What did the future look like in 1959?
In 1959, Richard Collins, editor of Missouri Farmer (as Today’s Farmer was known at the time), peered into the tea leaves. He considered how things might change as the 21st Century (distantly) rolled onto his generation. Collins asked the right questions, many of which, even a decade past his forward vision, have yet to be answered.
He was right to guess we’d be living longer, even if we’d gotten the better of longevity gains by the time of his column (stretching from an expected life of 47 years in 1900 to 70 years in 1959, and having reached a life expectancy of 78.2 by 2010).
With 2000 now in the history books, the news cycle reminds us that Collin’s questions are perennial. Can we stretch our commodity resources to accommodate an increasing population? And can we remain open-minded enough to employ our greatest resource—human talent and ingenuity—without succumbing to human folly? Here is Collins in September 1959:
Look to the future
WHAT will it be like here in the year 2000? Well, for one thing, you can expect a population numbering more than 350,000,000 persons.
Think of the change such a growth would involve. Twice as many to feed, clothe, house, educate, transport, entertain, etc. On the surface it looks like a big order.
One of the reasons authorities expect many more persons around in the future is due to the fact that we’re learning more about how to combat and control disease. In 1900, for instance, the life expectancy of the average American was 47 years. Today it is 70. It’s not only possible, but entirely probable that medical science will continue to find ways to add years onto our life span. So in the future there will be a much lager number and proportion of our population up into the twilight-age bracket.
Will we devise ways for these oldsters to continue to contribute to society? Surely we will.
What will we do then for food? This country has never experienced the problem of finding its growth and development limited by the amount of food it can produce—but the problem is far from unique in much of the world. In many places the Grim Reaper makes most of his harvest because of malnutrition and slow starvation.
How about other resources?
What will we do for sufficient water?
Will we find new sources of power to harness?
Can we stretch our supply of building materials—wood, concrete, steel, and plastic—or develop other materials for such use?
Certainly it will be an interesting and challenging period in which to live. Such a time will require an open-minded and progressive citizenry to make the most of it.