Dystopian fiction: How likely are "dark future" scenarios today?

Dystopian literature and fears of a "dark future" are time-honored, but can any of these scenarios still happen?
Matthew S. Williams
Futuristic cyborg religion and control stock photo.gremlin/iStock

It's a prospect that intellectuals and regular folk alike have pondered since the "Age of Revolutions" and the industrial era: Could humans be coaxed into trading their freedom for security, their reason for fanaticism, or their individuality for sameness and "equality"? While these questions have always been with us, in some form, it was perhaps not until the modern age that they became a more widely-considered existential threat.

Over a century later, the debate continues regarding the direction and fate of human civilization. Will we thrive as a society that finally realizes the dreams of equality, freedom, and self-determination for everyone - regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, culture, or creed? Or are we doomed to be enslaved by robots, aliens, or ruthless elites who care about nothing but power? 

For many, the prospect of a dystopian scenario ended with the 20th century and the Cold War. For others, it's a persistent fear that experiences a resurgence every so often. It's a running joke that any debate in an internet forum will inevitably devolve into accusations of Nazism (aka. Godwin's Law), Stalinism, and the casual use of words like "Orwellian."

But the prospect is no trivial matter for those who have witnessed totalitarianism and its effects firsthand. Neither is the possibility that such a thing could become a worldwide phenomenon. As Orwell himself wrote in his immensely influential cautionary tale, 1984: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever!"

Dystopian fiction: How likely are "dark future" scenarios today?
Source: Boris U./Wikimedia

Historical precedents

The fears that humanity might devolve into a "dystopian society" are timeless. But it is arguably within the context of the 20th century that the idea has become so pervasive. Much of this is due to the rise of dystopian fiction as a distinct genre. But the very rise of that genre was due to a growing awareness of how human freedom can be suppressed - based on actual examples.

For example, there were the Russian, American, and French Revolutions, plus many others that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. These revolutions were often inspired by demands for greater freedoms, independence from foreign rule or from a ruler or ruling class seen as "out of touch", and/or recognition of basic rights. At the same time, many of these resulted in "revolutionary governments" that themselves committed acts of extreme repression, mass purges, and genocide.

Then you have the shocks and pains for many that accompanied industrialization and urbanization, which were unmistakable by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then there was the terrible experience of World War I and II, which were so inextricably linked that some historians refer to the period from 1914 to 1945 as a "Second Thirty Years War."

The interwar years were also fraught with political and economic turmoil, which included "The Great Depression" and the growth of radical politics in many societies. One outcome of this period was how the turmoil enabled totalitarian governments to seize power in multiple corners of the world.

These included various forms of radical far-right philosophies like Fascism, Nazism, and Japanese Imperialism, but also the radical far-left philosophies of Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism. In every state that fell to one or the other in the 20th century, torture, slavery, genocide, public executions, show trials, and state control of all education and media were commonplace.

The end of World War II was followed by the Cold War era, characterized by two superpowers participating in a constant state of tension and one-upmanship. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the number of states with nuclear weapons grew as various states developed their own nuclear arsenals or as a result of "proliferation" (nuclear powers distributing weapons to allied nations). 

Despite the sense of renewed optimism that accompanied the end of the Cold War, civil wars and humanitarian crises have not been eliminated and have continued into the 21st century, along with the growth of economic inequality, polarized politics, disease, and concern for the climate. Needless to say, humanity appears no closer to living in a peaceful and universally prosperous utopia than it was when the 20th century began.

Perhaps nowhere has this been more apparent than in literary depictions of the future. According to Dystopia: A Natural History (2017) by historian Gregory Claeys (University of London), the roots of the literary genre began in the 1870s and achieved great success by the 1930s. As he described it, dystopian fiction consisted of satires that "targeted eugenic ideals as well as possible negative outcomes of later nineteenth-century revolutionary movements." 

Since the turn of the century, dystopian fiction has once again become popular, mirroring the fears of many that the future will be a "dark" place. These literary depictions are often inspired by real-world events and trends that inspire worries about what tomorrow might hold for us. At the core of this "future anxiety," there's the obvious fear that humanity may not make it out of the 21st century or that the worst is yet to come.

At the same time, there's the fear that while humanity may endure in some form, its most cherished ideals of civilization might not.

Early dystopian works

While the most influential examples were published in the 20th century, the genre actually gained mainstream acceptance and popularity in the late 19th century. An early example is H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895), a work of science fiction that was also a critique of English society, class structure, and class antagonism in Well's time.

The story centers on a time traveler who visits a future society divided between a ruling class (the Eloi) who live lives of leisure and a subclass of workers (the Morlocks) who live in brutal conditions underground. The Eloi depend entirely on the Morlocks' labor to maintain their lives, and the Morlocks take their revenge by emerging at night to capture (and eat) those Eloi they catch.

For many, Wells' story represents a prototype for dystopian fiction because of the way it transitions from a vision of a "perfect society" to one with nightmarish realities. According to author and professor Mark R. Hillegas, Wells' is responsible for creating the "anti-utopia" literary style that would inspire future generations of writers and social critics.

The Machine Stops (1909) by E. M. Forster is similarly viewed as an early prototype. The story takes place in a future where the planet has become largely uninhabitable, and humanity has migrated underground. People live in isolated cells where their needs are provided by the Machine, which they revere as an omnipotent being. Eventually, the Machine breaks down as the people no longer know how to service and repair it.

By exploring how technological dependence can lead to serious problems, some argue that Forster's story is the first example of a "technological dystopia." In their paper, "'The Machine Stops': humans, technology and dialogue," Ana Cristina Zimmerman and Prof. John W. Morgan from the University of Cardiff explained:

"Dystopian societies are often characterized by dehumanization and Forster's novel raises questions about how we live in time and space; and how we establish relationships with the Other and with the world through technology. We suggest that the fear of technology depicted in dystopian literature indicates a fear that machines are mimicking the roles that humans already play in relational encounters."

Classic dystopian works

One of the most recognized works of dystopian literature (often cited as the "original" example) is the novel We, by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. While Zamyatin finished the book in 1921 while living in Soviet Russia, it would not be published until 1924 (in the U.S.) due to strict censorship laws. In fact, We was the first book to be officially banned by the Soviet censorship board.

The story is set many centuries in the future, where the main character (D-503) is a mathematician living in the One State. As a critique of the Soviet Union, the One State is ruled by the "Benefactor" - an exalted leader - and people live in glass apartments that allow for constant mass surveillance by the Bureau of Guardians (the secret police).

This novel, its themes, and the issues it addressed would have a lasting influence and a significant impact on other writers. These include (arguably) the two most famous dystopian authors - Aldous Huxley and George Orwell (though Huxley denied ever reading Zamyatin's novel).

The story also critiques industrial management in the early 20th century, as life in the One State is regimented through technological means. All activities are governed by "The Table," all citizens are given alphanumeric designations instead of names, and rationalism is championed while emotion, pleasure, and sensual delights are banned. The "Green Wall" in the story describes a barrier with the outside world, which citizens are forbidden to pass through.

Published in 1932, Huxley's Brave New World also takes place several centuries in the future, in the year 632 After Ford (A.F.) - which corresponds to 2540 CE. The World State rules Earth, life is heavily-regimented, babies are grown in test tubes (rather than born), and people are genetically engineered for specific tasks based on a rigid class structure (Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, etc.).

Prominent themes in the story include eugenics, behaviorism, conditioning, and modern industrial practices (a la Ford's assembly line and worker culture). In addition, the novel critiques how recreation and pleasure (and other examples of "mass culture") are used in American society to anesthetize the citizenry. In the story, these take the form of mass-produced narcotics ("Soma"), films that simulate physical sensation ("feelies"), and orgies.

Meanwhile, George Orwell's 1984 takes place in London several decades after the novel's publication (in 1949). In Orwell's story, the world is divided into three superstates - Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia - ruled by totalitarian regimes. Each of these regimes maintains control through constant warfare with each other, total state control over all media, censorship, propaganda, torture, brainwashing, and disappearances.

As Orwell reveals, The Party and its counterparts in other states learned from history how to create dictatorships that would endure forever. Through endless war, society is kept on the edge of deprivation while complete censorship and media control ensures they never know the truth. Constant surveillance ensures that people are kept in constant fear and that rebels are eliminated before they can pose a threat (and all traces of them are erased forever).

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, is another classic, released in the post-war era (1953) amid the specter of nuclear war and fears that new technologies (like television) could lead to a "captive society" where people no longer read. In the future Bradbury envisioned, firefighters were no longer responsible for putting out fires but for triggering them in the form of book burning.

However, as he states in the book, the process of book-burning is hardly necessary in a society that places convenience and entertainment above knowledge and intellectual growth. "Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary," he wrote. "The public itself stopped reading of its own accord."

Other latter 20th-century examples include A Clockwork Orange, written by English writer Anthony Burgess and released in 1962. This novel is set in a near-future England where a youth culture of extreme violence has developed, and politics are becoming increasingly totalitarian. The novel follows a teenage sociopath (Alex) who commits murder and, after being caught, chooses to participate in a program where conditioning is used to simulate a conscience.

Dystopian fiction: How likely are "dark future" scenarios today?
Source: LearningLark/Wikimedia Commons

In 1985, Canadian author Margaret Atwood's feminist dystopian novel - The Handmaid's Tale - was published. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic and patriarchal United States (renamed the Republic of Gilead) where women have no rights, no control over their reproduction, and are used as breeding stock. The story explores themes of religious governance, social control, female empowerment, and everyday resistance to authority. Atwood said everything in the book has happened in real life, "somewhere at some time." 

Throughout the 1980s, a new subgenre known as "cyberpunk" emerged that depicted a future where "low life and high tech" converged. Examples include Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net, William Gibson's Neuromancer, Pat Cadigan's Mindplayers, and Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash. Common themes in these novels include digital technology, "cyberspace," the growing gap between rich and poor, corporate control, and the Balkanization of society.

In 1993, Octavia E. Butler's famous examination of climate change, race, and social inequality - Parable of the Sower - was released. In Butler's world, climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed have led to the disintegration of society and the rise of city-states and company towns. Beyond these, roving bands of marauders roam the land, and hate crimes against women and non-white individuals are extremely common.

These and other fictional accounts have remained with us over time, presenting dystopian visions of a future based on the present. In every period, dystopian authors explored contemporary issues by interpreting them in a more extreme fictional setting (i.e., speculative) or by showing how they could become far worse if left unchecked (i.e., "cautionary tales").

Common Themes

To look at dystopian narratives from the past century, one would see how they have evolved to incorporate issues concurrent with the time of their publication. However, it is undeniable that certain themes have remained common and continue to pop up in dystopian fiction today.

Authoritarian Rule: A regular and recurring theme in dystopian literature is the exploration of ideologies that attempt to rationalize the imposition of totalitarian rule. In all cases, the authors drew inspiration from real-world examples to demonstrate how hatred and the vilification of an "enemy," scapegoating, and fear of the "Other" can be used to force obedience to the state.

Similarly, the rulers portrayed in these stories also rely on fear to ensure an obedient population. This is ensured through secret police, torture, mass arrests, purges, and other brutal practices. The climate of fear that this creates stifles any attempts at rebellion or dissent and can cause citizens to turn on one another (especially when combined with efforts to stoke hate).

Cataclysmic Fate: In many dystopian novels, the fictional societies arose from a terrible war or crisis that left society on the verge of collapse. Depending on the period in which it was written, this took the form of a nuclear exchange, chemical or biological warfare, a super-virus, or ecological destruction. The cause was not so important as the way that it left human beings vulnerable and unable to resist the imposition of dictatorship.

Censorship: Just as important as keeping a society captive with hatred and fear, fictional depictions of totalitarian governments also include the control of information. In 1984, a recurring theme was how the Party maintained a monopoly on all media, reporting, and historicity by constantly censoring all records to fit with the current narrative.

This consisted of altering historical documents based on who the current enemy was - i.e., "they had always been the enemy" - and destroying all documentation of a person's existence once they had been purged (an "unperson"). Deprived of any means of proving objective reality, citizens are unable to disprove a totalitarians version of reality - which changes to suit their current agenda.

Technological Dependence: Another common aspect of dystopian novels is the idea that reliance on automation and "progress" could lead to environmental destruction and human enslavement. This reflected concerns regarding automation, the replacement of human labor, and how reliance on technology would become a substitute for human interaction.

Psychological Manipulation: If there's one thing that the 20th and 21st centuries have demonstrated, people can be easily persuaded by slogans, images, keywords, and phrases. These have the effect of bypassing rational thought, appealing to instinct, and stimulating emotional responses. The effectiveness of mass communications and how they can be used to mobilize (and intimidate) the mass has been thoroughly explored in dystopian fiction.

Drugs: Another popular theme is how people can be made compliant and pliable through narcotics and other forms of chemical persuasion. The classic example is Soma, the designer drug from Huxley's Brave New World manufactured and distributed freely by the World State. This drug provides a euphoric experience and is chemically non-addictive, and people are encouraged to take it routinely to deal with stress or avoid experiencing difficult emotions.

After more than a century of warnings and cautionary tales about the future, a question deserves asking: Can it happen? While some might claim that humanity has already fallen into a dystopian nightmare, the answer to this question is highly speculative. But if we take the position that we have not yet fallen into a dystopia, how likely are we at some point - and how will it happen?

A few possibilities appear to be statistically more likely than others.

Overpopulation & Climate Change

In his seminal essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958), Aldous Huxley offered a retrospective on his famous dystopian novel and how it had held up since publication. In the essay, he outlined many factors that could lead humanity into totalitarianism, foremost of which was population growth and how the stresses placed on limited resources could lead to strict and severe government controls.

Huxley noted how the global population had increased between the publication of BNW and BNW Revisited (1931 and 1958) from just under two billion to 2.8 billion. That's an increase of about 40% in just twenty-seven years. By 1963, when Huxley died, the global population had grown to just over 3 billion. By the turn of the 20th century, the global population had doubled to reach more than 6 billion people - an increase of 100% in less than 40 years.

As of 2022, the population stands at just under 8 billion, and official estimates from the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) indicate that there could be close to 10 billion by mid-century and 11 billion by 2100. This will be concurrent with rising temperatures, sea levels, increased wildfires, flooding, drought, famine, ocean acidification, and other ecological problems imposed by climate change.

Dystopian fiction: How likely are "dark future" scenarios today?
Source: UN/DESA

In short, the global population continues to grow, even as climate change disrupts the very resource systems that we depend on for our survival. This is likely to trigger volatility in local and international markets, place severe stress on urban centers (which will continue to grow), and lead to mass migrations by people hoping to escape economic and ecological catastrophe.

Where will these people go? They will likely head to places where they can find work - the world's wealthier nations. These include Europe, North America, South Africa, South America, and Austronesia, where nations are already debating whether they should seal their borders out of fear of being "overrun" by refugees. 

With so many people putting pressure on the planet's resource base, which is already overburdened (and unevenly distributed), strict population controls (including perhaps moving people to where they are needed most) and the use of force may eventually be seen as necessary. In many parts of the world, nations or regions are increasingly likely to see unrest or warfare over shrinking resources, especially those that cross borders (such as shared rivers and waterways).

Into this maelstrom, totalitarian governments could potentially emerge to forcibly restore order by enacting martial law and overriding the political process. Once they've done that, it is just a small step to ensuring their long-term rule by instituting police-state measures, clamping down on dissent, establishing scapegoats (like immigrants and refugees), and strictly controlling the distribution of resources and information?

Media control and privacy

As noted, dystopian literature often focuses on how control of the media can lead to the control of populations. These fears were largely inspired by advancements in communications during the early 20th century, such as the invention of the radio and television, and the ability of mass media and advertising to rapidly reach vast audiences through these new mediums. 

People crafting advertising messages soon found that the best ways to elicit responses involved strategies such as appeals to fear, insecurity, sex appeal, stereotypes, self-interest, and a desire for advancement. In the hands of corporations and advertisers in the early 20th century, these approaches were often intended to boost sales and encourage consumers to buy products that they had never before needed or wanted. In the hands of totalitarian governments, it was used in instill fear, hatred, loyalty, and intimidation in the masses.

Totalitarian regimes like the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were experts at propaganda and manipulation of the mass media. In the post-war years and since the turn of the century, the situation has become even more extreme, with the rise of digital communications and the internet. The manipulation of thought through mass communications has become a vital tool not only for terrorist groups like ISIS, but it has also been used by nation-states to manipulate the democratic process through "election interference," to ensure particular outcomes or to disrupt society.

On many occasions, media analysts have also addressed the danger posed by the monopolization of media ownership. In his famous 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent, American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky argued that there are "Five Filters" to media control. These include:

  • Media Ownership: Where national media is owned and operated by a few profit-motivated conglomerates. Hence, the needs of the corporation are prioritized over critical journalism.
  • Advertising Money: Media channels cost more than consumers are willing or able to pay, so media owners compensate by selling advertising space. This can have a significant effect on content and reporting.
  • Media Elite: Governments, corporations, and institutions have become specialists in how to influence media outlets and public perceptions. By controlling access to "experts" and public figures, they can steer and change the narrative.
  • Flack: When media coverage is detrimental to those in power, the response will be widespread "flack," consisting of attempts to discredit the source and the story and divert attention elsewhere.
  • The Common Enemy: A bogeyman that will focus people's attention, fear, and hatred and mobilize support for the people in power.

And what of the future, where breakthroughs in artificial intelligence could mean an entirely new set of "filters"? Search engines already employ machine learning algorithms to search for information and rank sites in order of popularity. In addition, there's what is known as "search engine bias," where algorithms are designed to influence the user's experience and can be used to direct them towards sites and information that reinforce corporate agendas.

It is also becoming increasingly difficult to recognize deep fakes - which could one day be indistinguishable from "reality". That could lead to a world in which nothing can be trusted. There's also a growing concern about the elimination of privacy in the digital age. So much of our activities and business is online, and those overseeing our personal information are essentially a few conglomerates.

In recent years, internet giants like Google and Facebook have grown to the point where they have direct influence over three-quarters of all internet traffic. The huge amounts of data that this gives them access to is mind-boggling. In short, they can monitor what three-quarters of internet users like to do online - what they watch, buy, like, and dislike. As has been explored extensively, this information is used to direct advertisers toward individual users and get them to buy things.

Meanwhile, e-commerce mega-giant Amazon controls roughly half of all money Americans spent online and controls virtually everything the U.S. market watches through its subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS). In fact, AWS is the back-end provider for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, Discovery+, Amazon Prime, MGM, and other major streaming services.

The safety of people's personal information also became a focal point of attention thanks to revelations made by Edward Snowden about the extent of domestic surveillance in the U.S. In 2013, documents were leaked about the National Security Agency (NSA)  "PRISM" program, which allowed the agency to collect user data from Google, Apple, Facebook, and other major IT companies and analyze it for suspicious activity.

In a world where personal information is big business and ownership is in the hands of just a few people (who are not above sharing that information with government agencies), the prospect of a techno-dystopia where "Big Brother" knows everything about everyone doesn't seem so farfetched - some would say it's already here!


Another threat to freedom and the rule of law is the deliberate dissemination of misinformation and "pseudo-knowledge." In his 2008 book, Counterknowledge, British journalist Damian Thompson explored how the "information age" has amplified conspiracy theories, fringe groups, pseudomedicine, and pseudoscience. As he described it, counterknowledge consists of:

"Misinformation packaged to look like fact- packaged so effectively, indeed, that the twenty-first century is facing a pandemic of credulous thinking. Ideas that, in their original, raw form, flourished only on the fringes of society are now being taken seriously by educated people in the West, and are circulating with bewildering speed in the developing world."

Examples cited by Thompson include the then-popular notion that the U.S. government knew about the 9/11 terrorist plot in advance (and did nothing), the "link" between vaccination and autism, the theory that Chinese explorers found their way to the Americas before Columbus, and that the structure of the cell is too complex to have evolved through natural selection (aka. "creationism").

These criticisms have only become more relevant since the book's publication. In the past few years, there has been a notable rise in demonstrably false narratives that have attracted millions of adherents worldwide. These include Pizzagate, the 2020 U.S. federal election being "stolen," that COVID-19 vaccinations area plot to inject us with tracking devices, that school shootings are "false flag" operations by the government and the survivors were "crisis actors," and even that the Earth is really flat.

Similarly, the previously mentioned example of election interference raises a particularly malicious use of misinformation that has also become common. In 2016, cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure were traced to Russian hackers working with the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia and the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA).

This incident was hardly a one-off event, as similar attempts were made during the 2017-18 general elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Sweden. Evidence also emerged in 2020 that similar attempts were made to interfere in the U.S. general election and primaries.

Similarly, the rise of the "alt-right" as a political movement has been connected to the rise of "troll farms" and online influence operations. This term refers to organized groups that work in a coordinated fashion to post provocative content on social networks to promote narratives that sway public opinion.

According to an internal investigation by Facebook, Eastern European troll farms reached 140 million Americans every month during the lead-up to the 2020 election. These farms used Facebook's own platform, fake accounts, and tailored algorithms to push popular alt-right talking points. 

If policy, elections, and personal freedom can be swayed by misinformation, pseudoscience, and manipulation, then entire societies can be severely disrupted. Why go to the trouble of mounting invasions or direct attacks on a nation when otherwise free-thinking citizens can be compelled to peacefully surrender their freedoms without even knowing it?

Amusement & Distraction

In his thoughtful book, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), author Neil Postman explored the question of which dystopian vision - 1984 or Brave New World - has become most true. Upon examining trends in modern mass culture, he concluded that Huxley's vision was more accurate and that it is the amusement that is depriving people of their ability to remain informed, criticize dissent, and question authority.

Postman famously summarized this contrast in a few simple words. "In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicted pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us." In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley advanced similar arguments:

"In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or the propaganda might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies - the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant.

"In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions. In the past most people never got a chance of fully satisfying this appetite. They might long for distractions, but the distractions were not provided."

The idea of distracting the masses is a time-honored one and is often summarized by the term "bread and circuses," a Roman adage alluding to how public revolts could be staved off through the provision of subsidized food and entertainment. In many ways, this technique has only become more insidious and pervasive with the invention of modern mass media. By creating media that appeals primarily to the senses - not just sight and sound but sensations (aka. Anthony Burgess' "feelies") - is it not possible to anesthetize people without using drugs?

Surrounded by so many options for distraction, escape, and amusement that doesn't require thinking, citizens could be made to surrender their intellectual autonomy. As Bradbury suggested, it was hardly necessary to burn books in a society where people had given up reading a long time ago. 

Having examined some of the ways in which a dystopian society could manifest itself, is it possible to determine which of these is most likely? Opinions are likely to differ, but it's fair to say that these threats could ruin the world as we know it! But it seems fair to say that combining these prospects could lead to something very similar to what dystopian writers predicted.

Then again, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful as well. While global populations continue to grow, so too do the number of people living in nations with democratic (or semi-democratic) institutions. Basically, the number of people living in democracies worldwide went from over 28% in 1970 to 61% in 2020, doubling in the space of just 50 years!

Another very encouraging statistic is the significant reduction in extreme poverty that's taken place since the 1990s. Between the beginning of that decade and 2018, the number of people living in extreme poverty went from 1.9 billion to 650 million. By 2030, that number is projected to drop to 500 million, reflecting economic growth in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Dystopian fiction: How likely are "dark future" scenarios today?
Source: Our World in Data

There's also the way that climate change is fostering innovation across multiple sectors - including renewable energy, fusion power, carbon capture, direct-air-capture (DAC) - and speeding the transition towards sustainable development and resource management. There's also the way that global internet trends are facilitating the rise of new industries, entrepreneurs, and "collaborative consumption" practices that are "disrupting" the centralized business model.

Also, it's worth pointing out that while the global population is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of this century, those same projections show that population growth will have leveled off by then. Much of the expected growth between 2050 and 2100 will be centered in Africa, which is predicted to coincide with a level of economic growth that rivals that of Asia's "economic miracle."

Between the spread of democratic institutions, the reduction of poverty, potentially fairer mechanisms for capitalism, and the increasing growth of sustainable practices, it's entirely possible that the future won't be "dark" after all. As the old adage teaches, "the truth is stranger than fiction." Still, as we venture into the 21st century, with all the baggage we carry, a cautionary attitude seems well-advised.

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