2020 is almost over. But as good as those words sound, that doesn’t mean 2021 is going to be a picnic. If 2020 was a ravaging wildfire (which, literally and figuratively, it was), 2021 will be all about the effort to bring life back from the ashes. 2020 has had the effect of forcing us to dial backwards in a lot of areas, many of which we really can’t afford to be dialing back. And although our 2020 problems are far from over, we need to think of 2021 as the year we need to start getting back on track. We need to dedicate ourselves to the job of #FixingTheFuture.
As an example, our need for pandemic-induced isolation and avoidance of reusables has curtailed our use of many environmentally friendly products. This might not sound like a big deal… to anyone who’s forgotten how much waste we were creating with disposable products from our favorite fast food places, grocery and department stores. Starbucks, which had embraced the idea of selling reusable cups and allowing customers to bring them in for refills, has gone back to disposable plastic cups in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among its workers and customers. Trader Joe’s supermarkets have also forbidden the bringing in of reusable bags for shopping, forcing consumers to take their purchases home in disposable bags. But that means a sizable increase in those waste products, reversing what was a positive trend for our environment.
Our restaurants, similarly denied the in-house dining customers that represent their livelihood, have also been forced to use more disposable containers for their growing number of take-out customers. Years of publicly cutting back on disposables have been reversed in a year. If we’re going to change our restaurant and takeout habits, we need to at least do them with the environment in mind and do them properly, with reusable and even permanent products that won’t soon fill our landfills.
We’ve also been witness to a growing distrust of technology and the things it can fix, including the recycling issue brought up above, and more to improve besides: Energy generation and storage technology, communications, research and development, transportation and environmental recovery. Technology is our second-best tool for fixing most of our problems (the first best tool being cooperation); we need to stop being afraid of how our tools can potentially be misused, and use those tools to our best advantage. STEM promotion must be heightened, and we must be sure to not let our children fall behind in general education.
In the area of security, personal and otherwise, we have a serious problem: Ineffective security and identification systems daily put us all at risk, from the smallest cellphone to the stoutest door to the largest government system, because we won’t improve our systems beyond easily-copied metal keys, easily cracked passwords and easily hacked plastic cards. The result is multiple security steps to protect our systems, creating multiple points of confusion and frustration to get into even our simplest apps. Biometrics are far more workable and secure systems, capable of offering 1-point security steps as secure as (and faster than) our current 2- or 3-factor security systems, and we should be applying them to all our security and privacy needs. That will require us to get over our collective distrust of new technologies and techniques (not to mention our movie-driven paranoia of thieves hacking off our fingers and poking out our eyes to get into badly-designed biometric locks) to properly secure our lives and property.
The past year has also shown us the fragility of many of our institutions, most notably our hospital and healthcare systems, which have proven wholly inadequate to handle real emergencies like the current pandemic. Our unemployment and business support systems, mostly government-run, are also demonstrably inadequate for seriously adverse circumstances. And we’re discovering the realities of working from home, what does and doesn’t work. We need to commit to improving and supporting these institutions according to their present needs, and strengthen them to be able to handle the pressures of modern life.
And as long as we’re speaking about government, 2020 has given us a President and Congress so intentionally and immorally divisive and corrupt, that they’ve split our country almost literally in half, leaving us with a distrusting attitude against our neighbors that at times seem insurmountable. And it has rolled back regulations designed to protect America’s workers, homes, common lands and environment. In one sense, they’ve brought out the hidden antagonisms on our streets, in our corporations and in our institutions that needed to be revealed; but at the same time, they’ve prevented us from working out these differences to a common good. These are affronts that must be reversed. Our social, political and institutional standards have been revealed to be archaic and regressing, and must be attacked and forced into being progressive forces again.
And that’s only internally. Externally, the government has lain with other governments with less than excellent human rights records, has suggested and encouraged war, and has squandered the reputation of this country with all others. We need to re-establish our heritage of being a nation others can trust, who stand united, free and ready to help make this world better.
And in order to present a unified nation to others, we need to re-establish it within ourselves. The deep-seated racism and hatred that has floated just beneath the surface of America has been brought fully to the top; and like an iceberg, has shown how much larger it is than anyone believed. The us-versus-them, uber-individualistic frontier mindset hasn’t served this country well over more than a century, and it’s time to embrace the idea that really built this country: Cooperation, brotherhood and mutual support.
2020 hasn’t been great; but if we don’t intervene, we will see a 2021 that won’t be any better. Truly we have a lot of work to do, to rebuild the country within and without, and to come back together as Americans to support a united nation and a better world. I say 2021 should be the year we dedicate ourselves to #FixingTheFuture. So let’s take this last week of 2020 to loosen up, gear up, take a deep breath and throw ourselves adamantly into making 2021 and the future better; dedicated to the knowledge that it must be done, and We Can Do It.