2031: are we optimistic about the future?

April 7, 2007 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Mother and child in Grenada, NicaraguaI was watching the film Children of Men the other day – a film that depicts a dystopian world in 2027. After 20 or so years of infertility, the time is ticking for civilisation, society has collapsed globally, terrorists have run amok and the environment has been destroyed. This sort of film plays right into my hands: being a science fiction buff, I am always attracted to portrayals of a dark, dystopian future, where Big Brother’s evil eye is always watching you. Minority Report was a particular favourite of mine and yes, I love a good conspiracy theory too!

A fear of technology in the shape of robots and computers has coloured our science fiction novels and films since the 1950s. Films and sci-fi were crowded with examples of computers or robots self-destructing in plumes of smoke when faced with a problem or moral dilemma beyond the capacity of their artificial programming. Or Terminator-style machines would wreak havoc and activate the nuke button that would lead to one of humanity’s darkest psychological fears – the nuclear war so graphically depicted in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, released in 1991.

Since then of course, the Cold War has thawed out and the prospects of superpower nuclear warheads heading our way has diminished; and we have become more entwined and familiar with computers and fancy technology.

So I wondered whether our predictions for the future would be filled with wars between man and machine, in the midst of a dead planet; or whether we are optimistic about the future and our planet.

Some research uncovered an interesting report based on a survey of 54, 240 UK youth under the age of 21 years. The survey is a joint effort between the Forum for the Future and UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and asked how respondents view themselves compared to their parents’ generation; what they think will make them happy; and what they expect from the future. I was particularly interested to learn about their environmental predictions fully believing that they’d blame (most likely) the Baby Boomer generation and that they’d be extremely environmentally and socially conscious.

Well, yes and no on this. In fact, I was taken aback by some of the results. Here’s a summary:

  • by 2031, 62% of respondents expect oil resources to have dried up and 52% fully expect wars to be fought over water access (frankly, I agree with this last one: maybe this is our new psychological fear);
  • 80% believe the gap between rich and poor countries will be greater and only 7% think that poverty in Africa will be alleviated;
  • 74% fully expect to be talking to their computer and not using a keyboard (well, I talk to my computer already, especially when it is slow to boot :)-
  • 44% predict computers will be more intelligent than humans;
  • 91% feel that climate change effects will be well and truly felt by 2031; and 78% have the feeling that climate change will make their lives worse;
  • 75% expect green taxes on air travel…but here’s a surprise – a massive 67% said they will not give up air travel for environmental reasons in the next 10 years (have they not read my rant on the effects of air travel??)
  • 85% think that civilisation will survive over the next century (mmm…in my darkest moods I don’t always think this, but maybe….);
  • but to achieve survival, 76% believe that things must not continue “as usual” – surprisingly most respondents feel that Government has responsibility for creating the change that is needed (frankly, I think that Government has dropped the ball on many of its responsibilities from providing adequate funding for Universities to providing sufficient health benefits; and we look to corporations to fill the void and build human capability). But…no surprise here…only 7% think that Government is actually doing anything to create change. Thankfully, this group of youth are smart: 72% feel that celebrities are not doing anything meaningful to address environmental or social issues;
  • I was a bit surprised by how our future leaders viewed themselves – 65% see themselves as more materialistic than their parents (who would have been their age in the 1980s). We know that we live in a ‘worship the latest brand’ culture, but I was expecting to see a reaction against this and a yearning for simplicity. Depends on how materialistic is defined I guess;
  • 57% feel that their future world will be more affected by crime; and 36% think they’ll be less healthy than their parents. Not sure if this is referring to diet and food related issues or concern over our toxic environment;
  • 42% are fretting over the future; while 55% are concerned about the environment;
  • 70% think that tigers will be extinct in the wild by 2031;
  • good news here: 79% want an interesting job over one that pays mega-salaries as they are more concerned with personal happiness (thankfully they’ve watched their parents slave 24/7 and learnt the lesson);
  • when looking at University courses, sustainable development clearly impacts on the decision-making process of respondents with 74% of architecture, building and planning applicants saying they were concerned with environmental issues.

I think the results clearly show that today’s youth believe the future will be an environmentally impoverished one and 91% believe that global climate change will have negative effects for them. But reading the report, you also gain a sense that our future leaders are ready (as the Americans say) to ‘step up to the plate’, take over the reigns of power from the present generation and work towards sustainability.

I leave you with a powerful quote from the report: “Only when the mindset of previous generations becomes extinct will real progress have been made“.


Entry filed under: Future trends, Social problems, Society, Sustainability.

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