Earth Day Manifesto: Education. Empathy. Togetherness. Tenacity.

By Jennifer L. Jacobson

We are on one planet. We can no longer afford to look away. The world is changing and we are changing the world at a radical pace. Climate change, social disruption, machine automation, economic upheaval, war, and the takeover of politics as we know it are here, and they are getting harder and harder to ignore.

But what can you do? If you’re not one of the super-rich individuals out there, you’re probably busy working on your education, your career, feeding your family, serving your country or community, or trying to find your place in the world. Who has time to address these very real problems this planet is facing? You do. You have to make the time. You have to educate yourself at the very least.

Throwing up our hands and giving up, or burying our heads in the sand won’t save us, and here’s why; The trajectory of this change is radical and it is happening on multiple fronts at once, and all of these fronts intersect.

WHAT’S CHANGING?

Politics: We’re seeing an uprising of distrust of politics and a demand for new leadership and even new systems of government that look after people’s interests. Populations have access to information like never before, and are able to create uprising and destabilize systems that, until now, have catered largely to the rich and powerful.

Technology: We’re witnessing massive change that would have been virtually unimaginable a hundred years ago. Big data, machine learning, automation–we have the technology to do great things but our laws and economic systems have no way to ensure that we won’t tip the scale when we displace millions of people from their jobs. This technology has the ability to make people’s lives easier, but we have few structures in place to ensure that it won’t be monopolized or displace people’s careers and lifestyles, leaving them with at ground zero in their careers and resetting their lives when they should be able to retire.

Economics: The displacement that has been taking place since the industrial revolution is reaching a tipping point in which the “average person” won’t be needed in the workforce. Yet, most governments are unable to envision futures for the unemployable-jobless. These people will need stability that is not based on the economic value they can provide; a living wage, and the concept of a person having “value” without a monetary attachment.

Jobs & Careers: What would you say to a teenager, choosing a career path and college? It’s no longer enough to just “do your best,” when your job could be automated out-of-existence in a heartbeat. If you think you’re the exception and that machines aren’t coming for your job, you’re probably wrong. Unless you have an extremely creative job, or one that computers can’t figure out in the next 50 years, your entire way of life is on the chopping block. Saying you’ll evolve and figure it out when you get there isn’t enough. Because that’s what everyone else is thinking. When there are eventually billions of people on the planet, who have no way to support themselves, all across the globe, we’re going to witness a social upheaval on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Books, Movies, Music: We read our books on devices. We consume our media on devices. We trust that mega-corporations won’t one day decide to change this content, without our knowledge. Will the systems in place stop this from happening? Can they? What’s to stop companies from slowly changing the language in important books of literature? What’s to stop companies from deciding what you can and can’t find? What’s to stop companies from aggregating your social media feeds to manipulate your state of feelings to do more than just “buy something,” but to “do something?” And when does this eventually change who you are? We are already being manipulated and we hardly realize it or have time to care.

The News: It’s easy to whip the public into a frenzy. National disasters, violent acts, these things happen, and they should be reported. But how they are reported is critical to the mental health of a society. Rather than reporting “facts” in a way that explains what happened, news agencies are incentivized to get impressions, clicks, engagement. These things have nothing to do with how well something is perceived or communicated. So the most scandalous headlines win the day. The most alarming things get told in ways that will ensure follow up stories, book deals, media tours, and more. And governments stand by and fail to regulate the unbridled force of mass-capitalism as it tears apart news cycles, social media feeds, topics of conversations, neighborhoods, and countries.

So what does this all say about society? About “work?” About ourselves? About what we think it means to be successful? Could future humans exist without the need for cash, in careers where they provide non-monetary value?

A SHIFT IN THINKING

We are at an awkward place for humans. We came out of the industrial revolution, and we have access to commodities like never before, but we don’t yet have the Star Trek replicator. We want to let machines do the mundane jobs, and we want to have more time to have fun and explore the world outside of a job, but we have no system in place that allows for people to just “be” and let machines do all the mundane work. Consider if our future could be like Star Trek where society has unlimited access to “things” and our value is based on our interpersonal skills, engineering, and understanding of the world. Something like that kind of world is possible, but what got us this far, won’t get us to that future.

Scientists agree we have about 12 years to figure out and take drastic action on climate change, yet there are still plenty of news cycles that would rather rearrange the furniture on the deck of the Titanic than look impending doom in the eye and work together to solve the problems we’re already facing.

TAKING ACTION

What got humanity this far is not going to get us the rest of the way. We need to educate ourselves and each other. We need to work together. We need to understand and question the systems that are in place. Unchecked capitalism will not save us. Unchecked power and governments will not save us. There is no planet B where we can all live. No one is coming to save us but ourselves.

Please do your part and educate yourself. Talk to your family, friends, colleagues. Don’t just resist; organize and replace old systems that drive us into the ground, with better systems that lift us all up, together. Each of us deserves a future. Our planet deserves a future. We are all on this rock in space together. What are you doing to make sure we don’t just survive, but thrive?

Jennifer L. Jacobson is the founder of Jacobson Communication.

Earth Day stock photo by pashabo/Shutterstock

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