As the world continues to change, it seems one of the longest steadfast comforts enjoyed all over the world – coffee may come under a shortage in the next few months. And so as the first reports of a post-coffee world are coming about in the media, it has acted as a sounding block for just how far we have come in the past few months toward a vastly different world in the near future. But as we look deeper into the issue, it seems coffee will not be the only major change in our world in the near future.
To be a futurist these days – particularly in regard to the near future, it seems thoughts have turned away from the wild speculation of technology and progress and toward the belt tightening and doomsday scenarios that once gripped the world shortly after 9/11. People are terrified of the future – holding instead onto the present and clutching at every element of life they can hoping it will not go away while prophets tell of doomsday on the horizon. And few stories of 2011 have been met with as much apprehension among listeners as the sudden disappearance of coffee. Even now as it only begins to break into the mainstream, critics are employing all the means they have available to them to make sense of it all or completely deny the possibility. It can’t happen in our society – it’s just not possible.
But coffee is a recreational drink. It’s hardly the same as losing water altogether. So why the reaction? Perhaps it’s the symbol of coffee that people fear losing. A symbol of comfort and socializing or being able to stave off the natural biological need to sleep. But it isn’t the only major symbolic change possibly in our near future.
China is facing a major power shortage as spring turns to summer. And as the problem continues to get worse the country may be temporarily putting its modernization on hold while power supplies catch up. And with a massive increase in ADHD medication the west is seeing one of the first major treatment shortages resulting in many patients simply not receiving the medication. The social impact is unknown because shortages have never been as protracted as the one expected later this year. India is running out of domestic coal and expects it will be having a major shortage in the near future affecting power to millions and possibly billions if a trade route is not set up. And of course in light of these, the other shortages are looking less important – but there are several.
So why are we suddenly seeing such a major shortage in so many commodities? Where is the infrastructure and supply that once sustained our world? In Russia in 1990 the population was 150 million. But to look at census information from 2008 it actually dropped down to just over 141 million in only a few years – and was suffering the same problems as other parts of the world with still more. In fact, a shrinking population seems to be making more problems than ever – a slap in the face to the malthusian argument suggesting Earth was reaching its limit. We wouldn’t have a shoe shortage if people made shoes. We wouldn’t have a coffee shortage if more people grew and transported coffee. Electric power plants are built by people. But the reaction to these shortages as a population problem has a sinister and all too familiar ring to it.
So if the problem is none of those, then perhaps there is another explanation. Perhaps there is an undercurrent originating somewhere that is causing society to rise and collapse. While historians speculate on the collapse of empires, it isn’t always as concrete as it seems. It’s almost as though there were a force beneath it all that grows and builds a society and then another that causes them to collapse. And while we may know why coffee is in decline, the root cause of this and indeed all of our problems is a mystery that will no doubt stymie future generations of historians.