We Fail at Avoiding ‘Preparation to Fight the Last War’
We have been struggling as a species to adapt our society to new threats coming down the pike. We have no problem adapting to old threats — witness the entire archaic Cold War, the fascination with military buildup for negligible or non-existent threats, or the Strategic Defense Initiative. Yet when it comes to identifying new threats and taking meaningful action against them, we fall woefully short — witness climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation overall.
Response to an old threat is comfortable. We know how to deal with the spread of hostile ideologies, aggressive nations, and overt military takeovers. We are fortunate here in the U.S. to have the resources to dedicate to the largest military the world has ever known without degrading our way of life — although that’s arguable from a few aspects, our neglected infrastructure and poverty level among them.
Other countries are not so fortunate. North Korea, for example, has to dedicate so much of its resources to prevent the perceived threat of being invaded that it periodically goes into famine, and has one of the lowest standards of living in the world.
So even though the U.S. is comfortable funding the Strategic Defense Initiative, and North Korea is comfortable funding atomic testing, neither of those may be in the best interest of the populace. But that’s where we’re at.
Response to a new threat is uncomfortable. A threat that hasn’t yet reached up to bite you has less credibility than one that has. That’s human nature. And because of human nature, the threats mentioned above have generated an entire (older) generation of deniers.
We are weak at envisioning the future, so climate change is an abstraction. We are weak at envisioning things we’ve never experienced, so running out of oil or fresh water is inconceivable. We are weak at perceiving cause-and-effect relationships, so the notion that deforestation could cause terrorism appears to be fantasy.
Yet all of these things are happening.
The Effectiveness of Generational Change
Warning: This is going to be unflattering to a lot of people. You may be one of them.
We are now at a ‘clash of civilizations’ point within our own society.
The clash is that the older generation still cares about issues that the younger generation considers to have already been resolved. And as more of them enter the age of political cognizance, they expect the resolution to be true, and they will react if that isn’t the case.
Much of the strategy of the deniers depends on the notion that the younger generation doesn’t care and won’t respond, but that’s been proven to be incorrect time and time again.
There is a quote–attributed to Gandhi (but that may be in question)–that goes something like this:
First they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight you
Then you win
There are number of variants, but this one captures the situation well. We are in the final stages of fighting over climate change, resource depletion, and the like. The older generation is clinging to a comfortable worldview that doesn’t acknowledge any of these things. The younger generation is learning the truth about modern threats, and is slowly but surely mobilizing to confront them. And they deserve our support.
To Save the World, Educate the Children
So in the bottom line, if you are an educator in any capacity–school, church, emergency management professional, community organizer, or whatever–it’s important for you to recognize that real, society-saving, world-rescue change will occur due to the education of the children.
Humbly presented for your consideration is a rather remarkable contribution from NASA. Use it well. The good deed you do for the world will be greater than you ever know.