A Digital Life survey of 7,213 adults in 19 countries found them pessimistic about the future, as 60% believe society is moving in the wrong direction and 72% worry about moral decline.[i] Four in ten sometimes think they’re wasting their own lives. They fear we’re loosing ties to nature, simplicity and intellectuality, becoming too shallow. Four in 10 say they would be happier if they owned less stuff. Seven in 10 worry about the increase in political extremism and over half fear the loss of ability to engage in civil debate. Nearly three-quarters are worried about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. They don’t blame technology as only 10% believe it will have a negative impact, although one-third of Millennials and more than a quarter of the total sample say social networking makes them less satisfied with their lives. Two-thirds of Millennials believe their generation lacks a sense of personal privacy. The researchers concluded that the future will bring a “hybrid” way of living that keeps conveniences while “holding fast to those traditions and values that are in danger of disappearing,” such as gardening.
Another 2011 report on the future using the UN Millennial Goals as a framework. On the positive side, humans are getting richer, healthier, better educated and more peaceful.[ii] (The Millennium Projects’ global futures research began in 1996). People care about the effect of disasters on others and provide aid to devastated countries like Haiti and Japan and support the spread of democracy. With 30% of us connected via the Internet, people are aware of the need for unified action to end global warming and other environmental hazards now that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest in at least two million years.
On the negative side, the futures’ report points out that half the world lives in poverty that undermines stability as the gap between the rich and the poor is widening dangerously. The population in developing countries is increasing while food prices are rising, water resources are drying up, corruption and organized crime are on the rise, and climate change is accelerating. The researchers point out we have the solutions to these problems. They look hopefully to the coming biological revolution to bring answers more profound than even the industrial or information revolutions. Perhaps synthetic life forms will be available for food, water, medicine and energy. Information sharing via computers and the Internet could lead to tele-education and tele-medicine to make them available to more people.
The Millennium Project report suggests that a simple step forward is eating less meat as it adds more greenhouse gases (18%) than transportation. It takes 2,400 liters of water to make a hamburger. China moved past the US as the largest polluter but it leads in searching for green alternatives, allocating $600 billion for green growth in its Five Year Plan for 2011 to 2015. Lester Brown lists various solutions in his free book Plan B 4.0, including raising taxes on carbon emitters.[iii] A documentary A Fierce Green Fire (2012) explores 50 years of the environmental movement. Since half of the largest 100 economies in the world are corporations, they need to be involved in the transition to a green economy. The report notes that another positive solution is the empowerment of women as “patriarchal structures are increasingly challenged.” There’s a lot of work to be done as women represent about 70% of those living in poverty and they’re about two-thirds of illiterate adults. The central issue is we have the solutions to the enormous problems that face our planet but not the will.