Sometimes, your job just sucks. It’s repetitive, it’s dirty, it’s boring. You feel undervalued and underappreciated, but you stick with it because it provides a living, comfortable or not. Friday and Saturday are easily the best days of the week, where decompressing from the workweek happens in the couch or in alcoholic debauchery. Monday morning, from the recesses of your brain, thoughts of change come bubbling up, yet the morphine towards the end of the workday sedates those thoughts and pushes them back into their dark cave. You know you can do better, you know you’re worth more, but you live on in complacency, unwilling to make the effort of potentially perilous change.
And the world does not seem to improve upon it either. A widening inequality gap, corrupt politicians, deforestation, an ever mounting price of oil, overpopulation, turbulence in the Middle East, civil war in Ukraine, child labour in low-wage countries, climate change and extreme storms. The list goes on, and the problems seem insurmountable. The trend is not changing quickly enough and we seem to be moving towards planetary mayhem. The previous generation, those still in power, are stuck in nationalistic frameworks and think about their country rather than the planet. It is the reason attempts at cooperation between countries blatantly fail, such as the Doha Development Round organised by the WTO. We live in a world governed by those that live on in complacency, unwilling to make the effort of potentially perilous change.
Interestingly, research has shown that complacency is part of the human nature when the risk to your safety is low or not very visible. This is visible everywhere. People die of asthma because the symptoms are not consistent, or people continue smoking because the effects are only gradual and not immediate, even though 90% of lung cancers are caused by smoking. The hardly noticeable gradual effects are not enough incentive to stop smoking. Yet complacency cannot be an excuse, not for your personal life nor for the planet. Would you like it to end this way? To die out of complacency, never having exploited your full potential because you never realised the effects doing nothing had on you?
I say no. I want everyone to know not enough means not ok. We are stronger, more capable, and more aware than any previous generations, and we are ready to pick up whatever is left behind and do better, do more, for the planet and for ourselves. Vast challenges lie ahead in the future, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, our technologies are evolving at such a rapid pace that I am sure they will bring changes to our society for the betterment of all of us. For example, to come back to the first paragraph, the increasing automation of repetitive and simple tasks will lead to the disappearance of many jobs, something that is frequently in the news. Robots to drive us around, robots to operate our factories, robots to clean our cities.
We should embrace this evolution, as this is an amazing opportunity. You might say this will lead to millions of unemployed people, and it will initially, but this initial disadvantage is far outweighed by the advantages of having millions of people quite suddenly available for tasks that robots cannot (yet?) perform, i.e. tasks that are more challenging, tasks that require some sort of creativity or inventiveness. For those affected to be able to tackle these more challenging jobs, education is the key pillar. If the government applies my previous idea, it should have enough new funds to support this. Support the unemployed and send them back to school. I have tremendous faith in every individual, and strongly believe almost everyone is intelligent enough and very capable of handling difficult and complex tasks. Have the new students figure out what they like, what they are good at, and have them specialise in it. After say ten years, hundreds of thousands of capable individuals will enter the workforce, motivated and ready to lead a more satisfying life that will contribute more to society.
The enormous number of newly educated people suddenly entering the workforce will inevitably spawn new ideas and viewpoints based on their previous experiences. It could lead to a New Renaissance, after two centuries of dirty factories, war, pollution and greed. The platforms are increasingly in place, as the Internet and social media locate everything and everyone only a few mouse clicks away. No more inefficient browsing through old books in a dusty library, no more sifting through yearly magazines to keep up with the ‘latest’ developments. Information is at our fingertips, and what is new is almost instantly known. This allows us to tackle the great planetary problems in a much more focused way.
Because that’s exactly what they are. Planetary problems, not national problems. In fact, I believe it is not up to a government to try and solve these problems. The government should focus on building a great educational system, along with creating a support system for the sick, disabled and retired. It should leave the rest in the hands of capable individuals, who should and will inevitably unite not under a nationalistic banner, but under the banner of Earth. We are all human, and the problems we now face are global. To solve them will require novel thinking, but initially, all it requires is imagination and creativity. So let’s give it a try:
Food and water scarcity
We are seven billion now, and will be nine billion by 2050. How can we keep on feeding this growing population? Vertical agriculture. We should build high up in the sky, with every floor a field that can be used for agriculture. This food should be evenly distributed, with every person entitled to a minimum amount of calories calculated on the basis of weight, height, activity, etc… There should also be a limit on the amount of daily calories you can take in as well. A chip inserted in everyone’s body could check how many calories you’ve taken in and send that information to a food bank that will fine you if you go over your limit. This way, you are allowed to ‘overconsume’, but you will also pay more for it. The fine can go up or down according to how heavily we are taxing the planet. On the other hand, if the food bank notices you have not been taking in enough calories for a consistent number of days, it can entitle you to free and healthy food at your closest supermarket, up to the amount where you will have enough food to make it through the day.
And what about water? Fresh water comes from lakes, rivers, snow and ice. We are consuming this water quicker than nature can produce it. Right now, one fifth of the world’s population lives in areas where there is not enough water, a number only expected to increase. Yet 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Desalinating ocean water costs a tremendous amount of money, but the decreasing supply of fresh water is making this an increasingly viable idea. Desalination also costs a high amount of energy, so we need to make sure renewable energy is used to break the tight bond between salt and water. The technology is already there, we just need to step over the complacency barrier. In terms of fair distribution, the same concept can be applied as with food scarcity. The same chip could monitor your body to determine how much water you need, based again on calculations that take into account certain variables, and send this information to a water bank that can entitle you to free water if you haven’t drunk enough for or fine you if you consumed unnecessarily. This is one way to tackle water scarcity, yet it should be accompanied with a second and what I believe quite obvious water innovation: use water much more efficiently, starting with everything that uses water in a house. Toilets, for example, are incredibly inefficient when it comes to water. Eight litres of water go down the drain every time you flush. Even if this can be brought down to two, which should not be too hard a thing to do, four times more water would be available to use in a better way. This also counts for showers, washing machines, and many other electronic household appliances.
Our industry right now is still very centred around fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, resources that will inevitably run out. Yet this mounting pressure will also lead to a solution, as there will be no other option but to find alternative way of ‘fuelling’ our society. Some sort of a solution is already there in the form of renewables such as hydro, wind, solar energy. There are other ideas worth exploring as well. What about the meteor belts surrounding Earth? Or asteroids whizzing past the Earth? Could we harvest the moon? Or Mars? Perhaps they have minerals worth harvesting, minerals that we can use to fuel our economy. It might sound impossible, but that is all the more reason to start thinking and working on it now. Maybe it will drive us to explore space even further.
The inequality gap
The 20th century proved communism did not work. All humans were equal, but some were more equal than others. It did not work because people like to distinguish themselves from others. They want to be rewarded for their creations, for their efforts, for the amount of work they put into something, i.e. meritocracy. Even though the capitalist system in place now is a good system, the widening inequality gap shows it could use a few adaptations. There should be a compulsory worldwide minimum wage which, along with the food and water bank, should ensure everyone can live reasonably comfortable. Wages should also be indexed with responsibility. The higher the responsibility of your position, the higher your wage should be. Ways of measuring responsibility could be the number of employees you have working for you, or the measurable influence your decisions have on the economy. Rather than having the companies arbitrarily decide how high this can be, have a robot calculate everyone’s responsibility and send everyone their salary based on this calculation. The only way to earn above that salary would be when you create something of considerable value to society, either through a lump sum or a percentage of your invention’s earnings or costs saved. The new rich kids in town should be those that create things of value, advance the human race, or push it towards new limits. Want that new BMW? Invent a way to create palm oil in laboratories to stop deforestation. Want the new iPhone 29, now available in purple? Create a beautiful movie that people love. Jealousy is a strong motivator, and this idea would urge many to think and create.
To sum it up, these are some of the ideas I had:
- A worldwide minimum wage;
- Salaries indexed to responsibility;
- Higher earnings only through creation;
- Harvesting space;
- Desalinating ocean water;
- Make electronic appliances more water-efficient;
- Vertical agriculture;
- A food and water bank.
These ideas are inevitably incomplete. I have not talked about distribution, nor about how I will overcome resistance against these ideas. But the importance lies in the fundamentals of these ideas. So what do you think? Do you think these ideas are crazy? Do you think they are impossible? Please let me know. I wrote this article because I do not want any more complacency. I wrote this article because I want to see action, because I want to face the challenges in front of us. I wrote this article because I think the planet is so beautiful I find it worth fighting for. But I need help from all of you. Digest these ideas, come up with new, discuss, refine, expand. Let’s take over the world, and make it a better place.