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Four Optimistic Visions of the Future


A report produced jointly by Sainsbury’s, Unilever and Forum for the Future (the first two are companies, the second is a non-profit organization) details four distinct trajectories our society might take over the next ten years with regards to consumption patterns–all of them relatively positive.

In the infographic below, each possible scenario is situated on a Cartesian field, with the Y-axis representing prosperity and the X-axis representing the public’s level of involvement in the transition.

  1. If, by 2020, society has taken the “My Way” trajectory, vertical farming will be widespread, and consumers will buy predominantly from local vendors. Because of robust consumer interest in sustainability, various technologies will exist that make it easy to be green.
  2. If the next ten years fulfill the “Sell it to me” scenario, resource scarcity and a united global initiative on climate change will make sustainable products the only feasible option for companies to make.
  3. The “From Me to You” path involves local production of both food and energy. Due to increased scarcity, waste is minimized and resources expended much more wisely. Recycling is a way of life.
  4. Society will become more sustainable, with government and businesses responsible for most of the transition. For financial reasons, consumers are highly cognizant of their waste.

Consumerism isn’t our only problem, and the future of our society may prove more dire than the natural transition into sustainability these four possibilities describe. But it’s nice to hear a positive perspective on the future.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    10/18/2011 10:18 PM

    I think the main “trigger issue” will be how the so-called “First World” deals with the “Third World”, namely North America and Europe dealing with Asia and Africa. If we pass technology from 1st to 3rd World fairly freely, I think the world will continue on without too many significant bumps. If we lean too heavily on making a profit on technology, then the whole world will be in trouble. I include China in the “3rd Wrold” due to its’ environmental technology,. especially energy production and automotive tech. Almost all cars built for Europe would actually produce cleaner air out the tailpipe than the air breathed in in Beijing, for example. Coal-fired electricity production, while not a long-term answer, can be done for a couple decades with emissions controls on the stacks. Solar panel technology exported to the large deserts (the biggest ones in poor countries) would help the entire globe. Things like that.
    Sorry, I’m not too coherent right now. Hopefully rest will defeat the little buggers invading my body and render me a little more “with it” tomorrow! :D

    • 10/20/2011 10:31 PM

      I hope you feel better soon, John!

      I strongly agree-the best way to help the third world is to give them technology. Not just sustainability-related technology, either. I heard about one initiative that sought to give one cell phone to several African villages, and another that was trying crowdfund the money to buy a no-longer-used satellite to provide the third world with more Internet. Anything that promotes connectivity like that is a huge plus. When a village is isolated it’s confined to only the knowledge and skills it has on hand, but when it’s connected that pool increases significantly.

      You’re also right to point out that the focus on profit is hugely detrimental. If our priority was sustainability (read: survival) instead, we could concentrate on filling the yawning gaps in our global energy strategy, and make that strategy much more integrated.

      • John Erickson permalink
        10/20/2011 10:37 PM

        Have you heard anything new about the “$100 laptop” program that started up last year? The one where, you bought two, you got one and a poor African villager got one. I actually wanted one, because our power company isn’t the most reliable, and a hand-cranked laptop with ruggedised components sounded great. We just didn’t have the money at the time. I’d consider doing it, as I have a lump sum payment coming available, but short of doing a blind search, I don’t know how to find them.
        The little invading buggers seem to be in retreat, at least for now. Mind you, my permanent migraines have kicked into high gear to compensate. Ah well, at least you don’t have to blow your nose every 5 seconds with a headache! :D

  2. 10/19/2011 9:29 AM

    Interesting concept to ponder. To go along with John’s point, I’ve always said that industry will fuel economic growth in the developing countries because of low labor costs and the lack of environmental regulations. But I also think beyond in the fact that they will reach the point we did … reverse pollution with regulations. And obviously, Beijing hasn’t yet reached the turnaround point.

  3. 10/20/2011 10:36 PM

    I’m hoping as the technology to produce renewable energy becomes cheaper, it will be easier for the third world to sidestep many of our problems and avoid contributing significantly to pollution.

    Of course, it would help if the government was investing more money in research and development. It seems to me that most of the progress has been driven by the private sector.

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