The Second Great Depression was not so harsh as the first, at least not in the Americas. It was nicknamed the Rolling Depression inside the United States, as one sector of the economy collapsed, another reformed without so much of the baggage that plagued its predecessor. Pensions dried up as corporations dissolved, and many insurance companies, malpractice in particular, found themselves to be targets of a very angry populace. Other nations moved to trading on the euro instead of the dollar, triggering even further inflation within the United States, and sharper economic downfall. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
Few regions did not feel the collapse of America's economy, and Asia was especially battered. India and China, already beset by massive water shortages, pollution, infrastructural problems and internal instability, began to split at their seams, undercurrents of internal unrest growing increasingly visible.
Peak oil was not as devastating as the worst of predictions, but it was certainly not kind. It crippled progress in many industrializing nations, with China and India hit particularly hard by the lack of fuel supplies. While shale, coal liquefaction, biodiesel, ethonol and other alternatives did stave off the worst disaster scenarios, these sources primarily benefited Russia and the Americas.
Water supply, rather than oil, becomes the key issue of the new decade, and often a violent one. Often lumped under hydroterrorism, the term comes to encompass many groups: ecoterrorists opposed to desalination, earthworks and other mass relief projects, counterterrorists opposed to the former, and terrorists and freedom fighters opposed to the control, abuse, and restriction of water supplies.
In the developed world, the fabber revolution begins to gain public notice, with synthers and cyclers appearing close to the end of the decade, along with many other specialized tools. These developments begin to blur the lines between copyrights and patents, and are subject to significant legal debates.
China's interests in Taiwan and Japan grew increasingly hostile, especially as the energy crisis came to a head. To compromise, the United States sold Japan, the Phillipines, Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam a large portion of its naval and air power, with more of the most advanced forces on rent.
2020 - 2029
North Korea collapsed, beginning the slow process of integrating with the South. India likewise fractured, though it quickly reformed as a confederation. Though conflicts over water supply continued around the globe as the problem escalated, so did resources meant to correct the problem.
Synthers began to pose a serious problem for the pharmaceutical industry, as more and more people were not only able to synthesize current drugs, but with the aid of massive distributed computing networks, also develop their own. In the United States, an alliance of these companies joined the DEA in attempting to wipe out unsolicited and development, a phenomenon which they attempted to spread across the globe.
China and much of the Islamic world were suffering under another burden, however. As various single-child and other pro-male policies were in place, the situation for nearly a billion women began to rapidly deteriorate, driving prostitution and the underground slave-trade to frightening heights. These results only increased the net emigration of women, causing more demand for said illicit activities.
Europe's economic output, and the European Union itself, began to collapse, no longer able to sustain its own populace. This drove many nations back to trading on the dollar, just as the United States began to rebuild its economy, quickly eclipsing Asia once again. This latter event is probably what held China back from declaring what would have been the Third World War, as there is little doubt it would have had allies in every continent with such an offensive, and the United Nations found itself rapidly dissolving.
The United States returned to the moon early in the decade, with Russia, China, Brazil, and eventually a reformed India following suit, though the polar bases eventually established fall largely under American control.
Early anagathic treatments became publicly available, their initial price creating the first signs of the unrest that would later result in the Prometheus Accords.
Overall scientific progress seemed to slow, however, as interdisciplinary requirements increased to the point where "Few mortal minds can achieve the necessary skills." - from certain points of view, humanity was holding itself back. Perhaps more importantly, however, advancement was becoming materials-limited. While the progress of all fields accelerated during the 20th century, materials moved the slowest of all of them, and the term 'unobtainium' became common parlance, the most famous of these being carbon nanotubes and its more advanced descendants. There was some hope in the 'island of stability', as more neutron-rich transuranic elements were synthesized, but these were barely available in nanogram amounts.
By the start of the 2030's, humanity was redirecting so much water around the globe, through so many projects, that nations had to begin working out how to properly direct flows of moisture on a climactic scale. This need was among the first major pushes for arcologies, massive settlements through which energy and climate could be easily regulated. Some considered it ironic, if appropriate, that Earth would require terraforming before Mars did.
Increased funding over the past two decades allowed DEMO to come on-line early, to the great relief of many who hoped that fusion would put an end to fossil and fission fuels for baseline power generation. Only a few additional reactors would come on-line in this decade, however.
In the United States, construction on the Pevatron begins. A colossal structure several hundred kilometers in diameter, the device marks the largest of the standard synchrotrons ever to be constructed.
The DEA and other governmental agencies - not just of the US but the world over, begin 'losing' the battle against synthers, fabbers, and other heralds of a new economy. Anagathic treatments halt aging in many, and slowly begin to reverse some of the symptoms. Attempts to restrict this development lead to riots, and the Prometheus Accords are signed at the end of the decade.
The first manned mission to Mars occurs during this decade, ultimately an international expedition.
Brazil and Russia each exceed the output of the European Union by the end of the decade, claiming superpower status. China loses Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Mancuria, and several other states demanding independence, losing more than half of its geographical size though it retains much of its population.
At the start of the 21st century, one could find comments about entire Chinese villages lacking women. As time progressed, this came to be true of entire regions, and, eventually, due to the slave trade, an entire province. China's collapse was not complete, but it did see the full reunification of Korea, the liberation of Tibet, and several other new nations as China lost half its geographical size, though it retained most of its population. Many Islamic nations were suffering similar instability, and several countries around the world began to sponsor rescue and special emigration programs, provoking several ineffectual declarations of war by minor nations.
India's own powderkeg finally exploded, and the nation was quickly thrown into civil war, though foreign aid and intervention ameliorated its cost on civilian lives. Where India once was, a score of nations replaced it.
During this period, Latin America's economy - especially Brazil's, began to stengthen, soon rivalling the ever-dwindling European Union. Europe's fade was remarkably pronounced, unable to support the weight of its elderly and social programs, with only England holding on to its status as a major economic power.
Even as the Earth's environment began to recover, temperatures were still increasing, and along with them, rising sea levels, increased storm frequency, and flooding. Bangladesh was perhaps the most public death of a nation, as millions of people perished beneath the waves of great typhoons and tsunami, the surrounding Indian nations unwilling to accept many refugees.
The possible discovery of the soul, and the theories about the true origin of the Universe sparked a revival of religion, though many thought it an offense to God that humanity would unravel His mysteries. The idea of an artificial sapience was unsettling enough to some, but that it actually seemed to have a soul disturbed many. Claims of dishonesty and heresy were rampant.
Complete treatments for six of the aging problems were now available, and genetic procedures for correcting the remaining ones were already in testing, as well as an overall genetic fix that could cure anyone, young or old, of 'age'. Humanity was now in reach of immortality.
These developments sparked a raucous of debate, and, strangely, began to see a unification of the jewish, christian and islamic peoples in general, and a division between them all along 'gnostic' lines. Many religious leaders threw themselves into the debate, as if their words could guide the progress of science, while others looked to the ancient texts recovered at Nag Hammadi a century prior, wondering if, perhaps, a poor decision had been made nearly two millennia ago.
Self-sustaining fusion was finally achieved during this period, though it was initially quite difficult and highly expensive, and would not replace coal fuel for some decades.
Hawkinium, or element 126, was finally refined, and element 310 shown to be fully stable. Less than a gram is synthesized by the end of the century, though its properties make it a target of great scientific investment.
As flooding and related weather catastrophes came to a head, nations began tearing down their cities and replacing them with massive arcologies, powered with fusion and solar satellites, leaving the rest of the world to wilderness. This 'cleanup' would take well over a century, with Earth becoming, in many ways, two separate worlds.
The first manned missions to Mars occured during this era, and the polar colonies on Luna, Earth's moon, became official international stations. Their mining efforts slowly began to give the Moon an oxygen atmosphere, and eventually a pair of fully-functioning Lunar Biodomes were constructed. Many considered this to be the start of the 'true' Space Age.
Nanotechnology began to have a large impact in various fields at this time, primarily in synthetic oils and other rare operations where they were more efficient than a biological solution. Even still, as technology progresses, the difference between technology and biology becomes increasingly blurred.
With these developments, Gnosticism and Buddhism became the world's primary religions, with minimalist religions taking hold as well. Minimalist Christianity being among the most popular, of course, though Taoism and many others had a large following.
Breaking from these, however, were people who rejected that science had the answers, or that humanity was worthy of them, or that it was right to find them. Thus began the Great Exile, rejecting technology and living in the wilderness, many of them discarding even agriculture. They died by the millions, of disease, of thirst, of starvation, of internal and external conflicts. The rest of society called them the exiles, though they call modern society the lost.
Many historians, at the end of the 20th century, called it 'America's century', and some predicted that the 21st century would belong to China.
It was not to be. Civilization moves west, but China had already held that torch. China had recovered from its fall, as the routinely growing missions to Mars became semipermanent colonies and terraforming there began, many knew where the next center of human civilization would be, and those that knew began to draw their plans. At the end of the century, the United States and Brazil were considered to be the world's formost powers.
Earth's environment began to stabilize as the last of humanity sealed itself inside of its arcologies, though temperatures and flooding were still increasing. This latter effect rewrote a not-insignificant portion of Earth's landscape, and drove many of the self-exiled people from agriculture. The real effect was limited, however - sea levels barely rose a single meter, but the storms that occurred during the process would devastate many agricultural regions.
Sabotage attempts were numerous, and views about the exiles took a turn for the worse. Dubbed luddites, the 'civilized' nations began to regulate the exiles, forcing them to remain as hunter-gatherers from then on.
Most of the gerens trace the roots of their political and economic power to the end of the 21st century. These loosely allied groups would eventually become the driving force behind humanity's future.
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