Our recent book – New Shoots: people making fresh choices in a changing world – concludes that we are optimistic about the future. This article shares some of the reasons for this.
First, this is a time of change. And change brings opportunity. We see people creating opportunities.
Second, more people than ever before are living above the poverty line, so are able to make choices. In contrast to 50 years ago, far more people under the age of forty are above the poverty line. We see evidence that people are making informed choices, for instance women choosing to have fewer children.
Third, technology as an enabler. The Green Revolution has meant that hunger is local and related to supply chains and politics rather than global shortage. The development of Covid-19 vaccines in record time set a new – high – standard for international cooperation.
Fourth, Millennials and Generation Z — those born after 1980 — have grown up with technology, as well as continuous change and global reach. They exploit the technologies at their disposal to connect and to make change happen.
Here are examples of how these four factors — continual change, improved economic conditions, technology and the global reach of Millennials and Generation X — are building a better future.
Greta Thunberg is galvanising worldwide student activism on climate. She said before COP26: “If we felt like there wasn’t any hope, we wouldn’t be activists. We need to reach a critical mass with people who are demanding change and right now it’s more efficient to do that from the streets than from the inside.”
The question was whether she would be more effective in conventional politics)
One of the recent winners of the Earthshot Prize was Vaitea Cowan. She and a team in Chiang Mai helped set up the Phi Suea House, a communication and collaboration platform for hydrogen in Southeast Asia. Some of the team then set up Enapter in Germany, to scale up the production of green hydrogen generators. The team has grown from eleven to over 130 in three years.
Another Earthshot shortlist project was Bangladesh based SolBazaar. Homes with a rooftop solar panel can sell any excess electricity into a microgrid network where others can buy it. The microgrids also reduce emissions by 30 per cent and make money for their providers in real-time – energy trading has boosted some household incomes by 25 per cent. The management team has an eclectic international mix of mostly Millennials, led by Sebastian Groh.
Calls home from Toronto by student engineer Olugbenga Olubanjo often failed because of power outages in Nigeria. He knew that solar power was decreasing in price and wanted to make electricity more accessible to rural Nigerians, and set up Reeddi to provide a solar-powered “electricity bank” with portable power packs for rental.
Currently, a Reeddi pack holds about 250 Watt-hours of energy, enough to charge three mobile phones or power a laptop for four hours. Rentals are for 24 hours, after which they can be returned to the bank to recharge in the sun. The service is used by up to six hundred businesses and households every month.
Millennial Dr Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir is the CEO of Carbfix, an Icelandic company which captures CO₂ from emissions and turns it into stone in less than two years. The method can be used for carbon emissions in places where the bedrock contains sufficient amounts of calcium, magnesium and iron, which react with the CO2 to form the carbonate minerals needed to permanently store it.
In Nepal, The Yellow House — Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati’s bed and breakfast in Sanepa— emerged as the hub of “vibrant guerrilla aid” after the 2015 earthquake. The Yellow House “team” combined Facebook, mapping technology, local knowledge, and the will to get things done.
People in Europe and the USA helped create precise maps of Nepal’s rugged terrain and raised funds. Local volunteers used the information and donations to deliver aid to some of the quake’s hardest-hit areas. The UN, observing this, joined the effort, offering rice, tarpaulins and equipment — following the lead of these young people.
One swallow does not a summer make. But we hope that these six examples illustrate why we are optimistic about the capacity of people to build a better world.