Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking ahead

Legislators get glimpse of future at Council of State Governments-West

Express Staff Writer

Idaho state Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, right, greets Gov. Butch Otter at the beginning of the CSG-West conference at the Sun Valley Inn on Saturday. The conference, which lasted through Tuesday, brought together legislators from 13 states to discuss policy issues and future challenges. Photo by Willy Cook

"How do we deal with what's coming at us?" Idaho Gov. Butch Otter asked legislators from 13 states Saturday. "We need to know what to engage in today for 2025."

Otter's question expressed the heart of the opening lecture for the Council of State Governments-West annual meeting, a presentation by expert Thomas Sanderson on what the world will look like in 30 years and how legislators today can prepare.

Officials from 13 states arrived at the Sun Valley Inn for a weekend of mingling and idea exchange. Sanderson's lecture was the first of many events, including policy forums, workshops and lectures, designed to help politicians deal with the changing world.

Otter introduced Sanderson and offered his own opinions on the lecture's key facets during a later question-and-answer session.

Sanderson, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, is an authority on global trends, foreign policy and terrorism.

His presentation identified seven key forces at work in the world today, such as booming population and the increasing prominence of technology, and showed legislators how those forces could have an impact on the future.

"We as leaders need to be thinking of long-term issues," Sanderson said. "Today, we will look into the future."

Sanderson opened his lecture by addressing the common belief that the world's population is exploding. While the number of people worldwide is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025, Sanderson said, the rate of population growth is actually slowing. The world's population could stabilize by 2075, he said.

This decrease in growth will lead to an aging population, in which a larger number of older people will rely on a smaller base of young workers for support.

In addition, Sanderson said, to keep up with population growth, global food production will need to double by the year 2030. Increasingly sophisticated technology will lead to increasingly devastating super-weapons, and achievements in biotechnology will enable individuals to wield biological weapons with the kind of force only governments previously held.

The global economy is also changing, and Sanderson said corporations are becoming more powerful. While the United States is still the world's largest economy by a large margin, Sanderson warned that Brazil, Russia, India and China are all emerging as economic leaders, aided in part by corporations such as Wal-Mart.

His presentation identified more problems than solutions, and Sanderson said it is now up to legislators to decide how to manage "the promise and peril" of the world's future.

"We need leaders to make sense of these trends," Sanderson said near the end of his lecture.

Even in the face of the problems Sanderson identified, Otter remained optimistic.

"We've been challenged before," he said.

The conference continued through Tuesday, with workshops on how legislators can maintain a work-life balance, forums on economic and foreign policy and meetings on environmental issues.

Katherine Wutz:

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