Our world is changing. In just a fraction of humanity's history, billions of people's lives have fundamentally changed and improved. But it's only the beginning. The exponential development we see in more and more technological areas ultimately affects the entire planet. There is no area where digitization and automation don't reach and in area, after area, we see that what was previously lacking is now in abundance.
At the same time, scientists agree that human activity affects the Earth's climate. It gets warmer and some weather phenomena become more extreme. We have left the Holocene, the geological epoch that for almost 12,000 years has enabled us to develop civilizations and advanced societies.
Now we are in the anthropocene, the age of man. An age where human activities are as important as other geological forces, such as volcanoes and changing solar activity. We have reached a time where we have become so powerful that we must also take responsibility for the health of the entire planet. We have become planetary caretakers.
At the same time as the responsibility has quickly become enormous, we have also through technological development created tools that make it possible for us to shoulder this responsibility.
As Wired founder Kevin Kelly puts it:
We should be optimistic not because our problems are smaller than we thought, but because our capacity to solve them is larger than we thought.
The two most important concepts that exist
The two most important and powerful concepts in the world right now are exponential technologies and sustainability. The first are the tools for creating the second.
Mankind has the power to solve problems such as poverty, starvation and climate change and create a bright future. This does not happen by itself. Climate change is already well documented and humanity is gathering to meet this challenge. Many solutions are in place to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we are at the beginning of a fantastic transition. But we need to continue innovating and accelerating the emission curve downwards and the development curve upwards.
Federal and state governments can use legislation, taxes and industry regulations to create the conditions for change, but the entities who will truly drive a developmental boom lie in the private sector — businesses and individuals. Relying entirely on government intervention and prohibition of citizens and businesses is the wrong way to go. It inhibits innovation, development, and over the long term, degrades our living conditions — reducing the possibility of creating a bright and sustainable future.
Threat of a "doomsday" scenario
Some political wings use climate as a reason to introduce absolute power, even a dictatorship, and by force restrain citizens ability to travel and consume. The associated anxiety and perceived threat of a "doomsday" scenario can, in some cases, be used against a populace by a government with ill intentions. The arguments are deeply moralizing and all western countries, even countries like Sweden which are at the very forefront in terms of becoming climate neutral, are portrayed as crooks.
The doomsday narrative also undermines other advances in the world, such as the fact that we have never had a higher life expectancy, less poverty and that we have more protected areas on earth now than ever in history.
The pessimistic and apocalyptic narrative is alarming and counterproductive. It leads to increased polarization and favors authoritarian powers. Beyond that, it creates a feeling of hopelessness.
With shame as a driving force to, "stop flying, stop shopping, stop having children, stop living and stop growing is not a vision. As little as silence is a sound ", to quote the Swedish debater and lecturer Troed Troedson. But it is more than ever a vision we need.
A change for the better
The change that needs to happen is dramatic, but not for the worse. It does not have to limit our freedom or our choices of life. On the contrary. Therefore, we must put all the focus into what opportunities the transition provides, what solutions exist, and how they can be developed and implemented in a way that benefits as many as possible. Alternatives that are not good should be replaced by better ones, not nothing at all.
This combination of optimism and realism does not conflict. Optimism as a strategy means that we focus on opportunities and solutions. Realism means that these are based on scientific and factual basis. This is the way forward.
Climate change is the driving force to introduce a global society where advanced and free societies use resources far better and more efficiently than today. Advanced and free societies that show consideration to each other, other living beings and our planet.
This means that we must create a new paradigm where we reconnect our economy and our societies to the biosphere. Through technology, humans have the ability to build a global society that is based on efficiency and respect for the planet.
Digitalization and automation is key
A few countries, Sweden being one, have come far in digitalization and automation, which means that there is a unique opportunity to act proactively in the transition. This will benefit the citizens, businesses, and ultimately the globe. Climate-smart solutions and business models need, and are already in, a large part of the world market. So even though Sweden is a small country with few inhabitants, through our innovative energy infrastructure and conceptual proactivity, we can influence the world to move in a direction that benefits us all.
The capacity for renewable energy — like solar and wind power — has doubled every three years over the past fifteen years. Subsidies are no longer necessary thanks to a sharp decline in costs associated with the delivery of solar power. Renewables are cheaper than fossil alternatives in market comparison and the sharply decreasing costs, mainly in solar, have made renewable electricity available to more people than ever before.
Since 2010 the cost of batteries has been reduced by about 80 percent. If development continues at a similar rate, electric vehicles will outperform combustible engines on all levels in 2025. In addition, intermediate storage of renewable energy is becoming more cost-effective and the development of modern nuclear power is accelerating. In our lifetime, we have the opportunity to go from a lack of sustainable energy to an abundance that benefits everyone.
This development is fundamentally driven by digitalization and within most of these climate-smart technologies, Sweden has companies that, in addition to driving the development forward in the country, have the potential to reach a world market.
New societies and new individuals
What is digitized ends up on an exponential development curve. This means that development accelerates and doubles in an interval of a few years. This is central because the adjustment we need to make must take place quickly. It will create new better societies, but also new individuals. We all need to think new and meet the changes that await us with curiosity, confidence, courage, and hope. The word anthropocene is Greek and means anthropos, human, and kainos, new.
We are facing an enormous transition. But the journey does not begin now, it has already begun with the exponential development of technology. Now we must align and accelerate this fantastic development with our new role as planetary caretakers.
The future is bright because it's in our power to make it so.
Image: Liuzhou Forest City av Stefano Boeri Architetti