The defining challenge of our generation is how we continue to develop without wrecking the planet. This is a huge task. In 2050, when we – or our children – look back on the kind of world that we have shaped over our lifetime and bequeathed to those who follow us, what will we see?
In many ways, we are living in a golden age. Millions of families around the world have made a ‘great escape’ from poverty. Life expectancy is increasing, diseases such as malaria and measles are retreating, and more children are in school than ever before. And the number of children who die each day has halved since 1990: that’s 17,000 more children, every single day, who will now live to realise their potential.
But this golden age does not yet extend to everyone. A billion people remain trapped at the bottom, predominantly in the world’s war zones and ungoverned spaces, where the ascent out of poverty is harder than ever. That climb remains perilous and precarious, and large numbers of those who have recently made this ascent remain vulnerable: one slip or crisis can plunge them back into poverty.
Most fundamentally, the future extension of this golden age – to our children and grandchildren’s generation – cannot be taken for granted. This is because of a paradox: in our current model, the more we succeed in economic development, the more we fail on environmental sustainability. The earth’s life support systems are now being stretched to breaking point. We are in fact in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in the earth’s history – the first to be caused by a single species.
We are also aware that shortages in key resources – such as water or food – are often exacerbated by disparities in purchasing power and political power. This growing inequality means many of us are using far more than our fair share of water, land, energy and other resources, sometimes pricing poor people out of the market for these essential goods.
We believe that the present golden age can be extended to everyone, and to future generations. But our present path will not take us there: instead, it will lead ultimately to the collapse of planet earth’s life support systems with countries and communities fragmenting. Unless we change course, we will undo all that people across the world have worked so hard to achieve.
An African century
By the end of this century, the world’s population will have grown by another 4 billion – 3 billion of whom will be African. Africa accounts for 16% of the world population now but will make up almost half of the world population by 2100. 13 of the biggest 20 cities in the world will be in Africa, with the three largest world cities all being African.
Regardless of the way Africa develops during this century, boom or bust, we are fated to greatly impact the globe purely by virtue of our demographic size and youthful energy.
If nothing changes or Africa’s economic and environmental difficulties get worse, Africa could become a dystopian nightmare with billions of people living in the largest slums ever imagined, without dignified work, all struggling to feed themselves as the land and ecosystem they rely on collapses.
However, another, more positive, scenario is that our generation is able to find the vision and courage to build the foundations for a restored African economy that will allow our children to reap the benefits of prosperity and a healthy planet.
The Kairos moment we are in to discern and implement a genuinely Godly African economic model will be short – Africa’s economies are already growing quickly. We must act before Chinese or Western capitalism, both actively seeking African influence, embed new colonial systems. We must also act before climate change exceeds the 1.5 degrees Centigrade that could undermine many of the earth’s ecosystems. We probably have less than a decade to lay foundations and start to see real change.
However, if we are able to seize the moment and the narrative, a successful vision could pioneer the development of an entirely different type of economy, appropriate for Africa, good for people and good for the environment. An abundant Africa blessed with people, resources and a healthy environment could become a shining light to the nations and a visible sign of the glory of God manifest amongst us.
Africa is uniquely placed to become the first region of the world to build an environmentally sustainable economy whilst pulling its citizens out of poverty. If reaching this paradigm shift was possible, it could become a “city on a hill” ready to teach the world a new way of doing economics.