“Why are you so concerned, Poppa?” my granddaughter said to me as we meandered along the pathway adjacent the Maribyrnong River in inner suburban Melbourne. At 11, she is an intelligent young girl full of life, creativity and vitality.
She likes to talk “mature talk,” as she puts it, so I spoke with words that would satisfy her curiosity. I shared my concerns about climate change, and how not doing something to arrest the damage it will cause worried me enormously.
She confided in me just how much she missed her friends at school because of what we refer to as nothing else but COVID-19. She is also an enthusiastic conversationalist.
Did she really understand just what is going to happen in the future? My thoughts drifted away, wondering what a future world might look like when she was my age.
My sojourn was interrupted when she nudged me in the side, saying,
“Poppa, but why are you so concerned about the planet’s future when you are so old.”
I gave a little chuckle and answered:
“Well, I have been on this planet for a long time, and I have grown rather fond of the old lady, her capacity to feed us, nurture us and many other things.”
We sat down on a grassy knoll at a place where the water quickened with some urgency before cascading over some large rocks.
“Tell me about the future, Poppa. Like after you are gone?” She asked. I replied with:
“Well, why don’t I write it down for you? There is a lot to think about and much of it you won’t understand today, but you must promise to read what I write on your birthday every year. That way, you might better understand what is happening to the world you live in. And you might question my opinions. Even write an essay about them. It might even help you to remember how much you’re Nanna and Poppa loved you.”
“The secret of change is to focus all your energy on not fighting the old, but on building the future” (Socrates).
It is somewhat scary writing about the future, and given that I probably don’t have a lot of my allotted time left, I continue with some trepidation. My comments should be taken in the context that what I know is only surpassed by the enormity of what I don’t. Meaning we are all limited by the knowledge we have acquired.
Where to start? Well, there is no good place, so I will start with the hardest on the basis that COVID-19 and climate change will force the world to change in more ways than we can possibly imagine. I do not know what some of these changes might be, but most assuredly, they will come, so I will stick to what I do know.
The changes I speak of in economics, work, health, education and technology and many other matters will, because of climate warming and COVID-19, accelerate even quicker than we are starting to experience. There is no reason to imagine that the changes I have seen in technology might not triple in your lifetime. You need to go with the flow but question the changing ethics that come with them.
Adaptation, resilience and change will be the keywords of tomorrow.
In my lifetime, people of my vintage have seen more change than in any other period in history. What is in store will be even more spectacular. Be optimistic and open to change.
Often, I lie in bed at night thinking about what the future might have in store for my children and their children. Like many parents, I worry about their jobs and their security.
It is well that interest rates are so low; otherwise the interest on the more than formidable amount we have borrowed might send us broke on its own.
Our future is inextricably aligned to how we as a society respond to the coronavirus pandemic and others that might follow and, of course, climate change. Both present a crisis for the government of the time and the one that wins the 2022 election.
Hopefully, they can rebuild or invent a new economic system that better reflects the distribution of our country’s wealth that recognises the contribution of the low paid. Something more equitable and fairer, recognising the humane equality of the people’s toil.
Governments worldwide must not just exist in a capitalist bubble where the rich become more prosperous and the poor become serfs.
Economics has to grow a heart and invest in a society that produces for the common good. A modern economy of global supply with fair ages and productivity. It must invest in the challenges of climate change and see the opportunity for a cleaner world with its economic rewards.
We must strive for new economics driven by futuristic ideas that challenge one to the other. Or one value over another. Economists will have to admit that a strong convergence between economics and society results in a marriage not only of convenience but of necessity.
Suppose we approach climate change and the coronavirus logically, instead of saying that they are environmental or social problems. In that case, we have to examine the social reasons we keep emitting greenhouse gases. The same goes for COVID-19. We know the virus’s direct cause, but living with it requires a better knowledge of human behaviour.
Whilst the epidemiology of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, the core logic of its progression is relatively simple. People who live close (we are herding animals) mix socially, at work, or in households. Vaccines are becoming more readily available but living with the virus will become more the norm. Social practices might also have to change with social distancing and the wearing of masks becoming mandatory.
A simple method to reduce greenhouse gases is to produce less of what cases it. We need to question what we need over what we want. This might be an oversimplification, but I use it to explain the many ways the problem can be approached, from the simple to the complex.
Nevertheless, in 2021 I cannot see beyond a partial solution to both these problems that will lead to huge social and economic issues. Having said that, I don’t discount a cleaner planet with enormous financial possibilities for job creation.
Alas, we are not a proactive race. We are reactionary.
I will come back to jobs later. For the moment, let’s look at education. In Australia, students have been battered by the loss of teaching. During the Ebola crisis, just a few years back, girls in Africa suffered badly from sexual exploitation and, as a result, teen pregnancy and forced marriage followed. As a result, 20 million girls never returned to school. 129 million were already deprived of education. The loss of knowledge was enormous.
Australia is a knowledge-based nation. It is the foundation from which we have built our successes. In fact, we educate a large portion of the world’s student population. Parents and students in the main will have now realised the value of a good education. Teachers will be more appreciated. Still, there will be a residue of pupils who may simply drop out, thus adding to the current knowledge inequality.
Finding a place in society for its misfits will be a challenge and social science needs to think creatively so that these folk lead a worthwhile existence.
60 per cent of the world’s population don’t have access to the Internet.
Worsening inequalities in education urgently need addressing. Societies of the future might not survive without social harmony, participation of the disadvantaged, and equality of opportunity.
Those in government know that future success relies almost entirely on education. Not only now but into the future. The government will now have to turn its attention to educating the have nots and not just the privileged.
For the life of me, I fail to understand how anyone could vote for a party that thinks the existing education system is adequately funded and addresses the needs of the disadvantaged.
The COVID-19 and climate change crises will oblige whichever party wins the 2022 election to face many issues. The importance of which cannot be underestimated.
The most significant change, as I see it, will be personal. If we cannot change from pursuing individual narcissism to something akin to collective socialism, society will be changed irreversibly.
Well, that’s all for my first look into a changing world. My next post will include many other issues.
My thought for the day
We dislike and resist change in the foolish assumption that we can make permanent that which makes us feel secure. Yet change is in fact part of the very fabric of our existence.
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