Editor's note: How deep is the rabbit hole?

The current financial crisis only makes the job of addressing Canada's long-term challenges all the more important.

It’s the kind of speculation you wish wasn’t so spot-on. Back in April, we ran a cover story that asked this question: Is it 1929 all over again? The answer, as provided by senior writer Matthew McClearn’s thoroughly sober analysis, was “No, but …” Drawing links with the Great Depression of the 1930s, McClearn’s article investigated how deep the damage from the collapse of the U.S. housing market might run. Now, months later, and after the remarkable events on both Wall Street and Main Street (a dichotomy politicians these days seem to relish), we have started to find out. And while the Americans try to stop the bleeding, no one knows where it might end.

In times of crisis, people tend to fixate on the short term, and that is understandable. But it is not necessarily wise. This special issue — a follow-up to our Canada in 2020 report of last October — might serve as a reminder that long-term challenges facing our country and the world have not gone away. In fact, if anything, the current financial crisis only makes the job of addressing these challenges in realistic, coherent ways all the more important.

Why? Because history, if it is indeed replaying itself à la 1929, does not provide many comforting lessons. Widespread economic hardship. The rise of totalitarianism. Global conflict. Is this the future?

It doesn’t have to be. If the world is heading into a period of post-crash destabilization, the hot-button issues of energy, food and the environment may provide the major theatres of conflict — or, better, the theatres in which the world can find common solutions. After all, these are global challenges, connected with one another. Energy is an environmental issue. Solutions to climate change will depend on changes in energy markets. Food supply will be affected both by global warming and the choices we make about energy.

This issue is devoted to taking a hard look at these challenges, and the role that Canada can play in addressing them intelligently and effectively. What emerges, to my mind, is a picture of a country that on many fronts is simply not doing enough. That must change, and it is not simply a matter of national pride. Canada, we believe, is uniquely positioned to be a leader in providing solutions to the global challenges of energy, food and the environment. If we waste the opportunity, the world might not forgive us.

And we don’t want to end up asking, a decade on, whether it’s 1939 all over again.