Area experts weigh in on what’s to come over the next year
By VCR Staff 01/05/2012
Anyone born in the last 50 years has heard that the Mayan calendar, which many have called the most accurate calendar in the world, ends in 2012 and that our world is supposed to come to an end as well. But just as the fears of Y2k dissipated with the New Year, so will our fears of the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012 — or will they?
In a group discussion about the so-called end of the world, local experts in various fields, including politics, economics, climate and technology, weighed in on what they believe is to come in 2012 — globally and locally. While no prediction can be accurate to a T, at the very least, we can be prepared for better or for worse.
by Bill Watkins
California’s economy will be helped in 2012 by a recovering national economy. We expect the United States economy to continue to improve slowly. It will be held back by continued weakness in real estate markets, but there is some great upside potential on the energy front. That will help California’s economy, but not as much as it should.
Unfortunately, perhaps deliberately, California’s leadership will probably find ways for the state to continue to avoid any prosperity associated with anything so passé as industry or carbon-based energy. Given the pace of technological improvement in carbon-based energy and the state’s vast resources, this will be an impressive achievement.
The probability of any economic stimulus from regulatory reform, budget reform or tax code reform in California is really quite remote. Consequently, we expect California’s economy to lag the United States’ economy, and while California’s unemployment rate will slowly fall, it will remain stubbornly above the United States unemployment rate. Businesses will continue to avoid California as best they can.
Domestic migration will remain negative as young middle-class families move to states with more economic opportunity and affordable housing. Home prices will remain weak, relative to past prices, but high, relative to other states. Economic growth will be far below potential.
It is really amazing how California, which once led the world in economic vigor and change (can you have the former without the latter?) is now so resistant to any change. Indeed, California’s economic joints are becoming arthritic and its arteries clogged more quickly than those of its aging population.
Coastal California, with its wealthier population and stronger home prices, will continue to enjoy lower unemployment and relative prosperity, while inland, improvement will come more slowly. California’s great Central Valley, in particular, will remain very weak with very high unemployment rates throughout the forecast horizon.
Southern California’s Inland Empire is showing signs of a more vigorous recovery than much of inland California, but recovery to its former vigor is still years away.
The Greater Bay Area and San Diego will continue to be centers of technological innovation, but the regions will fail to realize many of the economic benefits of that innovation. The innovation may occur in California, but the jobs and economic growth will occur outside of California.
I would love to see California significantly outperform our forecast, particularly our jobs forecast. Absent serious reform, though, I’m confident that it won’t. That’s unfortunate. Persistent high unemployment is more than a statistic or trend. All too often, persistent unemployment ruins lives and families. California has abundant potential. Right now, that potential is unachievable because of policy, policy that results in needless suffering. That’s inexcusable.
Bill Watkins, Ph.D., is executive director of the California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research and Forecasting and an associate professor of economics.
Climate globally and locally
by Simone Aloisio
There is a 51 percent chance that 2012 will be warmer than 2011, and a 49 percent chance that it will be colder than 2011. That is more of an estimate than a calculation, really, an estimate based on a look at the temperature record. That’s apparently what climate change looks like. Globally, 2011 was the 10th or 11th warmest year on a record that spans more than a century. The other 10 warmest years have all been since 1998, and chances are better than not that next year will crack the top 10.
For babies born in 2012, it will almost certainly be one of the coolest years globally. During their lifetimes, sea level will continue to rise, the Arctic ice cap will continue to shrink, and endangered species teetering on the brink of survival will go extinct. Ecosystems will change. As the climate changes, it is likely that more rain will fall in heavy storms globally. At the same time, droughts will probably be more widespread.
For people who live in relatively wealthy countries, like ours, climate change will be costly but manageable in the short term. We will hear about the droughts and storms. We will know someone who lives in a city experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Maybe a particularly devastating flood or wildfire will be on the news and get people talking. Some people will be severely affected in 2012, but most of us will not. We will pay a little more for our water, cheeseburgers and insurance.
For the poorest billion people in the world, chances are better than not that 2012 will see a larger strain on resources. More land will become degraded, more livestock will die, more crops will fail. More people will suffer malnutrition. Civil conflict will increase in areas where hungry men become angry men. People will do things they would otherwise not do. Drying of some areas will help mitigate malaria, while the heating of others will help propagate it. Other disease patterns will change. Less people will freeze to death. More people will starve to death. In the developing world especially, climate change in 2012 will result in a net loss.
Even in 2012, some people will continue to deny that climate change is happening, that the temperature is going up at all. Others will attribute the rise in temperature to “natural variability,” without referencing what natural occurrence is causing the climate to change or explaining how the increase in greenhouse gases is not causing a warming. Someone will have an uncle who is a scientist, who has a colleague who is a genius, who has a filing cabinet full of data proving that man-made climate change is a hoax.
Many people will make decisions in 2012, without bad intentions, that needlessly contribute to climate change. Others will have concerns that doing the right thing for the environment will impede the facilitation of other goals. Sometimes contributing to climate change will be unavoidable, other times it will just seem unavoidable.
I am hopeful that many people will make individual choices that reduce their carbon footprint in 2012. I will use less electricity. The next car you buy will get better gas mileage than the one you drive now. I hope my students will discover ways of doing things that are better than the way I do things. I hope my university will exercise leadership in addressing climate change. We can be a model for the community, and Ventura County can be a model for society. People may say: “They are making it work. We can do the same!”
Science will continue to provide insight into what is happening to our planet. It will help us predict what will happen and what we can do about it. I am 100 percent sure of that.
Simone Aloisio, Ph.D., is an associate professor of chemistry at Cal State University, Channel Islands.
Politics in California and Ventura County
by Herb Gooch
California is predominantly Democratic, so much so that presidential candidates will skip any serious campaigning here, just fly in to raise cash. Welcome to California, the nation’s ATM.
Statewide, Republicans have painted themselves into near irrelevancy, holding just shy of a third of the registration in the state and a third of the seats in the legislature. Every statewide office is in the hands of the Democrats. This will remain so as long as Republicans remain on the wrong side of every rising demographic trend in the state: branding themselves anti-immigrant and -minority, stressing traditional family values against the trend in gender politics, and adopting a siege mentality, refusing to compromise or join Gov. Jerry Brown in finding solutions. They prefer the poetry of opposition to the prose of governing.
Redistricting has shaken, but not fundamentally stirred, the political landscape. It is harder to predict outcomes. Over the last 10 years, there have been 265 congressional elections in California. Either the incumbent or a successor from the same party has won 264 times.
The potential for change, however, is nowhere more evident than with Ventura County. Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly, 23 years in Congress, who finds himself in a new district, in which he doesn’t even reside. Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, suddenly finds her coastal district has moved inland and she is challenged by a popular Hispanic Republican, Abel Maldonado, Santa Maria.
Gallegly remains mute about his intentions and doesn’t have to announce until early February. Both parties, nationally, see this as a “swing” seat, since Gallegly is not a safe incumbent and if he retires, it is open for grabs. Supervisor Steve Bennett, Ojai, and other Democrats have recently announced for the seat, though Bennett announced in late December that he wasn’t certain he would run. Targeted nationally by the parties, this race is apt to be one of the most expensive races in the country.
The State Senate seat of Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, is displaced into an area more Democratic, and he is opposed by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. The result will be a high-profile clash of ideological opposites bound to attract intense attention.
The Assembly seats are not likely to change. Democrat Das Williams, Santa Barbara, was re-districted into a more heavily Democratic area to the north, and Jeff Gorell, a Republican with high Democratic cross-over appeal, will be returning in spring from military posting in Afghanistan to a more Democratic district but one that also includes our military installations. The political unknown will be centered where there is no incumbent, the Assembly seat vacated by Cameron Smythe to the east, which still favors Republicans. There is likely to be no party change.
A handful of seats throughout California will change party hands. Likely, Republicans will gain, but only slightly. They have enthusiasm and money, fewer seats to defend and more to gain, playing on dissatisfaction with the economy and the political performances of Brown and President Barack Obama. If Obama finds a close race in the rest of the country, the temptation will be to let the California Democrats tend their own. It is unclear that Brown will have the political muscle to corral restive union support and minority support. Brown, the new-old governor, will be preoccupied with the budget. He can pass it, but he doesn’t have the votes to raise taxes, for which he needs a two-thirds vote of the legislature. So he is going for broke, wagering everything on a November proposition to raise taxes. Precisely crafted to minimize opposition (only a half-cent sales tax, and up to a 2 percent income tax, but only for the highest-income earners and temporary at that, and tied to education and prison funding exclusively), he hopes to raise $7 billion, which will make his 2012 budget balance, in theory – otherwise triggering mechanism like this year’s to cut more spending.
Brown hopes a Democratic national tide will put a surge into his campaign for tax increases. If the economy improves, it may undercut the argument for higher taxes, but the greater danger is an overburdened November ballot. Multiple tax initiatives and a ballot cluttered with requests for bond issues (think water and trains in the billions) and pro-life, anti-death, reincarnations of Proposition 8, etc., may simply stun the voters into confusion and apathy turning against.
Herbert E. Gooch III, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science at California Lutheran University.
Religion, Mayan calendar, doomsday
by Sam Thomas
There has been no shortage of predictions concerning “the end” in the history of American life. In fact, modern American civilization began — if indeed we might be justified in identifying Christopher Columbus as its beginning — with apocalyptic expectations. Columbus thought he was an instrument for bringing about the new era outlined centuries earlier by Joachim of Fiore: the Age of the Holy Spirit, in which the “prophecies” of Revelation and other biblical texts would be brought to bear on “new” soil (see the Libro de Profecias of Columbus).
Of course, the Maya had their own ideas about prophecies and cycles and end times, much of which is as badly caricatured now as it was during the time of the Spanish Conquest. Witness the bubbling spring of books and films about 2012, all of which tap into a cultural narrative deeply embedded within the American psyche. (For the record: my birthday is Dec. 21, but that is not what qualifies me to write this article.)
As a scholar of religion — as one who studies religion and its effects — I am not inclined to give predictions except as informed by history and its repetitions. I study the early Jewish and Christian origins and later manifestations of apocalypticism, but I have no purchase on whether the claims are in fact true. That the roadsides of history are littered with failed prophets and worlds unredeemed might itself be a clue, though I think one misses the point if one focuses solely on this observation.
What too often goes unremarked is the fact that it is our culture that continues to produce obsessions with consummation and its corollary, which is annihilation. In other words, normal, everyday, thinking people tend to assume that apocalypticism is a fetish of the fringe — that only people who have somehow crossed over into fantasy are capable of entertaining such “irrational” dispositions. But what if it pervades our lives in ways that we have not imagined? Here one might mention the rhetoric of Tea Party politicians, radical environmentalists, peak oil adherents, 9/11 conspiracy theorists and, for that matter, the national security strategy of the United States. A city upon a hill? A light to the nations? Or the fall of Rome?
Well, in any case, apocalypticism is as much — perhaps more — about seeing as it is about ending. That is, apocalyptic perspectives unveil aspects of a culture that many people would prefer to ignore. If pressed to unveil, to offer signs, I would say this about 2012: There will be much doom, or at least much talk of doom.
Sam Thomas, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of religion at California Lutheran University.
by Andrzej Bieszczad
I will start with stating a problem with predicting technological advances: the most dramatic shifts are revolutionary rather than evolutionary in nature, and are therefore hard to predict. There are many potentially revolutionary advances made in research laboratories around the world, many of them located in California, but personally I do not see anything as dramatic as self-driving cars (like the one developed by Google), or as brain-implanted controllers (like the ones being developed at the new Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses run jointly by U.C. Berkeley and U.C. San Francisco) making it to the mainstream in 2012.
Some great ideas (like artificial intelligence) will most likely never happen at all as they are more like guiding stars than concrete, well-defined technologies. They bring plenty of novelties to the world around us (like the buyer profiling on Amazon.com and elsewhere; or conversational systems like Apple’s Siri), but they are not in the same category as a wheel, a printed book, a car, a plane, a computer, the Internet or the World Wide Web.
So what can we expect in 2012? We will see further growth of the virtual society, with more things that can be done online. For example, there is a movement to build a trustworthy social networking platform, Global Square, for the Occupy Wall Street Movement, with the goal of strengthening “the 99 percent of us.”
The trend to move away from printed media toward electronic formats will accelerate, mostly due to the proliferation of affordable content-delivery platforms that will be shifting further from eBook readers toward universal content consumption devices like tablets. Rather than transplanting printed books verbatim to e-formats, the publishers will increase the use of new capabilities (like the ones found in standards such as ePub or HTML 5) to enhance the consumption experience with interactive features and multimedia. Some magazines available for tablets already include such capabilities, and there is no reason that the books should be left behind. One of the best uses of these technologies could be in textbooks if it were not for the fear of the publishers that they might loose their lucrative existing arrangements.
There is no doubt that these advances will take place in the near future; changing the mentality, however, might be a longer process than developing new technologies. That brings us to — in my humble opinion — the most dramatic advance likely to happen in 2012: the appearance of Internet-based TV. Apple TV has been around for years, and Google TV has been introduced with rather mediocre results in 2011. That is going to change.
Content providers will have to give in at some point and allow their content to be delivered by means other than a cable in spite of their multibillion-dollar arrangements. The alternative is the appearance of new content providers that will put the incumbents in the state of oblivion. That process has already started with the progress of YouTube, Vevo, etc. The success of Netflix and iTunes has already forced the traditional content providers to come up with alternatives like Hulu, Crackle and still-restricted Internet access for the regular TV subscribers. That will end at some point, but maybe not in 2012 — yet.
The arrival of Apple TV sets, rumored heavily on the Web, has already forced Sony, Samsung and others to announce Internet-capable devices with Siri-like voice recognition components. The mighty power of Apple, with its recent streak of overwhelming success stories, may finally convince content providers to work on some solution that will deliver to the market what many consumers want. There is no doubt in my mind that the new generations will be consuming content using just the Internet, but that may —unfortunately — take a while. Nevertheless, Apple TV sets might be the largest technological story of 2012.
We will see a new, redesigned iPhone, and a better iPad with a screen that will finally match iPhone’s quality; and Microsoft-Nokia smartphones will increase their share of the market, mostly due to the self-inflicted annihilation of Blackberry. Amazon will come up with a better tablet, but the quality will most likely never match iPad, since Apple can afford to deliver superior quality by setting price points at much higher levels. The android world will grow, but the developers have already realized that developing applications for the variety of devices supporting many versions of android is much more challenging than targeting uniform platforms such as Apple’s iOS.
The smartphones will evolve to match the increased speeds of the 4G networks, but the most dramatic enhancement will be the increased use of the near field communication (NFC) that will add to our phones’ capability to carry cash. Field trials have already proven the feasibility of the technology, and some of the Android phones already come with NFC built in. I expect both iPhone and Microsoft-based phones to incorporate it as well. It took several years for Bluetooth to take off, and NFC will need some time, too, but paying for groceries by swiping smartphones along NFC readers at close range should start on a large scale in 2012. Tablets will be increasingly treated as serious devices, replacing computers in many households, since there is really no need for a traditional computer in most of them. Computers will continue to evolve toward content creation, and tablets will increasingly be used as content consumption and collaboration tools. They will also be used increasingly in service roles such as in hospitals, restaurants, planes, etc.
No technology prediction can leave games on the sidelines; the video game market is a multibillion dollar industry, and each year there are more adults whose blood was infused with games when they were growing up. Therefore, games are increasingly used in non-entertainment applications that may apply virtual reality in job training or therapy. While I do not foresee any dramatic changes to the man-machine interface (like using Emotiv headsets that allow for brain-waves-based controllers), the current devices that work with consoles (Wiimote with Wii, Kinects with Xbox) will evolve when the new-version gaming platforms are introduced in 2012. I predict that the shift from consoles to tablet-based gaming will continue, with iPhone and iPad gamers increasingly using AirPlay to move the action to a large-screen TV through Apple TV (as a separate box or a built-in TV set module). I expect Apple to open the Apple TV platform to developers — just as happened several years ago with iPhone OS (now iOS) — although I would not bet that that will happen in 2012. The potential is enormous — not only in the gaming context — so there is a good chance for that.
Unforeseen events may take our future in all sorts of directions, but the only visible catastrophe that is looming ahead of us is the potential for a financial meltdown in Europe. That could have dramatic implications that are impossible to foretell. Just as the Japanese tsunami ripples affected supply chains in electronic, energy and auto industries, the crisis in Europe and its global implications may result in some technological shifts.
If the discovery of the God particle is confirmed, then that would be quite something to remember 2012 for, albeit with no apparent immediate technological implications. Just like many discoveries in the past, the Higgs boson may yield some dramatic changes in the years to come, unless, of course, the 2012 phenomenon does not obliterate us all on Dec. 21. Otherwise, I will be quite happy with my iPhone 5, iPad 3 and 60-inch Apple TV set.
Prof. Andrzej Bieszczad, Ph.D., is the director of the master program computer science at California State University, Channel Islands