Europe appears to be in a bad state. Poverty and unemployment are on the rise, the rich and the poor grow apart, the financial system is out of control. In the long run countries like China and India tend to outstrip Europe, and the US will not come to the rescue. Yet, Europe is resourceful enough to overcome its crisis, and possibly lead the world into a society that is more equitable, more balanced and above all more sustainable. In the next paragraphs, we will highlight seven trends to elaborate this position.
Does the future look grim?
Forecasting has been proven to be difficult. For years, Bill Gates held the opinion that internet would not be important. Shell sold its share in solar energy, a few years before this made a take-off. ‘Forecasting is difficult, especially when dealing with the future’. It is precisely the qualitative change (the most important kind of change) which is difficult to capture. In thirty years’ time, our life has changed dramatically, through the advent of the computer, internet and the smartphone. But precisely the way in which these devices would change our lives, could be hardly foreseen. Computers, so it was thought, would allow us to calculate more quickly. Mobile phones would induce us to make more frequent phone calls. But that these appliances would change human behaviour and would even affect culture – that was beyond the imagination of the forecasters of the past.
And yet, we can only take a somewhat optimistic view on the future if we concentrate on such qualitative changes. For if we should only extrapolate present developments to the future, we would indeed take a grim perspective on Europe. World population will increase, this might be met with a rise in agricultural productivity; world trade might increase (this is supposed to be good for the economy). But from a European perspective, clouds would appear on this quantitative horizon: BRIC countries will rise to economic power and Europe will lag behind, peak oil will impose itself upon us, the population is ageing, there will be more distrust among people and tensions within and among European countries, possibly leading to disintegration. Not to mention climate disasters and unstoppable waves of immigrants. Forecasts paint a bleak picture. Even more so: while most politicians tell rosy stories, there is hardly any hope on the future in the peoples’ hearts and minds.
For a more optimistic (and hopefully also realistic) view on the future, we should concentrate on qualitative change – precisely to those aspects of the future which are hard to imagine. We will shed light on a few trends in our society and enlarge them to the future. In the end we will sketch a society which looks like ours, but which differs from it in essential points – precisely the points which can make the difference between a pessimistic view on the future and openness of mind towards it. We shall paint a picture of more and better cooperation among people; increasing regional self-awareness and more regional autonomy; better sustainability; increasing importance of agriculture in a biobased society and better cooperation between agriculture and industry; better opportunities for local and regional economic growth. Each of these trends is backed up by new scientific discoveries, and by social and technological innovation. If these trends are well supported and not counteracted, Europe will be able to retain its place in the world and not be crushed between the United States and newly developing economies.
This article consists of the following paragraphs:
Does the future look grim?
Trend 1. Women will take the lead
Trend 2. Organisations will be founded on trust
Trend 3. New social networks are on the rise
Trend 4. Sustainability as a common goal
Trend 5. Decentralisation of industry in a biobased society
Trend 6. Small-scale energy systems
Trend 7. Europe was, is and will remain one of the most important producers of scientific knowledge in the world
Conclusion: think global, act local