Saturday, 7 November 2015

Would You Like to Know More? - The World in 2099

"Aurora Borealis Over the Midwest" by NASA
Orbital Cascade Event

The Sun Dragon’s arrival in Earth orbit in 2033 caused an electrical storm of biblical proportions. Every satellite was damaged and some were knocked from their orbits. As one smashed into another, it caused a cascade effect as they fragmented and filled the orbital paths with debris.

As well as knocking out most of the world’s communications, the storm ravaged non-hardened  power and electronic systems. Communications was limited to some military systems, a few protected landlines and the individual ham radio operators who’d been able to protect their equipment.

The lack of communications exacerbated the breakdown as people panicked when the power failed and they saw the extreme aurora in the sky. Law and order was eventually restored in most major cities within days. Repairs on the power and communications networks had just begun when the Sun Dragon reached the Sun.

The Great Cold

What happened in the aftermath was worsened by nation states’ inability to respond effectively to the new crisis. When the Sun Dragon wrapped itself around the Sun, the catastrophic reduction in solar energy plunged the world into a mini ice-age. Thankfully for humanity, that didn’t last. Once the Sun Dragon split into two new entities, the warmth and light from the Sun returned.

It had taken weeks for the world to become covered in snow and ice. It took over a year for the weather and climate to return to something resembling normality. That year of storms and extreme weather conditions destroyed 90% of the world’s crops. Starvation and famine struck throughout the world, and even the richest countries suffered immense losses.

It was the poorest and most populous countries which lost the most. In 2033 the world’s population approached 8 billion people. In China and India alone over a billion lives were lost.Within a year less than half that number remained. Transport networks damaged by the Sun Dragon event and the freezing temperatures prevented effective distribution of the limited stockpiles.

Those countries used to such severe weather suffered the least, although their losses were still monumental. Europe and North America lost a quarter of their populations. Russia weathered the storm well, but populations in Africa and South America were devastated.

Disease and Starvation

When the ice retreated, disease followed in its wake and rampaged through the survivors. The impact was greater because of the broken communications, transport and power networks. Healthcare facilities were already in disarray and unable to cope with the growing influx of the sick.

To make matters worse, the bodies of the dead weren’t cleared up and so disease continued to spread. In the end, most of the outbreaks burned themselves out rather than being stopped and then the survivors had to face a year before the next crops would be available.

Up until that point, the national governments and international NGOs had determined relief and response efforts for themselves. Only limited and token programmes were undertaken for the less-fortunate countries. Despite this, many troops already deployed in other countries helped local authorities in the crisis. The scale of the disaster overwhelmed even the most powerful countries faltered in their handling of the situation.

Salvation came from an unlikely source: an experimental artificial intelligence which had analysed the history of international relief efforts. Its purpose was to help develop and guide the United Nations’ future operations. The system had been nicknamed ‘Eliza’ by its creator Christina Wheadon, in honour of the chat program that had first inspired her interest in artificial intelligence.

Many were doubtful that the system could handle such a mammoth task. In the Security Council, there was some resistance from the US and China who were unwilling to devote their resources supporting the United Nations. However, the General Assembly represented the nations of the world and they voted with a huge majority to ignore their veto and implement Eliza’s recommendations.
Some nations (including the United States and China) refused to provide supplies or resources for the Eliza Plan and some feared this meant that the plan would fail.

Survival and Recovery

The Eliza Plan wasn’t a popular decision. It was built from an AI’s brutal practicality and while it was designed to save as many people as possible, it did so by sacrificing some of the more remote communities that would be a greater burden to support.

As a result the plan wasn’t universally accepted, even after the first six months when the United States and China changed their stance and threw their combined weight behind the Eliza Plan. Much has been written about the politics of their manoeuvring, but their reversal boiled down to practicalities. Where the plan had been accepted and followed, survival rates were markedly higher and at a lower resource cost.

Public opinion also played its part. Both the United States and China had more of a working communications network than most other countries. This granted their people a voice. While the death toll in both of their countries had been as bad as the rest of the world, the survivors now had a better quality of life than those they saw on the news and demanded that their governments did more to help in the recovery.

The Eliza Plan was more than minimising losses, it was also about rebuilding the core services needed to allow the survivors to return to 21st century life.

Unexpected Benefits

While it would be heartless to describe the unprecedented culling of the human race as a fortunate event, as civilisation was slowly rebuilt, some distinct benefits emerged.

The first was global warming. The predicted dangers from climate change had been clearly present in 2033. However, the sudden change in weather caused by the Sun Dragon had dropped global temperatures way below those before the industrial revolution. When Sun Dragons B and C  departed, the temperatures slowly restored to modern levels. But the violent changes in weather and climate had reset much of the damage caused by industry, mechanised farming and resource collection over the centuries.

It hadn’t removed the effects completely, but did reset them enough that mankind now had the chance to prevent a recurrence of the problem in the future. The drastic reduction in the world’s population and perilous state of the economy reduced the output of the power networks and industrial capacity.
Much of the existing industry had been damaged or destroyed by either the severe cold or the electromagnetic pulses from the Sun Dragon. Only the most hardened facilities survived intact which meant that most production centres had to be rebuilt. The reconstruction used more environmentally sensitive techniques to help safeguard the future.

Potentially the biggest positive impact was the flattening in equality around the world. Many financial data centres had been damaged or outright destroyed. Considerable effort had been undertaken by the banks and financial institutions to restore the data, but failed for most of it. The greater disaster overshadowed this loss and for five years the world operated on a barter economy.

The sheer scale of the system breakdown and loss of life nullified huge portions of the economy, destroying many assets that defined individual and institutional wealth. With everyone’s efforts directed at rebuilding, the details of ownership were fragmented at best, but in many cases lost.
As the world’s infrastructure returned, so did the economy and with it personal wealth. However, it was mostly new wealth and, with a much reduced population, it was spread more evenly. Differentials between the rich and poor did return over the following years, although they haven’t reached the severe separation that existed before.

Nations Resurgent

In the 70 years since the Sun Dragon event, humanity recovered and restored a civilisation that is now cleaner and leaner than before. More balanced wealth distribution inspires innovation and increased production. The first interstellar space mission is about to be launched, but the tribalistic baggage of our past remains.

As the recovery strengthened, so control of the various programmes slipped back to the national governments from the United Nations. The spirit of cooperation continued and many of the national squabbles have eased in the face of larger concerns.

It’s a more peaceful world than before and the United Nations is much more active in key areas like health, economy and education. In contrast to this, defence, law enforcement and intelligence operations remain the sole province of national governments.

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