The economic meltdown looks like it will destroy many individuals’ dreams. It’s hard not to look at it that way. But what about our progress as a global society? What can we expect to happen to our plans and dreams?
The crisis will slow progress in some areas, and will delay many of the things people have been hoping for: comprehensive, positive change on environment, solutions to social needs, notably health care, and so on. But a crisis also re-sets a lot of thinking and clears the way for new things. It may, in places, jump start change.
A great historical example is the New Deal. That program led to an enormous spike in public goods—notably parks, trails, libraries, art, literature, music, and other public infrastructure, and fostered social change that benefited US society broadly. We would not have undertaken those things without the crisis, and they would have been slow to arrive, if they had arrived at all.
Not all the economic problems will impede positive change. Some may drive it.
Many people have been envisioning a hydrogen economy and/or a wide adoption of alternative energy sources. Oil price spikes quickly drove up interest in alternative energy, though we need to keep up that interest in the face of temporary price drops. We are likely to be motivated to intensify efforts to transform the energy sector because of unsustainable economic practices in the old energy economy.
In the U.S., we want and need change in health care. Economic stress, while it could make it hard to afford changing our system, may force change—many more people will be without health care, or will be making harsh choices about what care they afford.
From the point of view of sustainability, quality, and variety, we have begun a return to consuming more locally-produced foods. Oil price shocks, a decline in eating out and eating processed, packaged foods will reinforce that trend. It could enable a full-scale development in a lot of areas of local-production.
This is our silver lining. It’s time to get to it. The crisis creates an opening for new ideas, and the acute need to think differently.
It makes all the difference if we take the time now to imagine a positive future even in the harsh light of the current crisis. Foresight gives you a critical tool in thinking and rethinking what you do—the ability to jump your thinking out beyond the immediate—shoring up existing systems, etc., to say, “now what?” and begin to imagine it, define it, and figure out how to get there. And perhaps where we can go is better than where we were.
Image: Tacit Requiem, via Flickr, cc license