The nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea are real and so is global warming. But the world is full of other remarkable processes offering both amazing hope and lots to fear in many big but neglected places. Here are a few neglected trends to watch this year.
The Fracking Revolution – Over the past decade while environmental romanticists and energy-ignorant liberals have cried and moaned, it has generated more than 1,5 million Heartland jobs and reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil imports to levels not imagined in 40 years. All this and the carbon footprint of using abundant natural gas is lower than any comparable major fuel. No doubt Hollywood will make fracking the McGuffin to cause global environmental disasters and I wouldn’t recommend doing it near the San Andreas Fault unless you really can’t stand California. But by any other measurement this is the biggest and best economic good news you can imagine. And proof that the old Hard Hat, American heavy industrial economy can still work real miracles.
3D Printing – The other unlikely, genuinely revolutionary and innovative technology that is keeping America decades ahead of the rest of the world. Manufacturing is transformed by this amazing – and amazingly simple in conception – method.
Chang’e-3 and Yutu – In the last month of the old year. China soft-landed a probe on the Moon. That’s an achievement Russia hasn’t bothered to do or managed since 1976 with Luna -24 and the US hasn’t bothered to do or managed since the last Apollo mission (17) went there in 1972. The Chang’e-3 probe was named after the ancient Chinese Moon goddess, but the little animal to watch is Yutu, the six-wheeled lunar rover named after Jade Rabbit, Chang’e’s pet. Yutu has ground-penetrating radar (GPR) that goes down 100 meters (328 feet) and it’s looking for precious minerals, especially the ultra-rare (on Earth) helium-3. With enough helium-3 the Chinese are convinced they can run clean energy nuclear fusion reactors. Sounds impossible? Go ahead and bet against them.
Watch Out Wall Street, Dubai’s Got Your Number – London and Tokyo need to watch carefully too. Dubai is the fastest growing and most spectacular of emerging world cities and global financial centers. Its Burj Khalifa Tower at 2,722 feet humbles the best that even Shanghai, Hong Kong Chonquing can deliver. And its financial clout and savvy, constructive, visionary mega-investors are now stretching across India and Southeast Asia. Scrap the old cliché of Arab sheikhs sitting on piles of literal gold while their flocks of sheep and camels watch. This is the new rising financial superpower of the world.
Will Shinzo Abe Destroy the World? – Japan’s hard-charging prime minister has promised to halve his country’s debt mountain by 2016. If he can pull off that he deserves the Nobel Prize in Economics. The hard reality so far is that he’s run up government debt like a drunken sailor in his first year back in office and the national accumulated debt now tops a colossal 200 percent of annual GDP. All that and gratuitously insulting China and South Korea by visiting Yasukuni Shrine too. Whether it’s setting off a major war with China because of failure to negotiate seriously over the disputed Senkaku, or Diaoyo islands, or toppling the global financial system, Abe has shown no sense of realizing the global catastrophes his actions can unleash.
Watch Narendra Modi – The longtime chief minister of booming Gujarat is now the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister in India’s 2014 elections. The UPA-Congress led coalition government of veteran Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been struggling with rising unemployment, falling economic growth and embarrassing revelations of massive corruption and bureaucratic incompetence. It looks like Modi’s time. But will his free market high tech passion trump his traditional hardline nationalism that could alienate India’s 150 million Muslim minority or threaten war with similarly nuclear-armed Pakistan?
Invest in Chongqing – By any reasonable standard the capital of Southwest China, with a population of 34 million people, is the biggest and fastest growing urban area in the world. It’s emerged as China’s gateway to the vastness of Xinjiang province and the energy riches of the Caspian Basin for China much as Chicago became gateway and processing center for America’s Great Plains 140 years ago. This is global transformation on the grand scale – with repercussions that will last for centuries.
Watch Moqtada al-Sadr – Already this century, the ruthless, quicksilver-smart head of Iraq’s Mehdi (Messiah) Army has run rings around Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Watch him swallow Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a single gulp when the time is right after the U.S. forces withdrawal is complete. After that, the sky’s the limit.
(Martin Sieff’s most recent book “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (2012) is available from amazon.com)
Martin Sieff is an editor at Sputnik, the Russian-owned news organization. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008), Gathering Storm (2014) and Cycles of Change: The Three Great Eras of American History and the Coming Crisis that will Lead to the Fourth (2014). Follow Martin on: @MartinSieff