The world we're experiencing is shouldering the effects of climate change, deforestation, student debt and the false promise of social security. And it doesn't stop there.
We were taught that the world offered endless opportunities to chase success, and if we worked, we would be rewarded. But, the reality of the situation is anything but that.
As we look into the future, we are no longer convinced things will improve. At the same time, there's no one to change it but us. Do we take responsibility or watch our planet continue to suffer?
Well, we don't really have a choice. We bear an incredible amount of responsibility to put our world's future on the right path and we must accept it. If we don't, we will no longer be victims but accomplices when future generations ask why we didn't do something.
To put our situation into perspective, we must understand what problems are plaguing our country and world.
One of these problems is student debt. US student loan balances exceed $1.2 trillion and more than 40 million Americans have student debt. Of those 40 million borrowers, about seven million have defaulted.
Worst of all, you can't file for bankruptcy; student debt follows you to the grave — literally. It's up to us to change this.
Did you know that about 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely lost? Forests cover 31 percent of land area, produce oxygen, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter. Not only are we losing those benefits, but deforestation is wiping out thousands of species, too.
Sure, there are global warming deniers, but 97 percent of climate experts agree that humans are causing it. According to NASA, glaciers are receding almost everywhere, including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
Moreover, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with a direct correlation to humans emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The upper layer of the oceans is absorbing this acidity and is causing corals and aquatic life to die off.
On the bright side, at least we'll get money from Social Security (ha).
It was estimated that Social Security's combined retirement and disability trust funds will exhaust themselves in 2033. Things change quickly, however. The government borrowed most of the money in Social Security and now there's nothing but IOUs. It turns out all the money we're putting into Social Security likely won't come back to us at all.
Because Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, the money paid out today is immediately used to pay benefits. Not only is there no money in Social Security, but people are also living longer and having fewer children, which results in a significant drop in the amount of money coming in. It's up to us to change this.
Past generations left us these problems, some unknowingly and others out of shortsightedness. They placed consumerism over nature, created a bad school system that left us with more than a trillion dollars of debt and built a Social Security system that seems suspiciously close to a ponzi scheme.
Though we're free to point fingers at those who brought this dire situation to life, doing so won't do any good for us. Instead, we must ask ourselves what we can do.
Consumerism, globalization and other peoples' needs are only growing and we can't stop it. The only way to create a habitable future and hopefully outpace this growth is to innovate faster. And, it's not up to our parents or the next generation to fix; we must do it.
As technology has progressed, we've ideated brilliant innovations. We can learn anything we want and connect with millions of people through the Internet.
Many entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this and developed ingenious products and services. But, we need products and services that address our most significant problems.
The issue is that the solutions we need aren't the most profitable, if profitable at all. Saving the environment doesn't attract innovators or capital, and most investments aimed to secure a healthy future for our planet only generate long-term results.
When you live in a society that thinks predominantly in the short-term, it's impossible to find investors, let alone donations.
We need to stop thinking of the world in terms of today and tomorrow and instead, in 10 and 20 years. Are we the generation that looked at our parents' mistakes and decided not to repeat them? Or are we the generation that will approach the world with the same shortsightedness?
We have the tools. We have the ambition. We just need a vision. Our planet doesn't think in terms of profit; it thinks in terms of life. Let's change our attitudes toward innovation and support those who dare to believe they can make a positive impact.
It starts with what we buy, what we study, where we work, how we treat fellow human beings and most of all, how we think about the future. Every little action matters.
It's not about finding where to start, as the opportunities are endless. The next time you think about littering, don't. How about donating that money for your shopping spree to an organization that's trying to reforest parts of the world?
You don't have to look far. All of us could use a hand — some more than others. Let's think about our community rather than just about ourselves.
Right now, we are a lost generation. We're stuck between the possibility of fulfilling our potential and giving up. The world depends on us. It doesn't have a voice, but it has given us more than enough to make us happy and comfortable. And, all it wants is a little help.
Let's not be another number that contributed to a dying world. Let's be the generation that shouldered the weight of the world and came out on top. Let's leave a legacy that other generations will admire and remember.
It's our time; let's make a difference.