At the Earth University last month, the phrase was presented as a statement rather than a question: the best is yet to come. For its 5th edition, this annual conference brought together 8,000 people at UNESCO in Paris, to share reasons to be optimistic for the future. And optimism is in fact what we need most right now.
The world – our world – is currently experiencing a period of exceptional change. By wanting to consume too much, innovate too much, build too much and harvest too much, we have put ourselves in the midst of a cataclysm – a cataclysm that we have created,
write the organisers of the Earth University. Caught in economic, environmental and social crises, with alarming figures coming in everyday, the world sometimes feels on the verge of desperation. There lies the eternal question that every environmental activist faces, which we will address more precisely in an upcoming article on down to Earth: at what point does raising awareness become too depressing to provoke action? It is capital to share the facts, the figures and the expertise that show how urgent change is. It is crucial that people understand what is at stake and why they must act. But when it piles up, bad news can discourage. Where to start? Isn’t it too late? Will action even make a difference? It becomes tempting to feel like there is too much to be done: even doing plenty would only be a start. It becomes tempting to consider the idea of not doing anything and leaving things the way they are. It becomes tempting to act as if the truth does not exist.
This is why the Earth University’s optimistic viewpoint is important in times like ours: sharing best practices, talking about uplifting ideas and building innovative initiatives is the only good way to defeat defeatism.
Yes, we can counter this excessive movement and the disorder it causes. Across the globe, initiatives are being launched to help our society to evolve in its behaviour and ambitions. People are already changing their mentalities. (…) The world of tomorrow will be an exciting place, filled with opportunities for the advancement of mankind,
the Earth University believes. So here are a few reasons to hope, for hope is the best driver to help us find solutions that will make a difference.
The digital society and other reasons to be optimistic
The 5th Earth University summoned 50 experts to participate in around 20 discussions and debates, on a variety of themes. Aimed at young people, heads of companies and the general public, the event intends to influence public opinion… and instil positive thoughts. One of the major themes that led the debates of the day was what could be called the “digital society”. In fact, the Internet and new communication technologies have induced deep changes that we are maybe just starting to measure to the full. Information has never circulated so easily, and while it is still not available to all everywhere, never in human history has it been so accessible. This means change in education and social relations. It also means change in the way we exercise our citizenship: the Internet can give strong support to participative democracy – for instance, the European Citizen’s Initiative, which allows EU citizens to call on the European Commission to make legislative proposals, has a web platform where citizens can support the initiative of their choice online. Communication technologies bring people together, favour the sharing of interests and best practice (see our piece on the social network for sustainability, Wiser.org), the creation and even funding of collective projects (thanks to crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and KissKissBankBank in France), etc. Proof of the digital society’s important role, one of the talks at UNESCO was simply entitled: “Digital technologies, an essential vector for change”.
Other key subjects for a brighter future were also raised: the role of women in society (and more precisely the definition of better harmony between female and male), the importance of science to “make promises” for the future, the reconciliation between the economy and ecology, etc.
The power of imagination
As the day brought together many company directors, the position and impacts of corporations in society were evoked extensively. In the opening address, Muhammad Yunus, Peace Nobel Prize winner, thus shared his thoughts on social business and its ability to change the world:
I started creating businesses to solve problems. It has become a habit: every time I see a problem, I create a business to solve it.
Yunus is so convinced that social business is the right way to go that he exhorts large corporations to turn their charity projects into social businesses: once they do that, they feel involved, they allow their employees’ talents to develop and they start a virtuous circle. “Charity money will do the job only once. Business money will go out, do the job and come back. It will have an endless life.” Yunus insists that the men and women of the world should stop seeing themselves as “money-making robots” and “rediscover themselves as human beings”. In his belief that we must fix the system instead of hanging on to the “old way of doing things”, the inventor of micro-credit displays an optimistic view of the future. When asked if the best is yet to come, he replies: “Human beings always want to go beyond what they already have. The mind never stops. (…) Real science always follows science-fiction, and makes it happen. That is how we went to the moon.” In a pledge for the power of imagination, he advises us to start writing “social fictions”, which will work as an inspiration to build our dream society.
All the impossible things happen because we want them intensely, we desire them, we imagine them. Then they happen.
The force of imagination was in fact addressed in other talks, which discussed the role of dreams, ideas, arts, commitments and pictures in building the future. And it may be the one idea to hang on to when discouragement starts to surface: imagining things will always be the best way to solve problems. Dreaming of a better world and thinking of the ways to build it gives us a horizon. It gives us a goal to pursue. If man had not dreamt of flying or going to the moon, it would never have been achieved. There is often something self-fulfilling about prophecies: once you say you want to do something, then all you have to do is give yourself the means to succeed. The hardest part is already done. The best is yet to come if we simply want it to be, and that is very reassuring.
(Photo from: www.universitedelaterre.com)
Photo © Shutterstock / Anton Gvozdikov