The climate is in crisis. Mass extinctions and mass migrations mark our days. Cities are running out of water or deluged by it. Inequality and polarization are political cronies, their twisted outbursts manifested as information warfare. Our carbon, like our money, is always flowing out of us—up, away, into the atmosphere.
This is not the first time that things have felt hopeless. And we, as humans, have often made our greatest progress in the face of our greatest despair.
But our species has an annoying habit of procrastinating.
Technically, the solutions to our problems already exist. Since 2015, Costa Rica has generated more than 95% of its electricity from renewable energy, reaching 99% in 2017. Sweden is targeting 100% renewable energy use by 2040. As this issue went to press, IBM unveiled a new battery that runs on seawater rather than rare-earth metals, and a Canadian company celebrated the first electric seaplane voyage.
We have the technical and policy tools to implement sweeping changes to existing human systems. The problem has been that, until recently, we haven’t had the political will.
But that too is changing.
As children, we believe someone is “in charge,” tracking what’s happening in the world and what to do about it. But the last three years have taught us that there’s no one in charge.
Regardless of our age, we are the grownups. And we, the grownups, are angry at the ways in which the “adults” in the room have lied to us. We’re angry at inaction on climate change and inequality, corporate complicity with authoritarian regimes, voter disenfranchisement, police brutality, and mass shootings. Our anger has reared its head on the streets, at the ballot box, and on our screens.
While many of us are dissatisfied with the status quo, dissatisfaction alone is not enough to create the world we want.
Throughout history, great leaders have crafted visions of collective futures to inspire action. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his 1933 inauguration address to lay out his vision for the New Deal, explaining in broad strokes how he planned to change us for the better. “When there is no vision, the people perish,” he said.
Today, we find ourselves again in need of such a vision. A successful vision enables us to coordinate across social, political, and economic spheres by creating a shared understanding of the current moment, the need for urgency, and setting big-picture goals. The most successful collective visions facilitate wide-ranging experiments to achieve their goals, while communicating a set of shared moral values to guide those experiments.
Solving problems like the climate crisis will require massive experiments across all segments of society. Regardless of our political or religious beliefs, we all have a self-interest in finding solutions, and different ideas about what those solutions are.
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