It is a privilege to be writing the foreword to the tenth edition of Dr Eli Chan’s seminal work, “Last Blue Century”. In the public perception of history, the 21st century is often overlooked, the ‘quiet years’ between the World Wars of the 20th century and the technological upheavals of the 22nd. Chan defies this convention in this engaging account of the social, economic and environmental changes of the “last blue century”, making the case that this period initiated the seeds of today’s political structures.
At a geopolitical level, the 21st century was remarkably stable, keeping intact the “nation-state” model, where each region exercised near-complete autonomy over its economy and society. However even without a revolution in political structure, profound transformation was driven by economic change. From our 24th century perspective it is impossible to over-estimate the physical nature of the early 21st century economy. Computers were restricted to one or two primitive devices per household, and robotics was essentially absent, with nearly all mechanical tasks requiring human operation. Currency was largely in the form of physical chips, and most economic interactions were inter-personal. By the end of the century, however, physical currency had been eliminated and class I robotics had permeated throughout the economy. Cities were also transformed, from ultra-low density sprawls characterised by slow transportation networks, to systems that were more similar to today’s cities. The greatest shift was observed in east Asia, where the implementation of the first “directed economy” structure in China resulted in the largest decrease in poverty in global history, followed by similar (but later) transformation in the previously nascent Sinophilic zone.
The social shifts were just as the economic changes. At the dawn of the 21st century, only half the population lived in a democracy, and individual rights were sharply limited. A large majority of the global population was religious, typically advocating external prescriptivism. This progressively shifted throughout the 21st century, with a sharp increase in secularism and the modernisation of mainstream religions (although this process did not occur in the Islamic Crescent until the 22nd century). The social consequence of these changes was first felt in the lifting of discriminatory laws based on sexuality and gender, removing strict penalties (including execution!) against non-conformism. By the end of the century, more than 90% of people lived in democracies and the expansion of individual rights had accelerated. Children started gaining proxy voting rights, and the sole wild-surviving Great Ape gained legal status as a semi-humanoid. While the removal of birth-place discrimination did not take place until the next century (apart from in Scandinavia, to a limited extent), the global public rights charter of the 22nd century can more rightly be considered an expansion of these processes rather than a new phenomenon driven by the synthetic intelligence debate.
It is in the natural world that the most profound changes of the 21st century occurred. While the rate of environmental degradation reached its peak in the late 20th, the cumulative impacts were felt the most in the 21st. Our rainforest preserves once spanned South America, Africa, and even the mega-cities of modern South-East Asia. Damage done to biodiversity was even more extreme in the oceans, with an estimated 90% loss during the 21st century with the death of coral reefs. While genome-sequencing was developed during this time, the rate of destruction was such that only a few iconic species (such as the rhinoceros and gorilla) were given sufficient molecular phenotyping to allow later de-extinction.
It is the titular change to the natural world, however, which proved to have one of the most profound political effects. The startling blue sky shown in historical photographs was a lived reality until the last ten years of the 21st century. Over 200 years of industrialisation based on the burning of preserved organic matter drove a strong Greenhouse effect, causing global warming. The problem was largely ignored due to a political system where individual nation-states had no global decision-making process – in effect, each region had complete authority for unlimited pollution of global resources! Ironically enough, the same “regional independence” that allowed a run-away Greenhouse effect also permitted the dramatic geoengineering response. Major droughts in East Asia in the late-21st century resulted in a single nation-state, China, pursuing a counter-geoengineering process of deliberate atmospheric seeding with sulphur dioxide. This process limited the global temperature rise to 2.5°C, but also resulted in today’s white skies and acidic events.
Chan makes the case that this simple colour switch drove profound changes in our socio-economic system. The direct effects are well known - medical historians have attributed the profoundly low rates of suicide and mental illness in pre-22nd century society to the beneficial effects of constant blue light exposure. However the novel contribution of Chan in Last Blue Century, for which ey received the 2336 Nobel Memorial Prize, was hen theory of the political ramifications of this colour change. The widespread public anger at the unilateral counter-geoengineering was such that at the time serious predictions were made of a third World War. Chan meticulously maps out hen assessment of the resulting series of compensation negotiations and bilateral agreements as the first steps towards the global public rights movement. Ey convincingly argues that while the generation of synthetic intelligence was the proximal cause of the 22nd century turmoil, the modern political structures that resolved the upheaval were the direct outgrowth of the climate debates of the 21st century. This is the lasting impact of Last Blue Century - hen integration of ecological theory into political science. With new-found relevance due to the Mars terraforming project, I welcome you all to revisit the text which launched the Chan eco-political synthesis.