By Sundeep Waslekar
Like many others, I get into reflective mood towards the end of a calendar year and beginning of the new one. The calendar is a creation of the human mind. It does not reflect changes in fundamentals elements of nature that govern out life. However, like a clock, a calendar helps us to organise our time. It influences our thoughts and actions. Political parties modify their behaviour if elections are going to take place in a particular year. Budgets which affect everything from medicines to military expenditure are determined by the simple looking calendar. And considering the number of wedding bells that tolled on 11.11.11, even our romance and sex life can be ruled by calendar.
If I look at the period of 12 months organised as Year 2012 After Christ what do I anticipate that will influence the future of the whole world? I would like to present my list in the order of importance. Others may have their own lists in their own order of significance.
1. Einstein’s Alternatives: With increasing evidence that nutrinos actually travel faster than light, 2012 will be the first year when search for alternatives to the Einstein generated world view will begin. This search will question the Theory of Relativity, look for a fifth dimension, revisit the string theory and begin the process of rewriting laws of physics. For this reason alone, 2012 will the most significant year in over a hundred years – of course, much less than the year when unified theory of physics and alternative to the theory of relativity will be announced in future.
2. Synthetic Genome: Craig Venter’s Laboratory is to 21st century is what Cavendish Laboratory was to the 20th century. Whatever happens there has far-reaching impact on humanity. Venter has announced plans to launch a self-replicating synthetic genome capable absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or at least producing fuels. If Venter succeeds, 2012 may prove to be one of the most significant landmarks in history of evolution.
3. American Deficit: Much hoo-ha was made about European economy last year. The real financial crises are in the United States. The US budget deficit is 10%, an honour the United States shares with only two countries in the world – Greece and post-Mubarak Egypt. European collective budget deficit is under 5% and Merkel and Sarkozy appear serious about bringing it below 4% through pan-European fiscal coordination. Therefore, the European economy may get streamlined and Europe will in fact come closer than it is today. If the US does not reduce its deficit, it may plunge its own population, the Chinese economy and the whole world into crisis. The US economy is known for resilience and innovation which may save the Americans and the rest of us from real depression. But what can one say about the American politicians who are set to spend $800 billion on arms in 2012 while talking about recession and spending cuts?
4. US Elections: Since the United States continues to be the most important player in world economic and military affairs, its presidency matters. The choice in 2012 is tough – Obama who may bring depression and the Republicans who may bring war and destruction. But perhaps, if Obama returns to the White House and has no more scope to contest again, he may give up his double-act, show courage and bring about the change that he promised us in his inspiring speeches four years ago.
5. I-Phone 5: Now that Steve Jobs is no more, will I-Phone 5 with its virtual keyboard sweep markets the world over? If it does, it will have far reaching implications for institutionalisation of creativity which will not be confined to mobile phones or even communication industry but may usher in a mini technological revolution in different sectors. Equally important will be the arrival of virtual reality in our daily life. I-Phone 5 will not be about the phone alone.
6. Human Genome Code for $1000: Two research companies, one in California US and one in Oxford UK, are racing to complete the first 1000 dollars mapping facility for the complete genome code of an individual. Breakthrough in 2012 is likely. If this happens, 2012 will be the year that forced revolution in medicine.
7. West and Islam: The debate on West and Islam relations has become increasingly relevant by a strange coincidence since the killing of Osama bin Laden. Now that Al Qaeda is out, Islamic parties have gathered massive support among common people across the Middle East including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and as it will be proved in 2012 also in Libya and Syria. At the same time religious orthodoxy is capturing Israeli politics where parties that emphasis beards for men and oblivion for women are gaining strength. The West may not like this reality but reality in one region is not changed by someone else liking or disliking it. How will the West adjust to the new paradigm? Will the US and Europe be mature enough to accept the outcome of democratic elections or will they unleash propaganda, introduce stringent travel measures on passengers whose names they find problematic, and refuse to accept election results that do not address their priorities but fulfil the hope of people who vote?
8. Post-Kyoto Anarchy: The Kyoto Treaty on climate change will formally lapse in 2012. In December 2011 they agreed at Durban to continue with it until 2020 and then have a new regime. Is this euphemism for a new climate anarchy that 2012 will bring in?
9. Water Wars: The biggest challenge for Egypt, once the new government is formed, is to respond to the initiative of African countries to have a new Cooperation Framework Agreement in place of an old treaty that gave Egypt and Sudan rights over most of the Nile River. Water disputes in south-east Asia, south Asia, central Asia and the Middle East will shape politics. 2012 will provide an opportunity to turn water into an instrument of cooperation from a potential source of dispute. If this is not done in 2012 or 2013, slowly the window of opportunity will close.
10. Post Karzai Afghanistan: Afghanistan is not just another impoverished landlocked country. It is the home of Taliban that sponsored Al Qaeda, transit route for Central Asian oil and gas to Gwadar in Pakistan and from there to the world or onwards to India. The options for the post-Karzai governance structure include an administration led by a former US administration official and a government supported by Taliban and Pakistan’s ISI, with a small chance for respected and well educated patriotic Afghan gentlemen. Which way Afghanistan will go will determine whether another 9/11 or its bigger edition may occur.
11. Chinese Conundrum: I can never guess what the Chinese are up to. One day they suddenly announce their ability to bring down communication satellites from lower geosynchronous orbit. One day they announce birth of a chimera between cells of man and rat. One day they announce the budget to establish 500 Confucius Institutes around the world and shake up worldwide cultural currents. Since one never knows till they announce, I place them so low in the list. But I know they are always up to something and hence I would not omit them altogether. In fact, something they are up to could deserve number 3 or 4 on my list.
12. The Future of Superstition: How many marriages will take place and how many mothers will plan C-section on 12.12.12? For superstitious people on the planet 12.12.12 will be more important than 11.11.11 since nothing like this will appear again for 88 years. By the way, 2012 is also the year when the earth is due to vanish according to the Mayan prophecy. I hope that you and I will be around to check out this list next December. But some will pray, meditate and chant – good activities by themselves – to save the earth from the Mayan End. Should we be upset that despite all modernisation we do not give up superstition? Or should we be pleased that despite all those machines, competition, dirty politics, corruption, inequality and all good and evil of modern life we have not lost our sense of humour.