Technology in the form of transportation has lessened suffering from the surprises of droughts that once caused famines. Better farming has yielded surpluses as reserves against surprises. Land spared for Nature by higher yields may be viewed as a conservation reserve of cropland. Nevertheless, without continuous increases in yield, ten billion people surely leave less slack in the system as insurance against unpleasant surprises. And even with progress, a philosopher warned, ``For certainly progress in civilization has not only meant increase in the scope and intricacy of problems to be dealt with, but it entails instability" (Dewey, 1922[Dew22]). So after envisioning a world that has accommodated an inevitable increase in population while sparing something for Nature, I must consider surprises that could upset the intricacy of the farming supporting this miracle.
People kindly put a good face on failed forecasts by blaming nonlinearity. Simply, the trend that the forecaster saw and extended into the future reached a threshold, which replaced the smooth trend with the jump of a nonlinearity. The jump surprised the forecasters and their audience.
The existence of nonlinearities and surprises, of course, surprises no one. Only their specifics surprise. True, individualists find opportunity and fatalists shrug at surprises. But egalitarians who anticipate that new deals will disenfranchise someone fear surprise. They cannot, however, tailor a defense against a surprise. And building Maginot lines against all that is feared leaves no resources for anything else (Thompson et al., 1990[TEW90]).
People who find security in order and hierarchy also fear surprise and turn to experts for protection. But a century of scientific bloopers by modern heavy-weights beginning with Lord Kelvin disabuses this instinct (Table 12.1.).
Table 16.1: A century of expert predictions surprised (Ausubel, 1993)
Coming to surprises as I look ahead to what ten billion will save for Nature, I could be daunted by the experts' lack of foresight. I could play safe by conceiving a long list of surprises and writing, ``All these might happen." Beyond listing surprises that might happen, I must suggest which are likely and admit good as well as bad surprises happen. I choose four likely surprises: fewer than ten billion people, climate change, new pests, and breakthroughs.