The list of trends that will be driving world history during the next decade looks pretty daunting; it’s even more so if you reflect that by my logic, the 2020s will be even more challenging than the 2010s and the 2030s will be more challenging still.
As I listed the trends that are likely to shape the next ten years, readers may have felt like the ancient Greeks watching evils and disasters clambering out of Pandora’s Box one by one. Economic instability! Crisis in Africa! Religions in conflict! The end of the world!
All that is real, and it is pretty much guaranteed to keep us on the edge of our seats as we watch the next decades unfold, but there is something else, too.
The flood of change that threatens to overturn the world in the next decade is the instability of a rising tide, not a falling one. New discoveries, new technologies, new ideas are going to transform the lives of billions of people. More people than ever before will have access to information about the world around them and will be able to participate in the cultural and political life of their times. Humanity will be able to provide for its physical needs at a lower cost and with lower impact on the environment. Increasing numbers of people all around the world will escape the limits of absolute poverty and enjoy unprecedented opportunities to build better lives for themselves and their children.
The chaos and instability of the new decade is creative chaos; it is the chaos of birth and growth rather than of death and decay.
Even as the world’s problems grow in some respects more acute and more entangled, humanity will have more resources at its disposal to fight them. The environment will be under pressure as never before from the rising per capita consumption of a rising human population — but we will have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the relationship between human activity and the environment, we will have more and better technological alternatives, and we will overall have significantly more resources to direct toward the solution of environmental problems.
The economy may be more turbulent, but we will understand our new economy better and better as the decade continues. Religious tensions may well rise, but religious communities and leaders will have more resources and more experience available to help them build tolerant, pluralistic societies. The urbanization that will create both political and social turbulence also represents the escape of scores of millions of talented, creative people from stagnant rural communities. Many will suffer terribly in the transition; others will find their way to lives much more fulfilling than anything they could have found back at the farm.
We live in challenging times, but these are the challenges of youth and growth. Humanity is beginning to grasp its full potential, to know itself, to guess at the potential of our talents — and to respect the limits of our world. The challenges we face in the teens will sometimes feel overwhelming, but they are the challenges of creating a world that is more just, more open, more democratic and more flourishing than any civilization or culture humanity has ever previously built.
Hope and change: the two together will drive and define the next ten years.