The world did not end on December 21, 2012 and the country averted the so-called fiscal cliff. But perhaps the end of the Mayan cycle does symbolize change: the world has been on an unsustainable path and the direction is shifting.
Politically, the US is becoming more progressive. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are both larger than life Presidents, disliked by their opponents but pragmatic. Each compromised – Republicans forget the types of compromises Reagan made during his term – but focused on shifting the country’s direction. Reagan succeeded – for thirty years taxes have been going down and the debt has been going up. The growth in social welfare projects was halted, while social conservatism grew.
Those days are over. With states rapidly approving gay marriage, drug laws shifting (remember the vindictive nineties when Newt Gingrich was advocating the death penalty for even selling pot?), and the internet creating a more open and tolerant public, the culture wars are over. The social conservatives lost. A new generation is emerging less repressed, less convinced by social conventions, more willing to experiment and be open.
With the fiscal cliff deal people accept that tax reform is necessary to bring more revenue and stop living beyond our means. The only reason the debt’s gone up under Obama is the recession — something he didn’t create. Recessions radically increase the cost of government programs, decrease tax revenues and require spending to stimulate the economy. But Obama has signaled structural reform that will turn around the budget mess, even if the results won’t be clear until the economy is growing.
Until recently concern about global warming was losing support in public polls. That’s turned around. Things like Sandy, droughts, and historically high temperatures are convincing the public this is an issue. A generation of children are coming of age who learned environmentalism and science in the schools. Environmental activism is becoming cool again.
Beyond that the fossil fuel era is ending. Despite promising finds of natural gas and tar sands, global consumption has been rising fast and new finds will not be enough — though they make the transition easier if we are proactive. Saudi Arabia is past its peak and likely to become an oil importer by 2030. Right now the recession has kept oil prices low, but even with the world in the economic doldrums oil is near $100 a barrel. If growth returns, oil prices will rise dramatically.
Luckily, led by the EU, the rise of green technology is dramatic. Still, higher energy costs will force a shift in life styles. I doubt it will be the collapse predicted by some, but the days of cheap energy are ending.
The biggest shift is in technology. Social media and the internet started a revolution in the Arab world that will take years to play itself out. Those who think this is bad – or could have been prevented – are sorely mistaken. The regimes relying on fear and bureaucratic control are going to find that people are becoming informed and empowered, able to rise up. This started back in 1989 with the fall of Communism in Europe, but will grow and spread.
Even in Africa, where a genocide in 1994 and numerous wars involving some of the worst atrocities of recent history went unnoticed, a new activism is emerging. Though Kony 2012 faded, the connections people are making across borders make it likely that over the next few decades the African continent will have a rebirth. They own many of the scarce resources that the rest of the world needs; corrupt dictators are starting to fall.
Old political notions of sovereignty, national self-interest, and fear based policies are slowly giving way to interdependence, shared interests and hope. The world is waking up, change is coming. It will not be easy, there may be decades of instability and uncertainty before we see a better reality. But a new world is coming.
The biggest barrier to peaceful change are those who cling to old ways of thinking – fear, anger, greed, self-interest at the expense of others, and a ‘them vs. us’ mentality. The old mentality will not work in the world that’s emerging, and following the path of fear will yield crisis and conflict. But change is coming, yesterday has past, now let’s all start living for the one that’s going to last.