The author is a UCLA geography professor. His specialty is the geophysical impacts of climate change. And, he is a scientist member of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). His original intent when writing this book was to study such climate change impact at high Northern latitude. As he engaged into this investigation, his study became multi-dimensional as he realized there were many demographic, economic, and political issues worth studying. Thus, his resulting book addresses far more than climate change.
The author derives that our future is driven by two dominant forces: demographic growth and economic growth. Both will push upward our consumption of natural resources. And, this growth in resource consumption will butt against the constraints of resources availability.
Our demographic growth appears predictable. Relying on relevant data, the author anticipates by 2050 the World population will increase by 31% or from 7 billion currently to 9.2 billion. However, the urban component will nearly double from 3.5 to 6.4 billion. While the rural population will shrink from 3.5 to 2.8 billion. Population growth will be unevenly distributed and mainly concentrated in Third World countries. Many Third world cities will become gigantic. And, many of them will become unsustainable, chaotic, violent slums they already are today (example: Lagos in Nigeria projected to hold 16 million by 2025). Others may emerge as the next Singapore or Hong Kong.
Another predictable pattern is that the entire world is aging. Nations will incur rising dependency ratios with more retirees per actively employed individuals. This will strain fiscal solvency due to rising entitlement costs worldwide.
Economic growth is a huge multiplier of demographic growth in terms of resource consumption. The author mentions that if the entire developing world living standard rose to the West level material consumption would skyrocket. Let's say the US, EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore combined have a population of 900 million. And, that the average living standard of those countries is 10 x greater than the remainder of the World (6.1 billion). If the remainder of the World catches up to the developed group, it would cause overall material consumption to increase by 4.6 times! Where would all the oil, water, food, metals come from to support such a worldwide high living standard?
That's where resource constraints kick in. He uses an interesting metric to capture that: Reserves of a given resources divided by yearly production or the R/P life index. For instance, oil has an R/P of only 42 years. That's why there is all the fuzz about Peak Oil. But, other critical resources have far shorter R/Ps. Those include many elements that are key to manufacturing our hi tech electronics (batteries, computers, screens, TVs, etc...). They include lead (R/P 22), nickel (21), silver (14), and indium only 8 years. Thus, how are we going to produce all our hi tech gear 40 years from now for a potentially far larger customer base?
The author indicates that this demographic & economic growth multiplier is a far stronger causal agent on our future than even climate change alone. That's even though the mentioned multiplier is also a cause of climate change.
Regarding resources constraints, the author pays special attention to: water. That's because the majority of the population growth will occur in developing countries who are already water stressed. They will be even more so in 2050. They will depend even more than currently on food imports for survival.
Water is not only essential for life on Earth, it is also essential for supporting energy production and industrial manufacturing. Without it, civilization grinds to a halt. This is why the author became extremely interested in the Northern latitudes (north of 45 degree).
The Northern Rim Countries (NORCs) include Northern Canada and US (Alaska), Norway, Sweden, Finland, part of Denmark, and much of Russia. This region has a very promising future on several counts. First, it will strongly benefit from climate change as the region is expected to warm substantially. The NORCs are anticipated to experience much sustainable population growth, economic development, and agricultural expansion. The NORCs also benefit from a ton of water resources that will soon be the next oil (the author calls it Blue Oil). It is likely that it will export water transfers down south through two means: one being export of foods (that the author calls virtual water trade) and the other through actual water projects (aqueducts, pipeline) as the US has already extensively developed throughout the West. Such projects linking Northern Canada to Southern Canada and the US are likely.
The NORCs have much more than water going for them. The area has huge unexploited oil reserves (Canada tar sands and Alaska North Slope) and natural gas reserves (Russia). And, the NORCs have much more than resources going for them. Those countries have economies that are very well integrated within our trading system. And, except for Russia, they are peaceful and provide much political freedom.
The NORCs represent a formidable economic region. Its GDP at $7 trillion (as defined on page 253) is half the US or the EU. It is 43% of the BRICs. And, although it is not a trading block like the EU, the NORCs have far more in common than the BRICs (that are either indifferent or antagonistic towards one another). It has also more in common than many European countries.
The NORCs (except for Russia) have empowered their respective aborigines populations through various land claims, mineral rights, treaties, and even independence (Greenland vs Denmark). See interesting map on page 212. Thus, as NORCs develop the local populations will strongly benefit. This is why for instance in Alaska, the natives are very much in favor of oil and gas exploration. The author makes a convincing case that such economic empowerment is far more enlightened than Russia's hypocritical effort to maintain their traditional way of life. That means enslaving them to a dire poverty while forbiding them from reaping any economic benefits from the land they live on.