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Predictions 2010: Six ideas that will shape the world

A decade into the new millennium, here are six trends to watch – from Africa's possible emergence as the next breadbasket, to Russia’s strange leadership hunt, to the evangelical boom in Latin American pews.

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That’s the fun stuff, but the decade of the ’10s is also serious. As climate change continues to make contentious politics, rising temperatures could bring a 50 percent increase in armed conflict to Africa. Meanwhile, warlords will feel the increasingly tight grip of the International Criminal Court, which will finally define the crime of aggression, the last of the three crimes under its jurisdiction, at meetings in Uganda in 2010.

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Closer to home, the year’s big issues – the environment and the economy – may get, well, closer to home. After a year of national and international flourish for environmentalism, eco-activism will look more local, says Elaine Kamarck, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. The national political “system as a whole appears to be failing,” she says, “so I think you’ll see more grass-roots environmentalism.” It’s already started, she adds, pointing to the push back against clothesline prohibitions in some of the country’s 300,000 private communities.

We may not all be environmental activists, but when it comes to that other broken system – the economy – we’re all consumers. What we buy probably won’t change that much, but our purchasing power may be in for a boost. “We’re not going to see any movement on iPods, big-screen TVs, or even real estate,” says Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel and a professor of contracts law at Harvard University. “I think the big shift is going to come in credit.”

That’s if the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which Ms. Warren advocates and President Obama has endorsed, gets through the Senate in 2010 (it passed the House in less-sweeping form in 2009). It faces stiff opposition from, among others, the banking industry, but if it succeeds, Warren says the agency will “watch out for consumers on credit products, the same way there are agencies that watch out for the safety of toasters, refrigerators, car seats, water – all the things that consumers touch and taste, smell and feel.”

Whether good credit will mean we’ll all need an android shopping assistant when we go to the mall – all the rage in Japan – remains to be seen. But the 21st-century country that 1950s America envisioned should give us faith – and pause – as we imagine 2010.

As philosophers and pundits weigh in on what the next year, and the decade it announces, will bring to the world, we can be certain of one thing: They are bound to be right – and wrong.