personally think the future is most likely to emerge.

Which scenarios do you think are more plausible?

Aspect of the future (“bone”)


Moderate/familiar scenario
Manageable change scenario
Disruptive change scenario
Climate change
Conditions remain similar to today’s.
Warming and ocean rise are tangible, but extreme weather events remain within generally manageable ranges.
Inter States
Severe effects on ability to produce food, maintain integrity of structures and communities, and protect coastlines.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Fossil-fuel (FF) availability
Availability remains similar to today’s as prices rise along with increases in efficiency.
Steady shift to renewables plus increases in efficiency keeps rises in FF prices moderate while reliance is gradually eliminated.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Dependency on FF persists due to institutional inertia, with prices and price volatility increasing, until there is a chaotic drop in availability .
Inter States
Population and migration
Conditions remain similar to today’s.
World population grows by a few more billion, coming to a halt mid-century, with little migration.
World population continues growing through the century, with large increases in interregional, international, and intercontinental migration.
Inter States
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Water
Conditions remain similar to today’s.
Water scarcity grows and prices rise moderately, prompting increased conservation and efficiency.
Inter States
Water scarcity becomes a major crisis in certain regions, driving prices much higher. Numerous new conflicts and migrations erupt surrounding access to water for agricultural and municipal purposes.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Food
Conditions remain similar to today’s; food is abundant and diverse, and commodity-based agribusiness remains competitive while small-scale producers gradually grow
Food becomes more expensive but remains abundant and diverse, as agribusiness loses ground to smaller-scale, locally rooted producers, due in part to significant internalization of externalities in food pricing .
Inter States
Food rapidly becomes more expensive, less diverse, and increasingly produced using capital-intensive systems on a moderate to large scale (e.g., greenhouses, aquaponics) due to variable, volatile weather that conventional farming is vulnerable to.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Internet technology
Conditions remain similar to today’s.
Use expands globally, with falling prices for service and equipment and increasingly mobile networks; augmented and virtual reality become more commonplace.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
A widely available, affordable, parallel virtual universe emerges from the Internet, penetrating work, leisure, and education to the extent that many people spend little time attending to physical reality. Networks are maintained by a patchwork of state, private, and community operators, with extensive open-source software.
Inter States
Democracy/civil liberties in US
Conditions remain similar to today’s.
There is a gradual restoration of pre-911 rights, and electoral democracy returns to greater health at both federal and state levels.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Federal prerogatives continue to erode civil liberties as the public remains concerned about national security, leading to the emergence of a police state, at least on federal property and in relation to federal assets.
Inter States
Wealth distribution in US
Conditions remain similar to today’s, improving slightly as the public becomes better-informed about the state of inequality and its consequences.
Conditions worsen for a period and then evolve toward mid-20th Century norms (i.e., substantially greater equality) as more progressive politics challenges the status quo and changes tax structures and government spending.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Conditions continue to worsen (i.e., inequality increases) until the federal government becomes the preserve of a small number of very wealthy families and individuals, and the only available means of reversing this trend are national revolution or the dissolution of the US into states where governments lend themselves to creating greater equality.
Inter States
US government codependency with fossil-fuel sector (FFS)
Conditions remain similar to today’s
The federal government gradually reduces its economic dependency and political entanglement with the FFS until it can be regulated as a “normal” industry, largely due to steady gains by renewables and efficiency.
Ralph Meima’s expectation
Federal dependency on and entanglement with the FFS grows as the promise of renewables and efficiency lags, leading to such capture of the federal government by the FFS that only revolution, dissolution of the US, or a major threat by a foreign power with less such dependency can change this relationship.
Inter States