It’s New Years Day, 2020.
This year has long been coming, in the back of my head, looming like an oncoming train, and to find it here it a little… odd.
Unlike other years, except perhaps 1999 (thanks to Prince) and 2000 (due to the Y2K bug), 2020 was prefaced in my life by the awareness that this is a year that I should keep an eye out for. This is… not an end-point, precisely, but a moment of warning, or of payout, depending on how humans as a whole have acted.
When I was in high school, which seems like it was an era past now, we were at one point given a student workbook called Australia 2020. Written by Graeme Scott and Peter Cock on 1983, illustrated by the notable cartoonist Stuart Roth, it was an interesting and thought-provoking document. Very briefly, it attempted to act as a forecasting device for how Australia as a nation could turn out in 2020 if the bulk of our population made the same, or similar, choices on a range of subjects such as housing, immigration and emigration, luxury items, children and so on.
I wasn’t given this booklet in 1983. I’d have been seven years old. It must have been five or six years after that. So while the original target audience would have been looking through a lens of 37 years, mine would have been more like 31 – still an impossibly long time for a young kid.
Once the choices were made the student tallied their score and checked the back of the booklet for the two-page spread of their possible future. Kind of like a societal Choose Your Own Adventure book.
There is no way, of course, that such a booklet could take into account the changes wrought in the 37-year span since its creation. Nor did it take into account events within the rest of the world (or, at least, the edition I was given did not), but its message was clear: Australia has a lot of futures, and all of them are dependent upon the decisions we make, or fail to make.
I remember that most of the time I got the same future: one in which there’s little to no unemployment, few to no cars, plenty of bush, very high environmental awareness, and a painfully dwindling population.
Lots of nature, not many people. Sounds like me. I think that was Future 2.
There were worse futures in there, too. Ones in which there were staggeringly long lines of people on welfare payments, little or no nature, buildings everywhere, rich folks in cars about to unthinkingly mow down aforementioned unemployed people (and how prophetic is that?) and so on. Most fell somewhere in the middle, futures of mediocrity that vary only in things like birth rates and the ratio of bush to buildings.
While some of the lowest number futures were arguably no better for our long-term future than the higher numbered ones, for the most part the healthiest options started low. Future 4 seemed best to me, if I recall correctly, as it was more or less the same as the one I habitually got, with only minimal differences and a stable population.
One particularly lurid future, right at the back, couldn’t be attained using the point scoring system. It was a scare tactic, an apocalyptic wasteland with nuclear explosions going off in the future, almost nothing living except a man in the foreground running for his life and a tank prowling the broken streets between shells of buildings.
Nowadays I look around and I wonder which future we got. It’s not one of the lower-number futures, that’s for sure.
Urban creep, drought, unemployment and wealth disparity are long-standing issues. Now we have parts of the nation burning on a horrifying scale, with nine confirmed dead within the first (and by no means most dangerous) month of our summer. The smoke from our fires aren’t just wreathing our cities – they’re reaching New Zealand.
I won’t get too political. I could, but I won’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because this isn’t about that.
My point is that I had a wide selection of future places in front of me when I was small.
“Choose carefully,” I was told, “because your choices in life do have consequences, and not just for you. These choices shape our future, because you are our future, and in 2020 we’ll see how things are travelling.”
I think there were, perhaps, not many workbooks in the 80s that aimed to sample possible 2020s and to provide them in such a way to students. Globally, I mean. I don’t know if Australia was unique in that regard but I think what we did wasn’t that common.
And yet, even though I was given warning, I don’t feel warned.
“This wasn’t an option I saw,” I can’t help but think, as the back of my mind flicks through the things I might need if the watch-and-act fires to our north grow and spread.
Welcome to the new Roaring 20s.
Happy New Year.