Talk of "the future" often means speculation about future technologies. A lot of these are tremendously exciting—imagine what we could do with genuinely cheap energy!—but they won't be what brings us the wonderful future we surely all want. Everything we need for that is already out in the world, and while much of it was invented relatively recently, it's all been successfully piloted somewhere.
Brazil and China have shown us two radically different methods for bringing millions of people out of poverty. Finland, Korea and Japan know how to give every child an education that lets all have a chance to fully participate in society. Costa Rica has shown how to stop deforestation, and China how to start replacing lost forests. Germany has proven that places with no natural advantages can generate electricity without pollution, and build houses that barely need heating. Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tokyo and New York City all allow people to move around without destructive dependence on cars. Milwaukee is the home of a revolutionary farming technique that grows incredible quantities of vegetables and fish from tiny plots of land, with minimal energy, year-round in a harsh climate.
I am bullish the technology we already have.
Yet I am quite pessimistic about what the future has in store for us, because we don't deserve the future we want. While the unfairness of life to individuals is a truism, as a species we'll get exactly the future we deserve because we will have made it for ourselves.
Consider a small example. This morning I stepped in dogshit on the way to work, because one of my neighbours couldn't be bothered to clean up after their precious poodle. As if the antisociality of this weren't obvious enough, round here we've been bombarded by messages reminding us how destructive pet faeces are to the universally loved local waterway and its charismatic megafauna. Yet my neighbour couldn't even spare the few seconds to deal with it.
Dog turd is not the most important issue facing the world today, but it is a symptom. As a global society we know how to make the world better for all of us, instead of continuing to step in each others' dogs' shit, but doing so involves decision after decision in which individuals must concede a little self-interest for a greater externalised benefit. And if we can't persuade our neighbours to scoop poop, how will we ever persuade enough people to accept paying to educate the kids across town, or taking a little longer to get to work so people downwind don't have to breathe our cars' exhaust? Never mind the bigger problems that need action co-ordinated between countries that have never trusted each other....
When it becomes unthinkable to let our neighbours step in our dogs' shit; when we finally accept that we are our brothers' keepers; then we will deserve the future we want and we'll find we already know how to get it. We don't need a technological revolution. What we need is a moral revolution.
The above is a draft submission for The Future We Deserve, a collaboratively-written book about the future. Feedback is very welcome.