The next 30 years?

The change to a new year is always an interesting time to look back – and to look forward, make new plans, declare new resolutions and generally make changes where we feel they will help us be more effective and/or fulfilled in our lives.

When the midnight hour on 31 December was reached and we transferred into a new year this time it was more than simply a new year – it marked the start of a new decade! The third in our current century!

Holidaying with my family and six grandchildren, this was a time to consider seriously what the world might be like for them as they grow into adulthood later in the century. Over the period of time we were camping together (without internet and other distractions) we took time to talk about the many issues facing us in the world today – prompted in no small way by the constant updates about the fires burning across Australia, and more recently, the news of increasing tensions between the US and Iran following the drone attack on one of Iran’s top generals.

A lot of what we discussed is featured in the video at the top of this post which has been informed by much of what appears on the Kaspersky Earth2050 website which is why I’ve included it here – a reminder of the rapidly changing world that will be the reality for my grandchildren and others in their generation.

On my holiday I read “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells in which he paints a rather pessimistic picture of the world that lies ahead of us – including drought, floods, wildfires, economic crises, political instability, the collapse of the myth of progress. Wallace-Wells identifies a tendency, even among those of us who think we are already sufficiently informed about (and perhaps terrified by) the future, to be strangely complacent about the figures. This book doesn’t focus on solutions so much as emphasise the scale of the problem and the horror of its effects.

I believe that it’s vitally important that we engage critically in thinking about the issues posed by our future world – not simply become ‘alarmist’ or despairing. I tend to be an optimist by nature, so am always looking for the positive things that can be done – but I am also a realist about the consequences of doing nothing. I am a part of the generation that has created so much of this uncertainty – and sadly, the same generation that has demonstrated a decided lack of ability to look past our self-interest enough to begin doing anything about it. If the complex issues we face are to be resolved then it will be up to us (a) to at least initiate some changes NOW so that the impact can be realised into the future, and (b) to ensure we prepare our young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to engage meaningfully together in committing to finding and implementing solutions.

To reinforce my optimism (and to balance the perspectives in Wallace-Wells’ book) I read “This Could Be Our Future“, but Yancey Strickler – co-founder of Kickstarter. It’s possibly the most profoundly ‘hopeful’ book I’ve read for a while. Strickler claims that Western society is trapped by three assumptions- 1) the point of life is to maximize your self-interest and wealth, 2) we’re individuals trapped in an adversarial world, and 3) that this path is inevitable. He proposes that these ideas separate us, keep us powerless, and limit our imagination for the future. We see these things as the “truth”, but they are just a point of view that previous generations accepted as inevitable.

What I appreciated about Strickler’s approach is that he doesn’t attempt to simply point to solutions for each of the problems we face – he proposes a more radical change to the way we exist as a society, beginning with examining the many ways our value system has narrowed into a money-obsessed condition – something he refers to as ‘financial maximisation’. Strickler argues that we need to be working towards encompassing a much broader definition of value.

I don’t intend to reveal more of what intrigued me about Strickler’s writings here – I’d encourage you to read the whole book yourself – but in concluding this post, I would draw from Strickler’s final chapter in which he provides evidence that any real, meaningful change takes 30 years to achieve.

The message here is clear – once we’ve become convinced of the need to change, we can’t expect it simply to happen overnight – and 30 years seems to be the length of time it will take. Thus the focus on 2050 for this post, because that’s when any change we begin to make now will (hopefully) be fully implemented.

So back to the Uninhabitable Earth – if it’s going to take 30 years to achieve this change we have to start now! We simply can’t procrastinate any longer – putting the interests of ‘financial maximisation’ ahead of actions that may actually serve the future better.

For those of use involved in education, the message is also clear. We’ve got to look long and hard at what we see as being important in our curriculum, the ways we think about ‘success’ and how we promote the values that go beyond the ambition of maximising self-interest and wealth. The beginning of a new school year provides the ideal time for engaging in such discussions – with your staff, your kids and your community. Will any of this be a focus of your teacher only day?

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