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Will we sleep for 17 years?

May 29, 2013

The noisy return of the cicadas got us thinking. These insects that are making news these days have lived underground for 17 long years, emerging for only a portion of one short summer to mate and start their kind’s unusual lifecycle all over. The next generation of these cicadas won’t emerge again until 2030.

What if, like these cicadas, or if you prefer like Rip van Winkle, we all closed our eyes (thinking it would be just for a moment) only to sleep for 17 years before awakening into the world again? What kind of world would we find in 2030—what kind of society, what kind of natural environment, what kinds of lifestyles would we see? It’s pretty much guaranteed that the 2030 world won’t be just like ours today.

By 2025, human beings will have developed half of the earth’s landmass by changing it into cities and farms. (By 2060, that number will have climbed to 70% of the landmass.) Climate change? No one knows for sure what consequences we will pay for climate change. But even as we already experience more severe storms as well as too much rain in some places and not enough in others, we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with abandon. Just this month the planet passed an ominous threshold for carbon, reaching 400 parts per billion (ppb) in the atmosphere, well beyond the internationally agreed upon 350 ppb that already put us in the danger zone. Will we have developed enough alternate energy sources by 2030 to offset our insatiable demand for more and more energy? And what about water, food security and dwindling essential resources?

A lot can happen in 17 years—for good or for ill—and if we want to shape a good future for ourselves in the face of difficult challenges, we should have a vision and develop a plan for where we are going and what steps we require to get there. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s little evidence that relying on government or on the boom and bust of the marketplace is going to fix these problems. That leaves our future up to us.

In our opinion, what is needed is a people’s movement to meet the challenges that lie ahead, people working to create strong, resilient local communities. Let’s start with our own Upper Delaware River Valley. First, what do we mean by “a good future?” What do we want our lives to be like in 2030, based on the constraints we anticipate in the decades ahead? Creating a vision of what we want our communities to be in 17 years, requires a community.