30. 01. 2008

Future Leaders Survey 07/08

I was trying to think the other day what it felt like to be 18 – back in 1968. A spate of 40-year on retrospectives covering the Paris riots and other events at that time have stimulated all sorts of dubious attempts on my part to re-capture the mood and the moments of that time. It was certainly bracing, and, for me at least, my first serious brush with radical politics – though a couple of rather well-behaved protests was about as far as it got in my case.

There would appear to be no such ‘new dawn’ mirages shimmering in front of today’s 18-year olds. The idea that students might take to the streets in their thousands, let alone engage in running battles with riot police for days on end, must be a completely alien notion.

But it was still very reassuring to see some serious anger bubbling through in the responses of the 25,000 university applicants to the second Future Leaders Survey – coordinated jointly by Forum for the Future and UCAS, and sponsored by Friends Provident. Bombarded as they now are on all sides, by uncompromising rhetoric about the likelihood of climate-induced meltdown, the inadequacy of the political response must appear breath-taking as far as they’re concerned. Whilst the majority of them would appeared to have resisted a collapse into apocalyptic despair (84% think it likely or very likely that human civilisation will last another century), their residual optimism is based on the prospect of radical change commensurate with the scale of today’s converging crises. And of that there is little sign, and that’s the source of their anger against politicians.

Surprisingly, there is also growing awareness that the cornucopian bonanza enjoyed by their parents’ generation may in fact be coming to an end – with 86% supporting the idea that material consumption must be reduced, and more than 50% subscribing to the heretical premise that economic growth should no longer be the government’s top priority.

Mind you, that kind of high-level response needs to be tempered by some of the specific responses. Perhaps not surprisingly, only 16% expect to avoid taking a flight that they would have taken otherwise for environmental reasons (happily, that is at least up on a 10% response last year!), whilst 82% are mustard-keen to get out there and visit as many exotic places as possible “before they disappear”!

Mind you, such ambivalence seems perfectly reasonable – especially given the fact that my generation probably wouldn’t muster anywhere near a 16% response to the same question!

But will the anger grow? What needs to happen to convert these reasonable plugged-in, compassionate people into cobble-stone heaving insurgents? Forty years ago, in 1968, the end of the world (for human civilisation at least) wasn’t even on the agenda – the greed, injustice and war-mongering oppressiveness of capitalism was quite sufficient.

Add eco-meltdown to that list (the rest of which has hardly gone away after all!), and who knows when that will create some kind of tipping point in gathering anger amongst the young.

For more information visit www.futureleaderssurvey0708.org.uk

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Comments

31. 01. 2008
elizabeth

Do you seriously want our 18 year olds to be"cobble-stone heaving insurgents"? Haven't we enough problems with violence in the world? It's all very well to feel angry about the situation but infantile, violent tantrums are surely not the answer?

01. 02. 2008
Erik

As one of the students who took part in this survey, I find it interesting how you turn these results into your socialistic/anarchistic/who-knows-what-crapic propaganda. Quite sick actually. My (idealistic) hope is that these surveys might replace riots, not induce them.

02. 02. 2008
Stuart Singleton-White

Well stone throwing on the street would be one way, though like the 60’s when you were 18 Jonathon, I am not sure it will get us very far in the grand scheme of things. I was 18 in the early 80’s and had to put up with Thatcher and her promotion of greed. Despite the riots and the miners strike her philosophy still seems to govern the thinking of the two man parties today. Worryingly, this new younger cabinet seems even more enthral to the neo-liberal economic model which has done so much damage to the coherence of society and our environment. So violence on the streets doesn’t seem to work.

What might is to ensure these “future leaders” hold on to the anger inside and channel is to: well leadership. Let’s have a new generation of political leaders who are going to bring forward these radical programmes and offer real leadership, not the opinion polls, focus groups followers that appear to populate our political class at the moment. Democracy and engagement for the long term would be far better than short term policies and spin simply to get to the next flawed election.

27. 02. 2008
Ian B

"Forty years ago, in 1968, the end of the world (for human civilisation at least) wasn’t even on the agenda – the greed, injustice and war-mongering oppressiveness of capitalism was quite sufficient."

The level of deliberate blindness to reality required to write such a statement as that above boggles the mind. How can anybody not look back at the 20th century and see the greed, injustice and war mongering (and brimful mass graves) were the consequence of the great collectivist ideologies- Communism, Fascism and National Socialism?

"economic growth should no longer be the government’s top priority."

You seem to totally misunderstand the economy, Jonathon. Growth is a *natural consequence* or progress. One simplistic but useful way of looking at it is this; progress and innovation lead to greater efficiency. Goods can be produced by fewer workers. There is a natural tendency, obviously, for businesses to seek to improve their efficiency, and new production methods, new technologies, drive this.

A new production line, a new machine, a new material, and so on. Thus, people are made unemployed by progress. This frees them up to make more stuff. If they don't go and make more stuff, they're unemployed. So, if you have progress, workers are freed to make more stuff, and the economy naturally grows. If the economy fails to grow, it means those workers are hanging around unemployed, and obviously that's disastrous.

Look at agriculture- not so long ago the majority of people were employed in it. Thanks to progress, very few now are, and vastly more food is produced. Those agricultural workers started producing other stuff.

So, the only way to stop economic growth (in any society which has not reached some endpoint with nothing new left to discover or invent) would be to rigidly prevent progress. Not only no new inventions (and that would mean no improvements in solar panels or wind generators either) but no organisational improvements either. That means an utterly rigid command economy with innovation in all things entirely verboten. It means no freedom for any business to hire, fire, change wage levels or reorganise their business in any way. That's fascism.

No doubt that would seem dandy to writers who live off government money and whizz from conference to conference lecturing everybody about reducing their carbon footprints. Not so dandy for the rest of us, though.

05. 08. 2008
Dave Hampton

Hi Jonathon,

Well unlike the four other comments above, I agree with you.

Are the four other commenters blissfully unaware of the verbal violence they employ in their own peace-less opposition to what you were saying?

I enjoyed your 'call to responsibility'

As I write this, several MPs now feeling they have to 'lie down in front of the metaphorical bulldozers' at Climate Camp to try to point out the madness of building another 'plant' to convert priceless fuel into expensive lethal pollution, at the point in history we face dwindling fossil reserves and choking to death on our own CO2 pollution.

It does strike me a bit more active participation from homo sapiens, and that our active involvement in our own mutually assisted suicide would be good thing.

There are still a few things in the world where anger is exactly the right response: child abuse, for example, or maybe unjust war, or other inhumanity...

... and climate change.

Peaceful is good, and so too sometimes can be anger.

After all, its my kids lives on the line here?

the carbon coach

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