Things will never “get back to normal.” Things will always change. Things must always change. And, we should expect change to continue to accelerate. Our world should be expected to be in such dynamic flux that thinking in terms of “normal” will be counterproductive and dangerous. People who prefer to fantasize about returning to how things used to be are in for a hard time.
For instance, while some were denying climate change, others were deceiving themselves into thinking that we might head-off dramatic weather alterations by making strong efforts such as setting limits on our carbon emissions. Both groups are deluding themselves. It is too late to return to “normal” weather. Warming is already releasing trapped methane from previously-frozen hydrate deposits, which will further-accelerate warming. The sooner we accept inevitable change, the better we will cope with the necessity to adapt.
For another example, while some were crowing about “American exceptionalism,” others were deceiving themselves into thinking that the United States might retain its status as the “leader of the free world,” the “world’s policeman,” and the uniquely unimpeachable superpower. Both groups are deluding themselves. As globalization proceeds, vast populations will escape endemic poverty. The Internet will give billions of people new access to unbounded knowledge. These peoples will work very hard to better their condition and participate in the broader economic and political systems.
Fortunately, humans are a profoundly-adaptable species. We will continue to seek and create new materials technology, energy sources, transportation infrastructure, food production systems and more. Our biggest problems won’t be a lack of technology or creative resources. We will have to fight hardest against entrenched economic and political interests. These interests are deeply invested in existing properties, businesses, and organizations. They will use their power to resist necessary change.
Imagine discovering that you own huge deposits of carbon fuel when burning oil and coal becomes obsolete. Imaging owning vast swaths of urban and agriculture property that becomes useless due to rising seas or disappearing rivers. Imagine being invested in drugs, medical devices, and hospitals when people start becoming healthier. Businesses without farsighted leadership will fail to invest in change. Instead, they will consume themselves in trying to double-down on strategies that no longer make sense.
Adapting to the challenges of our future will require more than developing new technologies. It will be necessary to change broadly-held beliefs about how things should be and what should be done. Will the barren American desert Southwest migrate to Canada, leaving parched mesas and former river plains to be transformed into energy collection zones? Should our trucking industry, burgeoning suburbs, and interstate highway systems be deliberately abandoned in favor of carefully-designed urban areas and high-speed long-distance transport tubes?
We need to escape the existential trap of expecting any return to the comforts of our former abundant and wasteful normals. Old normals will become the exclusive guilty indulgences of the very wealthy. For everyone else, such unsustainable consumption by these elites will become unachievable, undesirable, unthinkable, and intolerable. If we do not plan for change, change will undo our plans.