First published in 2006 by Eden Projects Books, James Martin's weighty work has gained added relevance in the intervening years. These are extracts from Chapter 1: The Transition Generation.
‘This could be either humanity’s last century or the century that sets the world on a course towards a spectacular future.
‘Formidable problems confront us, but this is a book about solutions – many solutions. With these solutions, we will bring about a change in course, a great 21st century transition...A drastic change is needed in the first half of the 21st century to set the stage for extraordinary events in the rest of the century.
‘This interconnected set of problems has an interconnected set of solutions
‘In light of rapidly advancing technology...sustainability is not enough. We need to be concerned with survivability.
‘Today’s young people will be the generation that brings about this great transition...They are the Transition Generation. It is vital that they – all of them – understand the 21C Transition, so that they can understand the critical role they will play. For many, understanding the meaning of the 21st century will give meaning to their own lives.
‘Solutions exist, or can exist, to most of the serious problems of the 21st century. The bad news is that the most powerful people today have little understanding of the solutions and little incentive to apply them.
‘There are about a hundred momentum trends that can help us understand aspects of the future....Together, these high momentum trends form a skeleton of the future
‘To map the world in terms of trends having unstoppable momentum suggests a substantial level of predictability, but even among prediction trends, major surprises occur suddenly.’
‘A message that turns up repeatedly in this book is that we’d better listen to the scientists.’
‘I use the term leverage factor to refer to relatively small and politically achievable actions...that can have powerful results...here’s one dramatic example. When women in poor countries are taught to read – a relatively easy and inexpensive project – they tend to have fewer children.
‘To address the many difficult problems...we need to identify effective leverage factors.
‘We need to separate in our minds the momentum trends and leverage factors from the overwhelming noise of smaller issues. By identifying them we can think about how to make the future better. There is an enormous amount that can be done to transform the journey ahead.
‘There can be new lifestyles of the grandest quality that heal rather than harm our global ecosystem... To avoid wreaking havoc around the planet, we need eco-affluence to be globally fashionable.
‘The future will be characterised by raid growths in knowledge and in new techniques for putting knowledge to work.
‘An important statement is that the world’s increase in wealth will be way much greater than its increase in population.
‘Part of the 21C Transition is a change in civilisations – different types of changes in different cultures.
‘What principles are right for the 21st century, when so much will change?
‘Society needs visions of a better future. We need a broader vision of the future’s diverse possibilities.
‘The 21st century presents an extreme dichotomy. In the stronger countries, it will be a time of great increase in wealth and a massive increase in what humans can achieve. In the weaker countries...many are actually destitute nations, or failed nations not developing nations...
‘We can ask: What is the right thing to do? Or can we ask: What is the most likely thing to happen?
[The right thing]: ‘there are clear fundamental answers. End poverty. Eliminate disease and squalor. Educate children. Teach women to read. In short, clear up the mess... This is not an impractical deal. It does not need a large amount of financial aid; it needs basic know-how put into place along with low-cost actions. The cost to the rich nations would barely be noticed.
[For destitute nations/most likely to happen]..the answer is an inexorable spiral into worsening conditions.
A SICK PLANET
‘The most dangerous consequence of our activities may be that we upset the way our planet regulates itself.
‘At present, this totally isolated blue planet is in a period of natural warming. The Sun is slightly hotter than usual. It is bad luck that this is the time when human civilisation is causing artificial warming.
‘New energy technologies that will lessen damage to the climate are vital; technologies that facilitate the spread of weapons of ever more mass destruction should be stopped if possible.
‘This is the first century since our caveman days in which Homo sapiens could be terminated. Even if homo sapiens survive, civilisation may not.
‘The main theme of this book is an idea that should be taught and talked about everywhere: that the 21st century in unique in human history in that it will produce a great change which will enable humanity to survive.’
WHO IS JAMES MARTIN?
'Since 2005, Martin has donated $150m to the University of Oxford to set up a school to study the problems of the 21st century...He says that during his extensive travelling he had seen remarkable changes in the world – not all for the good. "I was getting more and more concerned about the problems of the planet," he explains. He began to make a mental list of all the subjects that needed in-depth study.
'The school now has 30 "institutes", composed of teams of about eight academics, each led by a professor. The subject of each institute can be divided into four broad categories: health and medicine, energy and environment, technology and society and ethics and governance. A key feature of the school is the multidisciplinary nature of its activities and each institute head is encouraged to find out about what other institutes are doing in order to stimulate the cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques.... The overriding stipulation is that their work should have direct, practical bearing on the problems facing humanity in the 21st century.
'He wanted to find the meaning of the 21st century, to discover what humanity needs to do to pull it through the coming bottleneck of problems caused by the "perfect storm" of population growth, climate change and shortages of food, water and resources.
'He set about re-inventing himself, writing a book that would become a manifesto for his philosophy. The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future was published in 2006, a year after the initial launch of his school in Oxford. For Martin, the 21st century represented the point in human history when all the greatest problems will converge together, like a fast-flowing river flowing through a constriction in a deep canyon. He believed that the world will need to tap the intellectual resources of the best minds if we are to survive the coming transition.'
[Extracts from The $100 man:Why philanthropist James Martin gave away his fortune [The Independent/15th January 2011]