These are turbulent times. Extreme weather events indiscriminately wreak havoc around the world. Floods and landslides wash away entire communities in minutes. Rising urban air pollution cause millions of deaths every year. 200 million youth are unemployed. 1 billion live in urban slums. Political instability, conflict and terror has severely deteriorated the global security situation and caused an unprecedented refugee crisis with 60 million desperate people forced to flee their homes.
Amidst all of this, pockets of extreme wealth exist, with now just 62 individuals owning as much as the bottom half of the world population. Somewhere between 21 and 32 trillion USD of private wealth is hidden away in secret offshore bank accounts. And among the privileged elite of the world, old xenophobic political ideologies and populist narratives are flourishing.
Turn on the news, and it doesn't take long to realize that we are living on a planet under pressure. The earth is growing steadily less inhabitable, human and economic costs are rising, and a myriad of progressively complex issues threaten our collective wellbeing.
Now, you might think that this is somewhat contradictory to the title of this blog. But the fact of the matter is: we might be at a historic turning point where the way that we choose to live our lives is not only threatening our future prospects; it is preventing future generations to enjoy the same levels of wellbeing and prosperity as we do today.
So, this may very well be as awesome as it gets. The kick-ass era to be alive. Unless, of course, we decide to change course.
In 2050, 70% of the world population, or 7 bn people, will live in cities. Losses from flooding could near $1 trillion annually, and by 2070, USD 35 trillion worth of property could be at risk (Photo: Lee Yiu Tung).
The battle for the future
For the past 10 or so years, I have been given the opportunity to devote myself to the study of the future and how our current social, economic and political systems shape the world we are heading towards.
For me, this has been both a blessing and a curse. I feel tremendously fortunate to spend my days reading, writing and lecturing about this important, and sometimes terrifying, topic. How can we create a future society that is better, more resilient and more prosperous for everyone on this planet? What are the changes that we need to make to our lives to see this happen? And how can we go about making these changes - as quickly as humanly possible?
On a personal level, this gives me a deep sense of meaning and purpose. But at the same time, I am plagued with worry. What if we do not manage to overcome the struggles that we see in our world today? Or what if we do, but just simply not fast enough? What if we lose the battle for the future?
Now, perhaps the one key insight I have acquired over the course of these years is that the future is not what is use to be.
Put simply, we can no longer look at past achievements to predict the future. Whether we track GDP growth rates, poverty reduction rates or child mortality rates - past progress is no longer a good measure of future prosperity.
And how is that?
Well, as the now famous team of scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre have shown: for the first time in the history of mankind, we humans have become what they call a planetary force. Our actions change how the planet works - and we are changing it in a negative direction.
Yes, it is true that history has evolved for the betterment of (most of) humanity. In the past century, we have seen remarkable progress in many aspects of human development; health, life expectancy, economic opportunity, education and so on. For most people, our lives have never been better. So, this is truly the kick-ass era to be alive.
But then the concern: If we continue doing exactly what we are doing today, we might in fact be the peak generation.
The systems and models we have constructed for our societies and economies are not built to meet the challenges of today, and will gradually hamper economic growth, destabilize societies, and erode the foundation for future prosperity. In short, if we do not change course, we will be handing over to our children a planet in a far worse condition than the one we inherited.
Turning the tide
Now evidently, this is just not acceptable. But luckily, nor is it inevitable. The good news is the following. We are the first generation in history that can with a relatively high degree of certainty predict where we are headed. To a large extent, we know the problems, we know the consequences, and we know the actions we need to take to get us out of this mess. We have the knowledge, the technologies and the resources to change path.
So, perhaps this is the kick-ass era to be alive after all? We have a golden opportunity, a unique chance, to shape the future that we would like to see. A future that is not only safer, more resilient and sustainable, but also more convenient, compassionate, collaborative, vibrant and cooler.
So, despite my constant deep sense of concern, I am filled with hope. Every day, thousands of initiatives pop up all around the world offering clever solutions to today's problems while safeguarding the needs of the future. Solutions that will radically improve how our societies are organized, and by doing so, can put the world back on a sustainable track.
So, this is my passion, and what I will devote this blog to. Writing about the opportunity that we now have to transform the societies we live in, the changes we need to make and the many inspiring examples of courageous and far-sighted individuals, organisations and businesses that are already doing this.
I have no doubt in my mind. We are in the early phases of a wide-reaching transformation that will profoundly alter not only the way we organise our societies (our economies and our political systems), but also our fundamental belief and value systems. And if we do this right, I believe the future will be bright.
And I think that is pretty cool!
Just around the corner ...
Wondering what the new economy will look like? Follow me as I explore this topic in my next blog post!
5. J. Friedrichs ´The Future is not what it used to be´ (MIT Press 2013)
7. A Safe and Sustainable Future: Enabling the Transition (DNVGL 2014)
8. IMPACT: Transforming Business, Changing the World (DNV GL & the UN Global Compact 2015)
9. The Global Opportunity Report (DNV GL & the UN Global Compact 2015 & 2016)