It’s up to us to ensure British Columbia thrives in interesting times

"May you live in interesting times.”

It’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse (though in truth, its first recorded use was in England in 1936). But, regardless of its origin, it’s an apt expression as we head into 2018.

We are indeed living in interesting – and turbulent – times. Global upheavals, erratic international leadership, climate change, trade disputes and non-decisive elections have created a great deal of uncertainty.

Even here in relatively prosperous British Columbia, we go into 2018 faced with unaffordable, scarce housing, overcrowded transit and congested traffic, seemingly intractable homelessness and a worsening opioid crisis. And even the expectation of summer brings with it the apprehension of another season of out-of-control wildfires.

These are just some of the serious challenges facing us in 2018. They will need all the resolve, determination and ingenuity we can muster in order to deal with them. But I remain optimistic that, in the long run, we can, we must and we will solve these challenges.

I have this optimism because in my position as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), I get to interact every day with our greatest hope for the future: the young people of this province.

A few months ago, while addressing new first-year students, I asked how many of them felt the state of the world was healthy. Only one of the thousands of students raised a hand. I then asked how many were willing and ready to be global change agents to make the world a better place. A deafening yes came back as the reply.

Our young people are willing and eager to solve the problems of this world – problems for which we, their elders, must bear responsibility. And, judging by the students I’ve met at UBC, I’m confident that they – and their colleagues throughout the Lower Mainland and British Columbia – will rise to the challenge.

UBC’s students come from throughout British Columbia, Canada and the world. They bring a multitude of perspectives – cultural, religious, political, language and more – to their studies. This diversity – which exists at B.C.’s other post-secondary institutions as well – is an incredible reservoir that will form the foundation for solving the challenges we face.

It will take more than one institution, one group of students; no individual, no institution has the capacity to address what ails this planet. These are major issues, and they’re going to require global resources, collaboration and ingenuity to solve. 

And we can’t leave it to the next generation, no matter how talented and willing it is.

It is patently unfair for us – as adults – to punt our global challenges on to them. Let’s admit that at least some of these problems are self-inflicted wounds. They are problems that we have created as a consequence of self-interest, benign neglect or ignorance. Problems that result from a personal or local view of the world as opposed to one that recognizes a responsibility for a world that transcends borders.

We have a responsibility to address those challenges now and to do our utmost (individually and collectively) to leave the world a better place than what we inherited from our parents.

Sadly, we are failing our children (and children around the world) with that most basic responsibility.

Let’s all recommit anew our collective responsibility to do so.

And, maybe then, 2018 will turn out to be interesting in a good way. 

Prof. Santa Ono is president of the University of British Columbia.