- Eugene Linden,
The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability, Simon & Schuster, 1998, 256 pages.
Just as we're about to merrily slide into the next century, tracking our portfolios, debating granite vs. Corian and wondering if our automatic lawn sprinklers will survive Y2K, along comes a book that punches a hole in our smug complacency.
Pollyannas, step aside. Global upheaval awaits. And author Eugene Linden counts for us the ways. (Thankfully, he stops at nine.) Knocking at our door are: economic collapses reminiscent of the Mexican and Asian disasters; more urban crowding (think Calcutta); tides of new migrants; a widening wage gap; vanishing ozone; disappearing ecosystems; food shortfalls; rampant disease; and the rise of religious extremists.
Linden is not trumpeting the end of the world, just the end of the world as we know it. He notes that humanity has enjoyed 50 years of political stability, coupled with 150 years, until recently, of stable weather. Most of us born after World War II take those factors in stride, a mindset Linden calls a "dangerous delusion."
But hold up. We're wallowing in a global economic boom. Aren't we better off than ever? What about our bull market, negligible unemployment, low inflation, sky-high consumer confidence and immunized kids? We recycle. Good times lie ahead.
said so, basically.
Why pay attention to this party pooper?
A science and environmental writer for
magazine, Linden has spent his 25-year career analyzing humanity, nature and the consumer society. He has authored several books, won a large number of reporting awards and commanded the public's attention through television appearances and
covers. With this book, he could be dismissed as just another left-wing doomsayer delivering the death knell. His "nine clues" certainly aren't revolutionary: We've heard them all before.
But what makes for compelling, albeit disheartening, reading is how Linden peels back like cheap veneer others' assertions that global conditions are improving. In a straightforward style, he contends that just about everything bad will get worse.
Does the weather of late seem wacky? It is. Nine of the warmest years of this century have occurred within the last 11 years. Linden suspects global warming -- which he says could bring melting ice caps that would do a lot more than ruin a day at the beach.
Think plagues of yore are licked? Guess again. Among Linden's examples: New super-resistant strains of tuberculosis are alarming medical professionals.
Readers could refute Linden on some points -- he does see despair where others see progress. He hobbles our economic joys, arguing that the heralded five years of sustained growth in the U.S. merely masks our sky-high consumer debt -- $1.2 trillion in 1997. Aren't people simply spending beyond their means? Linden prefers to think people are working harder, only to find that they can't earn enough to meet their material aspirations.
The author predicts that continued layoffs for professionals and middle managers will further a U.S. wage gap, leaving corporations comprised of fat cats and scrawny mice, and an underemployed or unemployed very grumpy middle class -- witness Russia and Latin America where engineers have swiftly become taxi drivers.
In the second half of the book, Linden switches gears and takes us on his futuristic tour of life in the year 2050. Besides offering food for serious thought, some of his scenarios are downright fun.
In one passage, a London analyst sorts through a bin of 20th century documents for the remains of a company called
. The analyst spends some time wondering what the company was selling with such gaunt models dressed only in underwear. But he quickly loses interest -- because the company has "no remaining assets beyond the trademark rights to the name of its founder."
We also check in on New York City in 2050. Hey, it's still there! But in Linden's scenario, folks wear surgical masks when outside. They dress in long, flowing monk-like robes that are easy on and off for the frequent germ sterilizations they must endure. This garb also fills the unpretentious bill of the times; label lovers are extinct.
If you're feeling taxed by countertop and lawn-sprinkler decisions, avoid Linden's book. But if you want a provacative essay about a planet in peril, read away. Will the author's nine powder kegs
blow? Only time can truly debunk someone who sees himself as a prophet. According to the author, of course, time is running out.
Susan C. Schena is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer. She previously worked as an editor at the Albuquerque Tribune and as a reporter for the New Mexico Business Watch and the San Diego Business Journal. Her work also has appeared in the San Diego Union and Auto Week magazine. TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon.com purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com.