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issue: 01/01/2001

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past columns by Cate Gable:



1 From an article entitled "Census Director Marvels at the New Portrait of America," in the National Report section of the Monday, January 1, 2001 New York Times, page A7.

2 This information taken from an article posted online at the AOL site: "Half the World Now Lives in Cities," by Harry Dunphy of the Associated Press. The institute is a Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving a more equitable balance between the world's population and environment resources. Headed by Werner Fornos, it was established in 1969, it has members in 172 countries and receives funding from foundations, corporations and individuals.

3 This mind-blast from Rick Owens discusses the assumption that Silicon technology will reach its limit by 2017 (many people are predicting the wall much sooner); and that molecular memory 'devices,' maybe made out of something like thiophene ethynylene, will be the 'switches' of the future.

4 See Harper's, January 2001, "Shoals of Time" by Julia Whitty, pages 55-65.

5 People weekly for December 11, 2000; see article entitled Water Warrior, pages 213-14.




Information Technology meets Global Ecology:
A Short-term Vision for the New Century
by Cate Gable

Despite the fact that those nine's turning over into zeros' got us all a little crazy last year, purists know that this year is the real beginning of the 21st Century. So without further ado, let's do the requisite Janus thing (looking-back/looking-forward) and lay out a short-term vision for our new century.

First, some facts, parameters, assumptions and pertinent fuzzy logic (below) to feed into our black eight ball before see what answers float up into the viewing window. And second, a disclaimer: My vision is based on information, intuition, hunch, experience and gut-feeling only. No lab animals were endangered to test these assumptions.

Social trend info for starters:

According to the new census data, the US is made up of 9 1/2 percent foreign-born citizens. As Kenneth Prewitt, the director of the Census Bureau says, " The 21st century will be the century in which we redefine ourselves as the first country in the world history which is literally made up of [people from] every part of the world." 1 He says that we would have to go back to the beginning of the 20th century to find that high a percentage of foreign-born citizens living inside our borders. He calls what we have a "complicated population stream."

Additionally, the Population Institute, a Washington-based non-profit, issued a report at the end of December that states, "Half of the world's 6 billion people now live in cities and more will join them in the next two decades." 2 The report says that at the end of the past century, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles were the only 'industrialized cities' on the top 10 list. By 2020 the top-10 will include cities like Dhaka, Bangladesh; Karachi, Pakistan; Jakarta, Indonesia, Bombay and others from 'developing' continents; New York and LA won't even be on the list.

IT trends:

There is an irony in the proliferation of Net communications: that while the world is becoming global it is also becoming smaller, that is to say, more accessible. The WTO demonstrations in Seattle were organized on the web and brought together teamsters and Green Peace activists, turtle puppets and the wild Frenchman who organized the boycott against McDonalds. A kind of globalized 'local' community was formed. Maybe we will need a new non-geographic definition of 'local' and 'community.'

Chips, of course, will continue to get smaller, augmented either by software instructions; or by discovery of new bio-chip technology that will replace silica with other elements (there is research into use of spinach); or other manufacturing innovations. For a real future blast, read "Molecular Electronics Will Change Everything," in the July, 2000 Wired; although as author Rick Owens says, 'Thiophene Ethynylene Valley' doesn't have much of a ring to it. 3

The wireless Net, despite the recent unfulfilled hype of handheld devices, will sooner or later prove to be the Next Big Thing. Some futurists predict that we will exist in a fluid sea of information picked up by devices that we wear or carry, appliances in our homes, vehicles, walls of buildings, and, why not, tongue studs.

Though robotics continues to develop, robots are a long way from being able to experience sensation, and, therefore, can't feel, and, furthermore, cannot make real judgements or discernment. Nonetheless, robots are becoming more sophisticated and will surely take on an expanded role in the workplace, at home, and in other areas of our lives (sports? education? sex?).

The Internet will continue to dematerialize physical structures: from used car lots (see last month's column) to, perhaps eventually, cars themselves.

And what about the environment:

Given the incredible human stupidity to shit in our nest, we can expect a continued degradation in all aspects of earth's macro systems: air, water, soil carrying capacity, climatic systems. If you need more proof of this, just look around you.

Global warming: ever seen such a string of 'weird' weather? I traveled to Paris ready for the usual wet winter bone-chill and was greeted by a balmy December requiring a light cotton coat; I didn't unpack my long wool coat until I got caught in Atlanta, Georgia in the middle of an ice storm. Then on to New York City and break out the mukluks and snowshoes. (You'll have your own version of this story for your region.)

Finally the fisheries industry is admitting that they may have blown it big-time; and we're not just talking about wild Pacific Northwest salmon anymore. We're talking any commercial fish: Halibut reached $19.95 a pound in Berkeley several months ago. And, by the way, the coral reefs are dying. 4

Continued loss of regional habitat means continued loss of species. Now, not only do we need to fight for natural space, we need to fight for 'open space.' And with our new administration it looks like we'll have to go back and fight again the battles we thought we'd already won. Let's drill for oil in the Alaska Wilderness! Read: cut forests, grade mountains, build roads, run pipelines, incur spills, etc., etc.

A recent People magazine (not Mother Jones mind you, People!!) has an article about high school student Ashley Mulroy and her experiment to measure antibiotics (penicillin, tetracycline, and vancomycin) in the water of her hometown Moundsville, W.Va. 5 Antibiotics in the water means we are creating environments for super-bacteria which will be moving up the food chain looking for hosts. And this Homo-centric view says nothing about the actual health of the water system.

The tree that Julia Butterfly Hill sat in for over two years to save, has been murdered by someone with experience, someone who hiked quite a distance with a 8-foot chain saw to cut nearly 1/3 of the way through Luna's tremendous girth. With these kinds of earth caretakers among us. . .well, let's move on.

OK. Let's toss our trend-insights into the eight ball. Ahhha, there's a short-term stereopticon view appearing now:

For worst case scenario read Marge Piercy's He, She & It. We can look forward to a terrifying robotic future where the have-nots, which will be most of the population, huddle in urban enclaves feeding themselves from vats of algae (there's no soil). Only renegades will live outside of any cities' protective bubble because the air is not breathable and, since the ozone layer has been destroyed, the sun is a lethal weapon. (These radicals, however, will be mutant human types who've retained the ability to produce organic food.) Technology will be used for gathering and aggregating intelligence for 'leaders' (Big Brother on steroids), for weapons of mass destruction, and, oh yeah, the best possible medical care for the top .0001% of the population. There will be no wild creatures except in zoos, which will be called 'Nature Blocks.' "Taking a walk" will be a lost origin expression which now refers to putting on goggles and having one's thigh muscles stimulated.

In case you are inspired to move to another century, take heart. Maybe we'll manage to pull-off a best case scenario. All people's of the earth will care for and share the resources of the earth in a way that respects macro-systems and our partners in evolution-the plants and animals. Maybe we will use technology to create international bodies of reason and discourse. Maybe information will be collected and available to people who need it. Maybe most of us will coexist in dense urban settings, planned for living by humane and creative designers, leaving vast open spaces in progressively wilder states in rings around our cities. The first ring for organic farmers. And successive rings outward for repopulating habitat for endangered species, including, most importantly, the large carnivores, which in 2027 we realized were needed to keep entire Eco-systems healthy. Not only will we rebuild the Florida everglades (mitigating the damage done by engineers in the 1950's, known as the Even Darker Ages), we'll take down the dams because we will realize that the life of water on the planet is our life. Salmon will return and add their fecundity to the Columbia, Yakima, Snake, Naches and Little Naches Rivers, among others. We'll develop alternative energy and learn how to mimic nature's sustainable systems-the photosynthesis of leaves, and self-assembly engineering, for instance. We'll close all the loops. Waste will become fuel. We'll take our place inside the web of life.

So, let's choose our vision; and, then, may we all make the best choices we can to create it. And if those aren't good enough, let's hope that the natural world, in it's spectacular wisdom and glory, obliterates us to make way for a more caringly-conscious and effective creature in the 22nd century.

b i o :
Cate Gable is a poet and writer (author of Strategic Action Planning NOW!) , strategic marketing consultant in e-commerce, teacher, and President of Axioun Communications International. She divides her time between Berkeley, CA; the Pacific Northwest; and Paris, France. Send comments to her at


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