“Rising greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and driving a complex mix of unpredictable changes to the environment while further taxing the resilience of natural and built systems. Achieving the right combination of adaptation and mitigation policies will be difficult for most governments.”8 This is just one example of the growing need for a renewed focus on global climate change and environmental impacts as they relate to megatrends. While many advances have happened, thanks to technology, many problems and concerns have also been created by the technological advances we enjoy today. There are various key areas that must be addressed when it comes to the environmental: the environment as a whole; environmental decline; food, water and energy concerns; unsustainable growth; scarcity versus abundance of resources; and the impact of climate change.
THE BIG PICTURE - THE ENVIRONMENT
One thing that will always remain, regardless of the advances that technology brings to us, is that we rely on planet Earth to sustain us. Despite the fact that our lives have been made easier, we have to consider the impact we are having on the planet. We can no longer ignore the damage that has been, and is being, done to the planet and the ripple effect it has on every aspect of life on Earth. This is one of the main reasons why there has been such a push towards sustainable and environmentally friendly practices during the past decade.
“Important features of the sustainable and competitive city will be features that are ‘green’ and ‘smart’. Green cities will have energy efficient buildings, reduced waste and rely heavily on renewable energy sources and energy efficient transportation systems. Enabled by digital technology, competitive cities will also make use of state-of-the-art information and communication technology (ICT) to build smart mobility solutions, smart grids and other solutions.”9 No longer can the scientific facts be ignored or brushed off simply because they are inconvenient. Change has to happen and a new and renewed commitment to protecting the environment is a major focus of countless studies that look at the power and impact of megatrends.
ENVIRONMENTAL DECLINE AND LOSS
An important set of tasks in today’s world is to research, understand, measure, and report how the actions and decisions that society makes affect the environment. This needs to be done by individuals, businesses, societies, and entire countries. Over time, progress in the area of environmental protection, renewal, and innovation will “help businesses understand and explain their impacts more fully, make better informed decisions, and rebuild public trust by providing wider and more credible insights.”10
A similar debate that is coming to light concerns how far one group can go in order to empower itself or others. How far is too far when it comes to protecting the environment? Should environmental concerns surpass concern for individuals, groups, and societies? Some would argue that every group is responsible for its own success or failure. Others see the global community as one open system within which every group gives and takes and helps either build up or tear down the structure. Whether from the viewpoint of science or the moral viewpoint of the human mind, the Earth can be seen either as a closed system or an open system. That has a huge impact on the way people make decisions and view the changes in the world around them.11
THE FOOD, WATER, AND ENERGY SITUATION
“During the 21st century, global warming is projected to continue and climate changes are likely to intensify. Scientists have used climate models to project different aspects of future climate, including temperature, precipitation, snow and ice, ocean level, and ocean acidity. Depending on future emissions of greenhouse gases and how the climate responds, average global temperatures are projected to increase worldwide by 2°F to 11.5°F [1°C to 6°C] by 2100.”12 There is no doubt that the world’s climate, though known to go through natural changes and cycles, is now changing at a rapid, unnatural pace, and the absolute majority of indicators point to the bulk of that change being attributable to mankind.
UNSUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH
The effects of climate change, such as changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels, and increases in the frequency of super storms and natural disasters, will hit some areas of the world harder than others. Some results of unsustainable growth include lack of water and food, pollution and contamination concerns, increasing illnesses and diseases, and lower standards of living. Some issues are felt more in larger cities and more congested population areas while others seem to be more closely tied to rural areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure in 2012, a large proportion of these individuals were residing in urban areas.13
While pollution may not be as much of an issue in rural areas, the lack of resources needed to sustain important industries such as farming, forestry, mining, and so forth is a huge issue that impacts the lives of people living in these areas. Rural communities rely on natural resources for many of the jobs that supply income to their residents; when natural resources cannot be sustained at an appropriate level, the entire community suffers. Farms close, materials become scarce, prices go up, and the job market and economy suffer. This is one area that many do not fully understand when they begin examining the environmental megatrends of today, because of the separation that still exists between urban and rural areas.
RESOURCES: SCARCE AND ABUNDANT
“Absolute population growth, economic development and more middle class consumers will drive increasing global demand for natural resources – both renewable and non-renewable. While the world’s supply of non-renewable resources is technically finite, new technologies continue to impact the future supply picture by allowing access to formerly hard-to-reach and valuable oil, gas, and strategic mineral reserves. The application of new technologies, as well as the shifting supply environment, will drive business model adaptation and innovation in multiple sectors – as well as impact the geopolitical balance of power.”14
Technological developments help to shape the world in which we live; in fact, many of the advances we have seen in recent years have made it easier to attain the natural resources we need. One of the biggest issues that people face when looking at environmental megatrends is recognizing that without the technology we have today, we would not have access to resources such as oil and natural gases and that it would be much more difficult and costly to acquire resources such as wood and ore to generate energy.
Absolute population growth, economic development and more middle class consumers will drive increasing global demand for natural resources – both renewable and non-renewable.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
It is impossible to ignore the reports that show, year on year, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the devastating effects they are having on the environment. While it is true that the world has gone through cycles of warming and cooling throughout its history, the concern with current trends is that they are happening faster, and going further, than ever before. Though the world’s population at one time remained fairly balanced, this is no longer the case; populations around the world continue to swell. And although there is a scientific consensus that Earth’s population will level off around 11 billion15, the planet is struggling to support a growing population. Almost two-thirds of the world’s population will live in big cities by the year 2050.16 The growth of the human population and the resulting climate changes makes it vital for technology to assist in developing a plan for more sustainable living and protecting the balance of the global population, infrastructure and resources.17 With more people alive on the earth today than have lived in its entire existence up until now, there is strain on the planet unlike anything that has been seen before.