In a Future of Megacities, Most of Earth Will be Wild
Projections for the year 2050 predict that most of the 8 billion people on the planet will live in megacities, with populations over 30 million. And these megacity clusters will form a network made up of smaller cities over 1 million in population. But these incredibly dense clusters will weave through a countryside that is emptying. It is already common to find entire villages in China, India, and South America abandoned by its inhabitants who fled to the swelling cities, leaving behind a few old folks, or often, no one at all.
This is the pattern on Earth. Extremely dense and vast populations in a network of megacities connected to each other with nerves of roads and wires, woven over an empty landscape of wild land, marginal pastures, and lightly populated farms. _Technium
Most of us are familiar with life in cities. Bigger cities will mean bigger problems supplying larger populations with necessary goods and services. For the most part we in the developed world can anticipate and plan for these problems. Taking care of large numbers of people will be a lot of work, but for the places most of us will live, it can be done.
What about other places, where skills, aptitudes, and competencies are not as well supplied?
OVER a third of Africa's 1 billion inhabitants currently live in urban areas, but by 2030 that proportion will have risen to a half. According to a recent report from UN-HABITAT, the United Nations agency for human settlements, the population of some cities is set to swell by up to 85% in the next 15 years. The most populous city in 2010, Cairo, will grow by 23% to 13.5m people.People move to the city for work, education, opportunity, convenient services and shopping, night life, technology, anonymity, and the company of other people. The trend is well established in the developed world where it continues. The trend is accelerating in the undeveloped world, where most of the Earth's new human population is being born.
As population density inside the megacity grows, the countryside becomes correspondingly depopulated. Wilderness will return to displace former human habitation. Wild animal populations will return to the new wilds.
It is easy to imagine the rise of largely automated farms, ranches, and dairies across the developed world. Energy efficient robot tractors, harvesters, animal tenders, milkers, and more, will be supervised by small numbers of human overseers and maintenance techs, who make sure the products are cleanly and properly prepared for transport to the cities.
Other than during periods of war and short-term natural disasters, most people in developed countries have not suffered prolonged hunger for centuries. The technologists of North America, Europe, East Asia, and Oceania will devise ways of producing food for their cities and megacities, even as the countryside depopulates.
But what of the people of the third world, who have little history of society-scale problem-solving and large scale technological innovation? Will the teeming megacities of the future third world become hungry slum-prisons, infested with diseases and parasites? Who will stay behind in the countryside to work and feed the hungry cities?
And when almost all of the people have finally been herded into the cities, becoming dependent upon "society" for city services -- food, water, sanitation, health care, child care, education, entertainment etc. -- who will be responsible for the well-being of all of these people? Once they lose the ability to take care of themselves?
In multicultural settings, where different peoples with thousand-year grievances exist in large numbers side by side, just a few rumours flying about could set the whole thing off.
A few days without food and water can turn such places into charnel houses. Or more quickly, substances introduced into a common food or water supply on a large scale could have similar effects. Putting all of your eggs in one basket can leave your supply of eggs somewhat vulnerable.
The rise of megacities may be good for the land and the wildlife of the planet. Its effect on the people is likely to be mixed.