Sunday, April 25, 2010

Four years without freedom

The 25 June 2006 must have been about the date when I held my high school graduation in hand. Since this day I spent a year in a voluntary service and almost finished a three-year bachelor. I traveled, have lived in different countries, met a lot of new friends, used my time for education, leisure, work and did whatever things I could imagine.

The 25 June 2006 was also the day that the Israelian soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Palestinian terrorists. Gilad Shalit has my age. His freedom ended when my school handed me the passport to discover the world. He cannot pursue an education, work for a living, start a family. Palestinians use a mask of his face to push for their claims (see image) and he's been without contact to his family and friends for the last four years.

A lot of smart people have lost their faith over the Israel-Palestine conflict. It's been on the minds of politicians and citizens for decades, and it will probably stay for another few years.

But this young man deserves his life back.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The precarious society

Yesterday, the European Youth Forum (YFJ) invited young European citizens to a debate on the precarious working conditions for young people. The video that they spread before the event shows the urgency of action:

40% of young Europeans (15-24) are on a temporary work contract, 25% are at a risk of poverty, 20,6% are unemployed. And as they grow older, precariousness does not stop. College graduates spend years going from internship to internship. They are highly qualified, highly capable and highly productive. The college graduates among my friends are far away from a stable living environment. There are simply so many qualified graduates, that enterprises and public bodies can recruit them without paying. I picked this from a random European job website: "favourable consideration will be given to applicants who are eligible for funding via Erasmus or other programmes". In other words, please give us your knowledge, your enthusiasm and your working time...oh, and please get taxpayers to reimburse us the cost.

Even those who are firmly established in an enterprise cannot settle and start a family. They are dispatched to a particular city for six months, then dispatched again. In Düsseldorf, Germany, there is a new market in shared apartments for young business employees. With their signature on the contract, young employees also buy a network of like-minded young travelers - a new temporary family so to speak.

Is this the end of bourgeois civilization, if not everywhere then at least among university graduates? Are families now founded at age 40 instead of 30, or not at all any more? The futurist Matthias Horx suggests that young citizens have to accommodate these changes and take out the positive implications. He concedes that the job market is becoming more complex; citizens have to be flexible and react to the changes in demand as they occur. If demand arises for a wellness consultant, then citizens should specialize in this field. And re-specialize if demand falls again.

On the other hand, Horx believes that flexibility allows citizens a greater liberty and a more self-determined life. Work must not be the only factor of personal identification and satisfaction, he says. Temporary occupations allow citizens to refocus on themselves and on their own skills rather than the needs of their enterprise. Thus, saving money during working periods may allow a few months of reflection phase or training when a temporary contract has terminated. But not all young citizens have the possibility to save if they need to care for a family at the same time.

Certainly, a more flexible society also bears opportunities. Life in a shared apartment with young, highly qualified business employees will provide more contacts, more network and maybe more creativity and technology than a family home. But shouldn't the choice be left to young people themselves?

The audience at the New Energy Debate of the European Youth Forum answered that question with a resounding "yes!". In questions to Commissioner Maroš Ševčovič (inter-institutional relations) and the chairman of the Parliament Intergroup on Youth, Damien Abad, MEP, members of international and national youth organizations demanded quick action on youth unemployment. They also demanded that non-formal learning and a combination of university and vocational education be given a formal status, and recognized by European employers. This way, they hope, young citizens will be able to clearly present their skills to the market. Damien Abad (30) recognized the needs in his answers to the audience and proposed two further ideas: an Erasmus for apprentices and a European status for interns.

Those can only be small steps on the way to a more secure future for young citizens in Europe. It is clear that there is no way back to former patterns of bourgeois society. Education, consistently following the development on the market and reacting to new situations - these are the patterns of the knowledge society. But it is up to politicians, enterprises and organized civil society to make these changes socially sustainable. The initiative of the Youth Forum was certainly a first step in the right direction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

LIMIT - What is the energy future of our world?

States lose their sovereign exercise of power. The future belongs to global enterprises. Business and investment opportunities outrank local development concerns and consumer protection. We still vote for elected politicians, but our vote no longer has any importance. The votes we take with our wallet determine what happens in the world.

And most importantly: The future belongs to a new kind of energy. The global enterprise "Orley Industries" owned by billionaire Julian Orley produces highly efficient Helium-3 on the moon and sends down to earth in a space elevator. A little ride away from the Helium-3 fields, Orley is about to open the first hotel in space.

The novel "Limit" by Frank Schätzing (currently only available in German, but most certainly translated within the next few months) shows the world as it might be in 2025. The author paints a slightly exaggerated but often enormously interesting and sometimes eyebrow-raisingly realistic picture of the world as it could be. Although the 1300-page book starts out rather slowly and readers have to remember a range of characters and places, the carefully conceived plot soon has you hooked and makes this book a page turner.

Yet, while the storyline is thrilling (a young Chinese dissident and blogger discovers a plot against Orley Industries with enormous economic consequences - and has to fear for her life as killers find her trail), for me the main value of this book is the brave new world it proposes. In between the action, Schätzing has his characters think back to "that minor financial crisis in 2008", discuss the demise of oil, ponder the eco-city "Dongtan" currently built outside Shanghai, breach the topic of the Chinese ankang and many more deeply interesting viewpoints, seen from the perspective of 2025.

And in contrary to Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984", Schätzing's "Limit" is not so far beyond the limits of imagination. Indeed, several times I found myself hoping that the world might become as Schätzing conceived it - while at other points you anxiously hope that our politicians won't cave in to global players as much as it is described in the book.

After his two political books "The Swarm" (nature fights back at human beings) and "Lautlos" (highly sophisticated terrorist attack on US president Clinton), Schätzing again wrote a well-researched book that raises your political knowledge and keeps you entertained along the way. Definitely an interesting read for those people passionate about the future of our planet.