A parent's hopes for 2030

What kind of world will our children be living in?

A father and son.
(Image credit: Illustrated | aarrows/iStock, arunromkaew/iStock)

Time goes fast.

When 2010 arrived, my son was barely more than a year old — tiny, dependent, the master of a few basic words, but still mostly the baby we'd welcomed into the world shortly before Barack Obama was elected president.

Now we're once again on the cusp of a new decade, and my baby has grown into an adolescent — tall, strong, stout, and smart, a lover of Akira Kurosawa samurai movies and Godzilla flicks, a budding Dungeons & Dragons gamer, verbally quick, funny, and sensitive. There is no longer any trace of baby, but plenty of hints as to the adult he might become.

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A decade from now, in 2030, he will be that adult. I expect the next 10 years to fly by, and be filled with change. As 2020 begins, I am thinking about the kind of world my son will encounter and experience as he takes control of his destiny. I worry for him, and for all the young people his age. We are leaving them a world and a country that, in many ways, seem in worse shape than how we found them. I dread the possibility that my son will live a poorer life than his parents or grandparents.

So I have several hopes for the world my son and his generation will inherit in 2030:

I hope we finally get serious about climate change. Australia is on fire right now; California has been and probably will be again. Polar ice is melting. The oceans are rising. The question is no longer whether we can stop climate change, but whether we're willing and able to do anything of consequence to slow it and mitigate its effects.

I'm not sure yet what a warming planet will mean for my son's life. I suspect it means he'll live in a world where nations and groups fight over diminishing resources like clean water and food, which means that the danger of climate change won't come just from raging fires and rising oceans, but from other humans competing for control over what's left.

So this isn't just some politically correct wish that a politically correct thing happens: I want my son — and all the children who will face the 2030s as adults — to live in a safer world than the one we are creating for them.

I hope America gets a handle on higher education: On average, tuition at four-year public colleges in America has risen by 37 percent over the last 10 years. That rise has been driven in large part by the abandonment of higher education by state legislatures in the aftermath of the Great Recession. At the same time, student debt reached an all-time record of $1.4 trillion in the first quarter of this year. The continued skyrocketing growth of costs and debts over the next decade will be unsustainable for many American families; I certainly don't think I can in good conscience encourage my son to take on the levels of student debt shouldered by his millennial predecessors.

Democratic proposals for free college, such as the plan put forward by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), sound pretty good to me. But honestly, I'd settle for state governments — particularly in rural states, like Kansas, where I live — understanding that the support of higher education is an investment in their own future. We Americans don't treat public K-12 education as a handout, but as a human right. It is probably time we made the same leap in attitudes with regard to post-high school education.

I hope my son's generation can safely gather in public. In just the last few years, mass shootings have created havoc and destroyed lives at schools, churches, country music concerts, big box stores, gamer gatherings, and other public spaces. Nowhere feels truly safe from an outbreak of gun violence.

"Guns are destroying community in America," I wrote last year. "They're making it impossible to be together, impossible to live together. It's time for the community, at long last, to take steps to truly protect itself." The alternative is that we all withdraw into our own social media bubbles, encountering each other only as digital avatars instead of as real people. That may be the safest thing to do, but it certainly isn't healthy. Somehow, we have to turn back the terrible tide of violence that plagues us, so that my son and his friends can live peaceably with each other.

The world is always going to be full of disagreements, large and small, about how to solve the challenges we face and the issues that divide us. We may not be fighting a civil war at the moment, but this era feels low and mean. So I hope, too, that my son's generation learns to vigorously seek justice — but to do so with big hearts and humility, recognizing our common humanity even with people who differ from us.

The world of 2030 won't build itself, of course. We are creating it now, you and I, even if our individual contributions don't seem to amount to much. So my final wish is that we build the kind of world we actually want our children to inherit. The future is coming faster than you think.

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Joel Mathis

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.