A glimpse into our 2030 waste-free world

A glimpse into our 2030 waste-free world

Earth’s resources are unsustainable at current rates of consumption. By 2030, humans will require the equivalent resources of two Earths in order to maintain current lifestyles. Between now and then, society progressively will feel the pain of not having necessary resources and paying more for those that are still available. It’s clear that the world won’t be the same.

Part of the problem with addressing climate change is that the topic is so complex. For many of us today, it is difficult to understand that we all have a role in addressing the issue. But I believe that over the next 10 to 15 years, cutting carbon emissions will become “the norm” — a widespread activity among individuals, organizations and nations.

How do we change cultural norms? Let’s turn to a familiar example: smoking. Here’s a snapshot of what things looked like just 50 years ago:

  • In 1964, when the U.S. Surgeon General declared that cigarette smoking was the leading cause of lung cancer, well over 40 percent of Americans smoked.
  • Around the world, people smoked in virtually all public places, including restaurants, theaters, planes and trains, and even hospitals.
  • Characters in TV shows and movies often smoked.

By the 1980s, significant changes began to occur. State governments began to prohibit smoking in public areas. Businesses required employees to smoke outside the building or not at all. In 2008, India banned smoking in public. Just this year, Russia extended its smoking ban to all bars and restaurants, and China announced plans to outlaw smoking in public.

The approach to climate change is taking a similar path. Here’s the type of world I see in the not-too-distant future: 

Carbon footprint goes mainstream

It’s 2030, and I need a new dining-room table. As I shop, I compare prices, styles and — most important — carbon footprint numbers. These days, the price of a good or service is correlated to its impact on the climate; a higher carbon footprint equals higher price. Everyday goods — from furniture to diapers — are labeled with carbon footprint numbers, similar to nutrition labels and calorie counts. As I shop, I stay away from goods with high numbers (easily spotted by warning labels) and gravitate toward those that bear eco labels indicating limited effect on the environment. I recently read that the government has fined a group of manufacturers for not labeling their products with carbon footprints.

Affordable sustainability

The scales of supply and demand tip as consumers demand sustainable products. Carbon intensive or non-reusable/recyclable materials such as roof shingles become impossible to find, but we still have roofs over our heads. Industry has discovered a cost-effective way to manufacture solar roofs, and governments offer incentives to choose solar.

A waste-free future

Advances in biotechnology also make it a very different world — one that is virtually waste-free. The byproducts of one process become the input to another, and energy sources almost exclusively are bio-based. Increased knowledge about genes and complex cell processes is driving the world’s economy. Gone are the days of lengthy medical testing with energy-intensive and expensive medical scans. Instead, we have quicker and easier ways to detect health conditions.

That’s my view of the world in 2030 — a place where our living conditions, financial health and day-to-day living/working conditions have been improved. We’ll recognize — as we did with the threat of cigarette smoking — that individual and collective efforts can change our world for the better.

Cigarette ad from Stanford University School of Medicine via Health.com.