The impact of past decisions is frequently revealed by events in the present; mistakes and miscalculations often require time to “ripen.” When this happens, we suddenly discover how wrong we were and, if possible, try to repair the situation. Although there are those who see the future clearly, their concerns are considered opinions until “facts” emerge over time; many of us are suspicious of predictions about the future, and most of us are just plain unwilling to face the reality they portend.
Consider climate change, for example. Many articles in the 1970s focused on the dire risks of climate change if our growing dependence on fossil fuels did not change. With each passing decade, those predictions have been increasingly supported by scientific data, but our habits of consumption have not changed. In fact, human activity is generating more carbon dioxide than ever. It’s not like we weren’t warned about the effects of dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, but we too easily relegated climate change predictions to mere opinion, or, living in the moment, were unwilling to face their reality.
Looking back, and considering the massive fires of recent years, we can see that those who warned us about climate change were right. We wonder: what other correct predictions are we ignoring?
How about housing? Forty percent of the real estate in America is owned by baby boomers, now in their 70s. A recent article in Forbes magazine forecasts that over the next decade, half of the real estate owned by boomers will be sold, twenty percent of all the real estate owned in America. In the Bay Area, which includes the Sonoma Valley, their figure was twenty-two percent. While considering the current affordable housing shortage, is it possible that we are ignoring the likelihood of a massive sell-off during the next ten years, and its effect on vacancy rates and home values? How might that affect our regional housing plans?
Then there’s homelessness. Many aging baby boomers are not prepared for retirement, let alone serious illness or dementia; they are particularly vulnerable to rising rents and insolvency. Barring a sudden medical breakthrough, Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to affect tens of millions of boomers in the decades to come. Providing adequate facilities for the population of elderly homeless with dementia will be overwhelming. We can see it coming. The city and county are having difficulty coping with 3,000 homeless people right now; what type of plan and funding will be necessary to cope with 10,000?
What about transportation? The Bay Area’s roadways are already jammed during rush hour, and for many other hours of the day. Adding more lanes offers only limited relief. Although mass transit systems like SMART and BART have been created, they too are often jammed with passengers or suffering breakdowns. Perhaps an evolving job economy will reduce the need for commuting, but that future looks very little like today. Are we asking the right questions about the future and what’s to come, or will we end up mouthing “coulda, woulda, shoulda” a decade or two from now?
Health system dysfunction, job loss due to automation, the collapse of “brick and mortar” retail, disinformation campaigns, corruption of politics…the list of looming problems goes on and on, and so does our collective denial. We can be sure of one prediction, however; when it comes to future challenges, we can see many of them coming and our regional leaders had better prepare. We call that 2020 foresight.
Sun Editorial Board