On Yahoo Answers a few days ago professor Stephen Hawking (the physicist that developed the equations for the understanding of blackhole radiation, and well known for his book A Brief History of Time) posed the question: How can the human race survive the next hundred years? Specifically he states, in a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?
I have decided to delve into this question and discuss my personal predictions for the future of humanity.
In the short run the world must be most worried about nuclear war. How would a nuclear war begin? Say North Korea launched one of their Taepodong-2 long-range missiles carrying a 15 kiloton nuclear warhead (I do not know if that is possible but let's speculate that it is) at Anchorage Alaska, the closest major US city that the missile could hit. If the missile detonated the nuclear warhead during the day there would be around 260,000 deaths instantaneously. Nuclear fall-out could contaminate the air and water all the way down to Oregon and possibly as far out as Chicago depending on wind conditions.
The USA might immediately retaliate by detonating several 1-15 megaton nuclear devices (100 times more powerful than North Korea’s) over North Korea, wiping out most if not all of what would now be the former North Korea. Another option that the US could take that would be less destructive, but essentially produce the same political result, would be to release thousands of smaller non-nuclear missiles to destroy all potential nuclear sites and all of Pyongyang. While hundreds of thousands of lives would be lost and at least one nuclear weapon used, this would not be all out nuclear war. Even China and Russia who sympathize with North Korea would not even for one second think of retaliating against the US with more nuclear warfare.
Nuclear war will not happen within the US, Western Europe, Russia, China, or any industrialized democratic nation. Of course China is not governed by democracy so it is possible that a leader of China in the future will pose a threat to the world by provoking another Cold War situation with the US, but I doubt that will happen.
If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons then it is possible a nuclear war between Israel, Iran and other Arab states could happen. I highly doubt that it would though because of UN backing of Israel and the fact that Pakistan and India have already shown that they are fully capable of not initiating nuclear war against one another even in times of war or turmoil (to use India and Pakistan as an example for Middle Eastern and Arab states).
Terrorism is another possible route for nuclear devastation. If a terror organization got a hold of a small nuclear device then that could be catastrophic but, again, it would not end in all out nuclear war. Terrorism is a nuisance and often tragic but the result is not the extermination of the human race.
Political unrest, though I’m not sure I would call it in “chaos”, is existent, especially anti-US sentiment towards our foreign policies dealing with Iraq (which I believe to be very justified) but no other nation has the power and desire to destroy the US or, for that matter, start a nuclear war with any other country (of course excluding Iran and Israel).
Hawking mentions political and social chaos but I’m not sure there is really that much difference between the two so I will skip a discussion about stresses in societies and how that leads to political turmoil.
Environmental issues threaten our (meaning humanity’s) way of life more than any other issue we face today. Global warming will raise sea levels, cause extremely violent storms, form deserts from forest, and inhospitable jungle from dry land. But human life will continue. We may not thrive as we do today but we will not cease to be either. Of course those changes I mention won’t happen within 100 years they will happen within 300-1000 years so in the short run we don’t have too much to worry about. That is not to say we shouldn’t change how we behave now because it is possible to prevent many of the disasters that global warming will cause.
-- Addition to original post:
Of course on second thought 100 years is a long time and the stability of the world, eventhough I see it as getting more and more stable with time, could very easily drastically change. A major change in the stability of a region typically occures when the socio-economic conditions are eroded. Look at Palestine, it's people are poor, live in squalor, and are heavily armed and hence there is constant fighting. Look at Haiti. Look at Darfur in the Sudan. I can not forsee a situation where the US might be plauged with a complete loss of stability, even with a terrorist, or oherwise, bombing of Washington DC and the complete obliteration of the leadership of the US. The military would still be present and it would take control until a new leadership could be put into place. But, again, 100 years is a long time. Who knows.