With Albert Bartlett claiming that Human Mankind's greatest weakness is its inability to understand the exponential function this is a particular relevant topic, as we have actually entered an 'Exponential Era'. Only most of us have not yet realised this for lack of perspectivity.
Scientists, however, have already proposed a new name for the Era we are in now. The Anthropocene. They also have proposed a starting date : 16 July 1945. Because an era must have a beginning that is physically measurable even centuries later. This is possible due to the unique radioactive particles released by the first atomic bomb test during the Manhattan project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. So If you are younger than 70, you are an Anthropocenite.
Indeed having visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki last week - nearly 70 years after the first use of nuclear bombs on cities - gives a deeper meaning to what exponentiality really means, by the momentous step change demonstrated on those warm August mornings (Aug 6th, 8:15 and & Aug 9th, 11:02) in 1945.
More relevant is the second condition to have a new Era : A material change in frame work conditions - relative to the previous state. It took countless millennia until 1840 for the world population to reach 1 billion. It only took 90 years to double to the 2 billion mark in 1930. The third billion took just 30 years. Since 1960 even this larger number has more than doubled. And with it, much more than merely population, but also resource use, environmental stresses, etc.
The often heard expression "Anything can happen in the future" is simply not true. Whilst not fixed, our destiny follows quite a predictable trajectory, determined essentially by structural drivers such as demographic, economic and educational developments. And by the choices we make for each of them. So "We can shape the future" is a true statement albeit within the scope of the physical realities of our evolving framework conditions.
Thus today we are educating our young for jobs that do not yet exist, in order to solve problem we are not yet even aware of. Only few seem to be aware of the exponential reality and we seem to think we can tackle 21st century challenges with 20th century education.
It is not a matter of the possible solutions lagging behind the rising challenges. It is "us" and in particular our systemic thinking ability, our absorption capacity for timely change and our cope-ability that will determine the course of our future history. The most important mission for our leaders (in politics, industry, universities, etc) is to succeed in communicating and educating society to build sufficient support to do the right things. And to do them right.
For now we are ill prepared and lack the Mindsight & Mindfulness to cope with the challenges that are accumulating simultaneously in all three pillars of our very civilisation : 1) with our financial/economic system in crisis, 2) with severe social tensions and 3) with such unprecedented ecological stresses that it ended the previous Era (the Holocene) and brought us into the Anthropocene. It made John Beddington - former UK Chief Scientist - say : "A 'perfect storm' is in the making".
When the road bends, smart drivers steer the curve. Is society ready to face the Paradigm Shift ? Or will we rather face the railings ? Whatever these consist of. Aren't there a few clearly non-regret choices we can make now ? Think ! Systemically !