Political geography, or geopolitics, the environment and population growth are the main factors which will define the nature of the Earth within the coming 50 years.
Political geography is a give and take relationship between politics and geography.
In Egypt, for example, the digging of the Suez Canal was a political act. Yet, later on it led to geographical consequences.
This is because area, terrain and climate all have direct effects on people’s lives and countries’ affairs.
Because of geographical factors, ancient Athens was a maritime empire and Sparta was a land empire. The British Isles in the 18th century was known for maritime navigation, while Prussia was a largely landlocked state surrounded by enemies on all sides.
Political geography is also concerned with the study of changes in the state’s resources and relations with other countries.
A state with the geographical resources and a sound political understanding can turn into a superpower whose decisions are respected by the whole world. Such countries are the most capable of changing the world system and international law as well.
It is a modern academic science, although it also has deep roots in the past. Aristotle stressed the importance of population size, while the ancient geographer Strabo and the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun talked a lot about countries’ life cycles.
However, the Germans were the first to invent the science in the modern period when German geographer Friedrich Ratzel published his book “Political Geography” (Politische Geographie) in 1897, inventing a term that is equivalent to the Anglo-American notion of geopolitics (geopolitik).
Several studies about political geography later appeared in Germany. They dealt with settlements, territories, the nation and nationalism, in addition to strategic and geopolitical plans that defined the nature of traditional and modern military-political relations based on the impact of the environment and geography.
Today, we are living through a critical stage in world history, expecting a new world to appear in the next 50 years or so. Perhaps human populations will be established on Mars. Such talk is not day-dreaming but is based on current phenomena.
This necessitates a thorough study of the Earth’s population, since countries may merge and geographical barriers be removed in the near future.
Travel from one country to another may no longer require passports. A world citizen may be free to move from the US to China, Japan or other countries.
The world’s peoples may be joined together in a cosmopolitan marriage. However, there are facts, declared or not, about the world’s population which should be taken into consideration.
For example, in 1950, five years after the founding of the United Nations, the world’s population was estimated at about 2.6 billion.
In October 1999, this number had reached six billion, and it had jumped to 7.3 billion by October 2015.
Changes in fertility rates were cited as the reasons behind such an unprecedented increase.
In China, the most populous country, the population is estimated at about 1.4 billion.
According to UN estimates, the world’s population may reach 8.5 billion by 2030.
Another fact is that the increase in the population size in Africa is offset by a decrease in the European countries.
Yet, increasing the average human lifespan is what matters now. The biggest increase took place in the period to 2015.
In Africa, the average human lifespan has reached 60 years, in Asia 72, in Latin America and the Caribbean 75, in Europe 77 and in North America 79.
Another point is immigration to the northern hemisphere, mainly for economic reasons. Europe, North America and Oceania have witnessed a huge flow of immigrants, receiving in some years some one million people.
The UN prepares official demographic estimates for every country and helps each to formulate population policies.
The UN Population Fund works to improve reproductive health, gender equality and topics related to population and development.
A third major point about humanity’s future prospects is the search for another planet where it can live. Space research has been rapidly carried out to help people reach Mars, a major target of today’s scientific research.
Satellites have already shortened time and changed its traditional dimensions. Spaceships bring us dazzling images and reveal hidden matters, encouraging the advanced countries to spend billions on space science and communications.
The latter started with the German physicist Heinrich Hertz and his invention of wireless communication.
This was hailed in the newspapers, encouraging the Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi to carry out further tests of this new technology.
In his memoirs, Marconi wrote that “if such waves are able to move across the room, they can move across cities, countries, and even across the ocean.”
In 1894, he started his experiments, eventually opening the door to a technological revolution and the whole field of radio communication.
Over a century later, space science is now concerned with unifying people living on Earth and even searching for new life on other planets.
It is a technology that began more than 40 years ago, short enough to discover what lies out there in the Solar System at least and whether its planets could support human life.
Hundreds of such questions have crossed many people’s minds, and they are searching for answers.
The search for unknown planets has annoyed some, who have feared satellites and spaceships crashing down to earth.
The rise in the Earth’s temperature, the shadow of cancer and the possibility of chemical weapons are more immediate worries for many. Such people also worry about the possibility of a Third World War.
Meanwhile, NASA in the US has announced its readiness to go back to the Moon after a spaceship discovered frozen water on its surface.
One senior NASA official has viewed this as the key to humanity’s successful rediscovery of the Moon, encouraging US President Donald Trump to state that spacecraft will again be launched to explore it.
By 2020, NASA will also send an unmanned autonomous spaceship to Mars.
In our search for a new planet to live on, perhaps we should say hello to the new planet of peace, the traditional planet of war, Mars.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 January, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A new world awaits