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As the parent of a soon-to-be five-year-old, I continually find myself thinking about what the world will be like for my son when he’s my age. From almost every perspective I consider, the answer comes: it’ll be a lot different — and probably not in the better way — than the world today.

In fact, it seems that today’s preschool generation could aptly be called “Generation Omega.” That’s because it’s the last generation likely to experience the world as we know it. Their adult world will be a radically different place than ours.

Climate change is one reason: the latest research suggests the Arctic could be ice-free well before mid-century, meaning today’s youngsters will know of polar bears only from books, CD-ROMs, YouTube videos and zoos.

A shifting world order is another reason. Globalization promises great advances for the low-income populations of rising economies like China and India. For children in developed countries, though, globalization is likely to mean their future incomes will be lower than their parents’.

Energy is yet another reason for “Generation Omega.” While there’s still plenty of arguing about whether we’ve yet reached peak oil, it’s clear that new oil discoveries are not enough to compensate for declining production from existing fields. And with global energy demands rising — again thanks to ascendant economies like China’s — that means we can expect the coming years to bring tighter energy supplies and, of course, higher prices.

The concept of “Generation Omega” might sound bleak, but I’m trying to be a realist. I’m by no means throwing in the towel, moving to an isolated (but well-above-sea-level) island or holing up in a fortified compound in the wilderness. But I will try to prepare my son for a world different from today’s by teaching him the things that matter most: resourcefulness, conservation, environmental stewardship and — most of all — an appreciation for the fact that it’s not money or things that brings happiness.

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