Despite the anxiety and worry that gripped nations around the world as the pandemic made terrible strides into mortality, revealed the vulnerabilities in our health care system, and also brought to light the uncertainties and vagaries of medical science. Despite all the media show circus around the pandemic, the warring academics, the censured doctors, the confusion of misinformation, something beautiful also happened: Air pollution diminished, waterways became clear, life started again in the oceans.
The Year Earth Changed (dir: Tom Beard, 2021) is a documentary about the positive changes the environment had undergone during the pandemic lockdown.
The start of summer had been chaotic, marked dramatically with heat waves, flash flooding and perhaps, a prolonged sense of apathy from discontented mask wearers and inflamed protesters around the world against vaccine mandates as the world seemed in familiar disarray. Now, as the autumnal equinox signalled the start of the fall season, life has been slowly becoming normalised again, albeit with a few significant changes.
Our current era, which IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath has called “The Great Lockdown” generation, these significant changes seem to have captured the world in another display of transnational modernity, perhaps this time, in order to create a better and fairer world. In this article, I discuss 5 of the most progressive trends in the Age of the Great Environment Reset:
Trend 1: 3D printed food: the Transformation of Agricultural Industries
The human race used to be nomadic scavengers and foragers, moving from place to place in search of food before we developed agriculture and being able to control what we grow and eat as we had settled down in one location. Researchers have studied from carbon atoms in mummies that people from ancient civilisations were primarily vegetarian and that eating meat was only a recent phenomenon. (Eg, recent: last 300 years)
“In ancient cultures vegetarianism was much more common, except in nomadic populations. Most sedentary populations ate fruit and vegetables.” - A French research team that studied the carbon atoms of Egyptian mummies (3500 BC-600 AD) in order to determine what they had consumed as food.
Statue of Pharaoh Ramesses II "Ramesses the Great" at the British Museum. One of the greatest civilisations on the planet, the people of Ancient Egypt were studied by researchers to have been entirely vegetarian.
However, now we are at another juncture in history in which the method of how food will be produced has taken an auspicious turn: 3D printed food.
It is currently the practice to devote an entire land towards farming, and it is well known that a significant portion of farmland, crops and fresh water supplies go towards animal farming. With the world’s population projected to grow towards 9.8 billion people by 2050, it has been speculated by researchers that traditional agriculture won’t be able to meet the demands of the people as not enough space can be allotted simply to grow food. However, startups such as Spain’s Cocuus and Israel’s MeaTech 3D are 3D printing meat without the time, the land, the resources and the inherent cruelty involved in animal farming.
Spain's Cocuus and Israel's MeaTeach are 3D printing meat from stem cells taken from cows, saving energy, water, land resources and without the use of animal cruelty farming and slaughtering practices.
At an industrial scale, these changes when implemented into retail can greatly alter our animal farming industries, so that in the near future, meat can be free of toxins, diseases, antibiotics and the time, resources and labour it takes to raise an animal, so that the people who enjoy eating meat, can continue to do so without the cruelties involved in animal slaughterhouses. This is certainly a trend in which we can develop more protections for animals, focus our resources on maintaining extinct species, and continue to support our environment and infrastructure without the necessity of devoting land towards agriculture.
Trend 2: The Concept of Money: from Global Monetary Exchange to a Credit Clearing System
For anyone who has studied economies, it is well-known that national deficits were never intended to be paid off, hence the exponential growth in debt over time was a tool produced by Central Banks in order to control the flow of production output and natural resources.
Raising the debt ceiling by Congress has always been a form of theatre, in that there is no doubt that the debt ceiling will be raised as national debt was never intended to be paid off. Each year, US politicians make a dramatic spectacle of raising the debt ceiling. Photo by Brendan Smilalowski/AFP/Getty
However, after the financial crisis of 2008 when that system nearly collapsed, economists, researchers and govts have been looking towards what the future of money will mean and how we can transition from the era of globalisation in which the metrics of GDP has pushed many nations into a race towards consumerism, planned obsolescence and increasing debt, towards a more equitable society in which humanity can focus on evaluating its long term motives and goals as opposed to its short-term gains.
Diamonds, once considered rare, can be mass produced by nanotechnology. As we enter this "Diamond Age", the concept of scarity might soon become obsolete as more goods and products can be produced at scale in abundance without the use of earth's resources.
The concept of money is deeply rooted in the economics of scarcity, in which a limit in production but high demand led to its increased value. However, as we enter the new era of the 5th Industrial Revolution, scarcity might become a thing of the past. In previous eras, such as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and such when materials became utilised for mass production, we are now at the cusp of what the writer Neal Stephenson has called “the Diamond Age” in which nanotechnology will encompass every aspect of production at the molecular level. A diamond, once rare and found in nature, can now be mass produced using nanotechnology. As we integrate nanotechnology in every aspect of our lives, from the biological delivery of personalised medicine, to production of materials such as textiles, to replication of natural resources such as diamonds, gold and oil, scarcity will become an obsolete concept, and hence our relationship with money will also ultimately change.
Despite that many smart investors have promoted alternate forms of currency and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, ultimately, they are still reminiscent of the old concept of money as a form of exchange and its monetary value that is still tied to other national currencies and moving forward, we will have to consider that instead of money itself, we will have to think of credit clearing systems as the most effective digital form of exchange.
Credit clearing system or clearing house could serve to tabulate the exchange of materials and goods between one group to another using distributed ledgers in a blockchain, bypassing banks and other 3rd party intermediaries. Central Banks could transform from monetary agencies towards credit clearing systems and local governments could place value on work and research that have long-term value within a society circumventing the use of currencies or "money".
As opposed to “money”, a credit clearing system or clearing house is a group of interconnected exchanges which tabulates the exchange of materials and goods between one group with another bypassing third party institutions, such as banks as intermediaries without the use of money. After WWII, when Europe faced financial crisis, WIR in Switzerland became one of the first organisations in which allowed companies to directly exchange goods and services with goods and services, completely bypassing the use of currencies, hence being able to subsequently survive the hyperinflation that occurred in many countries at the time which led many companies to become bankrupt and further led to an economic downturn.
Although money itself won’t probably be eradicated within the next decade, we are on the cusp of a new financial and economic system, and it could be that the Central Banks of today’s era will become the credit clearing agencies or clearing houses of the future that integrate societal progress and research, giving value to work and research that hold long-term value.
Nations such as China are developing an innovative “social credit” system in which those jobs that don’t have an active income, such as caretaking, attain social credit. If we consider the sort of jobs which have the most societal value, caretaking and educators are of primary importance, yet these are paradoxically also the jobs that are typically paid the least, or not at all, in much of the world. As we move towards the “Diamond Age” in which many service industry jobs will become eradicated through nanotechnology, robots and AI, much of the population will no longer have jobs that support them. Hence, as a society we must consider how to sustain our populations so that our societies become more equitable, more visionary, and more humanistic.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the [dark] streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” - Allen Ginsberg, Howl
In our contemporary society, many social critics have commented that the best minds of our generation eventually decide to work in investment banking and finance, or develop yet another social networking platform or niche payment application, only to become disillusioned with its inherent lack of purpose. The motivation of “money” has fuelled a generation in which we place higher value on the development of trading algorithms than on primary school teachers who are responsible for the education of our future leaders. As our societies become more “feudal” in nature, with overwhelming vast wealth disparities at the cost of our environment, a new financial and economic system could be developed by the Central Banking System in order to smooth the transition from a “currency” based system, to a credit clearing system.
A scene from Star Trek: First Contact (1996 dir: Jonathan Frakes). Captain Jean-Luc Picard explains to a 21st century woman that the “economics of the future” are somewhat different and that “money no longer exists” and "the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in their lives".
In this way, as we no longer grapple with the economics of scarcity, and live in an era of abundance fuelled by nanotechnology, robots and AI, we can input value into those jobs and positions which previously held little monetary gain, but which ultimately have high societal, long term value. Instead of the accumulation of wealth as an ultimate goal in itself, the collective goal of any local community would be to elevate its standard of living, promote the tenets of a circular economy, to solve its social problems, to eradicate poverty, to utilise design thinking and to create a more equitable society in which humans live harmoniously with other animals in the preservation of nature, instead of towards its destruction.
The concept of scarity is from the idea that resources and goods are in limited supply, hence its ability to harness high prices in the market. However, with the advent of nanotechnology which could mass produce any item or resource, the economics of scarcity may soon become obsolete, along with the traditional concept of “money” as its form of trade as we enter an era of abundance in what the author Neal Stephenson calls “the Diamond Age”. Illustration by Isabella C. Aslarus from the Harvard Crimson.
Currently, “money” in our society in terms of its psychological symbolism, may represent security, economic stability and freedom to do as one wishes. However, on the other side of the coin, “money” may also represent the destruction of the environment, the profit-at-all-costs Milton Friedman’s “greed is good” philosophy derivative of the 1950s industrial era and societal collapse of many cities, in which homelessless, poverty and drug addiction have wantonly taken over many major areas around the world. In a future economic model, the Central Banking system could modify the concept of money towards the credit clearing system, in which value is given towards members of the population whose positive engagement with society, research and work holds long-term value, but which may not necessarily immediately elicit short-term gains.
Trend 3: Couture for All: Customers as Designers
In the land of high fashion, there are only approximately 200 women in the world who can afford to buy haute couture. Haute couture refers to customised and personally tailored items of clothing produced by a fashion house made specifically for a client and these items of clothing can range between $30K-$300K+ and its accompanying jewellery worth millions. Despite the fact that only 200 women in the world buy such items per year, for the majority of the population, the made-to-order revolution has begun to take shape with many buyers opting for specially tailored clothes.
Ready-to-wear fashion primarily accounts for the rectangle figure in sizes, in which the bust and waist form a slim, rectangle shape without regard to variability in body shapes.
The problem with ready-to-wear fashion is that clothes are only made for one body type: the rectangle figure with generic, factory sizes that do not account for differences in body shapes. In addition, fast fashion is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in which millions of tonnes of waste are dumped into landfills, non-recycle items with toxic dyes seeming into the water supply. Although this business model was highly initially successful in the 1990s, beginning with many fast fashion brands taking the helm and churning out weekly cheaply made goods by slave labour factory workers in 3rd world nations, it has impacted our environment in detrimental ways, in addition to the push of consumerism and distorted body image which have negatively impacted the mental health of the population.
However, this fast fashion retail model was soon eclipsed by the direct-to-consumer eCommerce model with many companies selling directly to the customer at significantly lower prices, which have led to the downfall of many iconic American and British retailers (such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Sears et al) which has led to ⅕ of all department stores closing since 2018.
It then appears that people no longer want to go shopping at department stores or at malls, and I think this is a trend that will continue. Instead, a model of a consumer-driven product design is more likely to take shape in the near future. In some ways, the U.S. has been ahead of the curve with eCommerce companies using design interfaces for online customers to design their own jewellery, t-shirts and input their measurements for bespoke clothing (eg, typically formal wear such as suits and dresses).
Ready-to-wear clothes stocked at a shop. As we move towards on-demand specialised clothing, clothes would be produced only on an on-needed basis instead of sitting at a shop waiting to be sold, hence eliminating textile waste and promoting a circular economy. Photo by Markus Winker, upstream.
Alternatively, pop-up shops are already on the rise and other retail spaces can resemble the look of museums and art galleries in which old designs can be displayed and archived and walk-in customers can select from a variety of fabrics and garments and be personally measured for the clothing they would like made, as local tailors did in the 1800s and early 1900s. Hence, there would be no waste of products and materials, and everything would be targeted towards the ease of personalisation. As another benefit, these retail spaces could also receive old materials in order to be recycled, so that all materials can have a beginning-to-end circular economy product design to minimalism items that end up in the landfill.
If we are to consider the high cost of fast-fashion, and the negative impact it has on the lives of women who work in these industries in the current fast fashion factory model, as well as on the environment, we have to consider that in a future model of retail, there will no longer be ready-to-wear or items in stock for weeks on end, but that everything would produced on an as-needed basis, with every item having a life cycle from beginning to end, which could also actively be recycled, repaired or upcycled with ease from everything from shampoo bottles to mobile phones, and even clothes.
Trend 4: Design Thinking: The New Paradigm of Work and Education
It is a little known fact that between 1990 and 2010, in just two decades, the world’s population grew 30% or 1.6 billion humans with the highest numbers of people located in India. It was primarily during the first Industrial Revolution in which human populations began to grow at a rapid rate.
The mechanisation of work created a bilateral system of both slavery and leisurely lifestyles and a feudal era was borne. One of the growing problems with our current era is the growing wealth disparity in the population and the weakening of societal communities. In San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, London and beyond, poverty is often on full display, with many neighbourhoods falling into crime and disrepair. Some critics have cited the fall of Western values, and lack of a cohesive family unit, however, we must consider that the profit-above-all-else Milton Friedman model of economics was most likely the underlying blueprint for the breakdown of current society.
In the next 20 or 30 years, many of the jobs that provided people with stability will also disappear as more roles and positions will be mechanised and replaced with robots and AI. The former corporate model of employees working from 9-5 in a company office will no longer be relevant in the near future as more roles become flexible and virtualised so that people can work from anywhere in the world. It is also entirely possible that people will work less, and focus more on education, self-improvement and research.
During the first industrial revolution, people worked for 12 hours a day, from early dawn to midnight, often under harsh conditions. Children and women also worked in factories all day and it wasn’t until Queen Victoria in the UK mandated that all children be allowed to have an education that put an end to child labour. The US followed some 100 years later until child labour was eradicated in America. The new corporate model took place, adopting the 8 hour sleep + 8 hour rest + 8 hour work day or the 9-5 which was first articulated by British social reformer Robert Owen, then later adopted by the American entrepreneur Henry Ford. In this model of work, equal time was given to sleep, work and rest. However, more and more, we are beginning to see the flaws of this workday, in which presence at a corporate office is often unnecessary and not conducive to productivity.
Our current educational model is dependent on an industrial factory model of thinking, in which stresses a correct answer in multiple choice format, mimicking factory workers who are told what to do. Post-scarcity, design thinking or a creative problem solving process will become more commonplace in which many industries will be replaced by AI and design thinking will be necessary in many sectors such as medicine, genetics, science, technology and education which require constant innovation.
Despite that in the post WWII era, working long and hard hours signalled virtue in society, in contemporary society, more people are adopting the “work smart” method in which long hours at the office are often seen as detrimental to one’s mental and psychological well-being. With the advent of burnout and the era of the “suicidal salaryman” in Japanese and American cultures, the negative side effects of working long hours have been recanted by popular writers such as Tim Ferris who promoted a 4-hour-work-week. Although a 4 hour work week is probably not attainable nor realistic for the vast majority of the population, this is something that could potentially take effect as we enter the 5th industrial era in which many jobs will be replaced by AI and robots.
As politicians and technology founders discuss the feasibility of UBI (universal basic income) in an era where most work will be automated, we have to consider how we can integrate the virtualisation of work into this model. What is the clear is that old model of education, based on the factory model of industrial production, stresses the importance of multiple choice tests within a closed set of answers is detrimental to design thinking, and moving forward, we must develop a new system of education that integrates creative problem solving processes.
Trend 5: Space as the Final Frontier: the Militarisation of Space
President Joe Biden finally did what no President had done before him, put an end to the debacle that was the Afghanistan War. Although this decision was entirely unpopular amongst many members of other national governments, including MPs in UK, who have staunchly criticised him, President Biden and his cabinet members had the foresight to see into the future to understand that the situation in Afghanistan would only progressively get worse.
“After 20 years I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.” -President Joe Biden
Despite the fact that the US spends the most on military technology and advancement, the simple fact is that wars are not often won with the most advanced technology. In the book, “Unrestricted Warfare” written by Chinese Military generals Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, they analyse the underlying weaknesses inherent in US military strategy. They compare the US to Soviet Era Russia in which the latter collapsed due to the military burdens that were too difficult to bear, and also the use of soldiers in mass formation, resulting in massive casualties. In addition, Chinese generals criticised Americans as “slaves to technology” in which spending vast amounts on the development of a single B2 bomber plane served as a penchant example.
“Americans have not been able to get their act together in this area. This is because proposing a new concept of weapons does not require relying on the springboard of new technology, it just demands lucid and incisive thinking. However, this is not a strong point for Americans, who are slaves to technology in their thinking...In 1982, the US Air Force estimated that it could produce 132 B-2s with an investment of $22 billion. However, eight years later, this money had only produced one B-2. Based on its value per unit weight, one B-2 is worth three times its weight in gold…” excerpt from "Unrestricted Warfare" by Qiao Liang & Wang Xiangsui
These astute Chinese generals also cite the Vietnam War and how the presence of US soldiers only led to more bloodshed and casualties, as the local population were dispersed and evaded detection, and by using roundabout tactics and asymmetrical warfare which only prolonged the war, despite the native group’s lack of access to advanced military weapons. Hence, these generals specify that the US strategy of possessing the most advanced weaponry often does not lead to favourable outcomes in wars with a population that can actively hide and evade, but would only serve to further deplete their resources in continual unending wars.
Furthermore, they analyse new concept weapons such as kinetic-energy weapons, directed energy weapons, subsonic weapons, geophysical weapons, meteorological weapons, solar energy weapons and gene weapons as ultimately replacing the battlefield of soldiers on the ground. And many of these new concept weapons can be controlled through satellites in space, which takes us to the 5th trend, the militarisation of space.
General Milley and Defense Secretary Austin at the recent Congressional hearings on Afghanistan held earlier this month Oct 2021, both carefully evaded answers and made no mention of the deal that had been presumably struck with the Taliban. Although the Biden Administration has been heavily criticised for prematurely removing all US troops from Afghanistan, in modern warfare, wars will be conducted entirely in space without the need for human soldiers on the ground, and the actions of the Biden administration prevented a much longer prolonged war that would have only led to more bloodshed. Photo by Stefani Reynolds, The NYTimes/Pool/AP.
The Afghan army trained by the US military abandoned all their bases without putting up a fight after the US troops evacuated, letting the Taliban take over without any weapons raised. However, the Afghan army previously had a history of doing the same thing consistently over the last 3 years and it is clear that after 20 years, the people of Afghanistan were simply tired of fighting each other. Secretary of State Blinken, General Milley and Defense Secretary Austin most likely all knew this would be the case, hence it was inevitable that the best method moving forward was to negotiate and work with the Taliban, and help shape its future in the transitory era before fossil fuels become obsolete. Photo by Anja Niedringhaus, AP.
Hundreds of birds found dead in Rome, 2021. Photo by a banned twitter user.
Millions of fish found floating dead in Redondo Beach, California, 2011. Using satellites in space, kinetic energy weapons and directed energy weapons can cause selective destruction on a particular species of animals, or even an entire population of people. Photo by Alex Gallardo, AP.
Geophysical and meteorological weapons have become more powerful and have led to a swift outcome than conventional wars with soldiers on the ground and has been labeled "warfare with no blood" despite civilian casualties. It has been extrapolated that the US miliary has been employing geophysical warfare since as early as 1967. However, the use of environmental modification techniques have caused many extreme weather conditions which have led to climate change. Photo from St. Louis Science Center.
The 2011 earthquake/tsunami duo crippled Japan’s economy, caused approximately $360 billion in damage and prevented Japan from mass production of its much anticipated hydrogen cell powered cars, in which they held all the patents. 4 years after the tsunami/earthquake, Japanese companies released all its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle patents to be free to use. As nanotechnology replaces the need for much of the world's resources, fossil fuels will no longer become the dominant energy source in the world. Photo by Kyodo News, AP.
It is clear that wars in the future will not be the traditional wars of past generations, of men in striking military attire, firing shots at the enemy, or even launching supersonic missiles. Instead, wars will be conducted entirely in space, using global positioning satellites in order to wreak environmental havoc on target groups, whilst drones, AI, robots and the use of nanotechnology could easily survey vast land areas without the need for soldiers on the ground.
However, the concept of war itself may become obsolete, such as scarcity itself. As global leaders position themselves to become the peacemakers in “the Diamond Age”, it is necessary to consider that wreaking widespread environmental havoc and the concomitant acceleration of climate change is parallel to the development of nuclear weapons, in which quickly becomes a zero sum game, where there will be no winners.
In a world where all the superpowers possess the same weapons of mass destruction, the only outcome of survival is collaboration, as aggressive actions will quickly lead to a zero sum game, in which no one wins. The militarisation of space must be a multi-national endeavour in order create environmental stability and preserve ecological harmony.
The old adage, “In order to secure peace, we must prepare for war” no longer applies in our brave new world. Instead, the militarisation of space must be a multi-national endeavour to create environmental stability, further research, preserve ecological harmony and to protect and build sustainable landscapes which will populate the earth with bountiful species and life instead of fast tracking our future towards a vast dystopian wasteland of toxic, radioactive and nuclear waste in which endless wars consume much of the population.
Currently, China has plans to become the foremost space power by 2045 and with the new development of the US Space Force, many analysts have commented that China and the US are already deeply engaged in a space race. The US Defense Space Agency also labeled China and Russia as the biggest operational threats to the US in space in June 2020.
However, with the Russia Federation as the Eurasian bridge to the world, this presents an unique opportunity for Russian leaders to act as the intermediary between the East and West and to collaborate with both China and the US in order to further explore space with the collaborative intent of procuring peace. Russia could be the nation that finally puts an end to the US-China superpower rivalry, and be the final peacemaker that promotes the new economics of ecological and environmental biodiversity into the Diamond Age.
By Sierra Choi