I've been cleaning out old files recently and I ran across an article from February 1, 1990, that I had pulled out of Family Circle magazine. The article, by Sharon Begley, was about things we could do to "make a difference" and "save the Earth." Along with 101 specific suggestions for individuals to take, there was a prediction of what life would be like in 2010. I thought it was rather interesting to see how reality in 2015 compares with the prediction for 2010, actually made in 1990...
"7:30 A.M.: After serving an organic breakfast to her 8-year-old son, Mark, Jessica scrapes the leftovers into the compost chute next to the sink and drops the empty glass juice-bottle into one of the five recycling bins stored in her kitchen closet. She reminds Mark to throw his cloth napkin into the laundry hamper, then adds an apple to his school lunch box. (Jessica doesn't mind the fruit's brown spot because it shows the apple hasn't been treated with pesticides.) Time for school. She applies No. 30 sunblock to herself and Mark. (Because so many ultraviolet rays are reaching the earth through the thinning ozone layer, no one ventures outside without being well-protected.) On her way out the door Jessica grabs the empty floor-cleaner jug and nail-polish bottle to return for refills. Then she unplugs the electric car, which has been recharging overnight, adjusts Mark's seat belt, and away they go."
Jessica - check. Our daughter's name.
Organic breakfast - check. She tries to eat organically whenever possible (and so do we). So eating organically is possible...but hardly something a preponderance of people try to do.
Compost chute in the house?! Fantasy. Both we and Jess do compost, but we scrape stuff into a compost crock that we carry out to the compost pile when it gets full. No automatic composters in the basement.
Glass juice bottle? Fantasy. It's all plastic packaging these days.
5 recycling bins? Thankfully we've moved beyond that and have single stream recycling now! (Although we do have to pay extra for it.)
Cloth napkin? Check. I've been doing that for decades now...and Jess does as well.
No grandkids yet, though, so I don't know about school lunches. I suspect Jess wouldn't be fixing any; she'd be paying for school lunches.
Mandatory No. 30 sunblock? Mixed. Sun screen is available in SPF 30 and even higher. (Was it available in SPF 30 in 1990? I don't remember.)
HAVING to use No. 30 sunblock every time we go outside because of a thinning ozone layer? Not even. YEAH! Something we acted upon and partially solved! Because the nations got together and banned CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), the ozone layer is doing better than predicted, especially compared to predictions back several decades ago. Yes, it is recommended that we wear sun screen, but we don't have to be paranoid about wearing it every minute we are outside.
Empty floor-cleaner and nail-polish bottles that get refilled? Ah, no.
An electric car? Yup. Jess and Kyle actually have one! And we have 2 Prii. At least, culturally, we have higher mileage vehicle options available, although not that many people, percentage wise, are using them.
"As Mom always said, "Waste not, want not." Those words of wisdom will again be the rule for our famlies to follow 20 years from now when we'll have made significant changes in every aspect of our lives - from how we eat and keep warm to how we shop and drive - to insure that our world becomes, and remains, environmentally sound."
Well, THAT didn't happen. In fact, we waste a lot more now (and a lot more waste is being done consciously), from driving Hummers and big SUVs just to make the point that we can to buying amazing amounts of new clothing to changing our furniture out on a whim so that we can keep our homes looking up to date to buying new electronics every couple years.
"Reforms are already under way. As required by environmental legislation expected to pass Congress this year, utilities will cut emissions of sulfur dioxide 40% by the year 2000 in order to reduce acid rain. Factories may have to capture toxic fumes before they escape up smokestacks. Newspapers may be required to print on recycled paper to preserve virgin timber. Few of us will notice."
Well, I can honestly say that I don't know whether those initiatives went through. Newspapers are dying, although they have been printed on recycled paper with biodegradable inks for a long time now. Sulfur dioxide emissions cut by 40%? I don't know. Capturing toxic fumes before they go up smokestacks? I don't know. Even though I'm pretty environmentally aware, I have to admit to being part of the great masses who haven't noticed about whether these specific things passed. Certainly many similar regulations did pass...and now many of these regulations are being revoked in the name of "freedom".
"...other new laws will hit close to home. Gasoline-powered lawn mowers and lighter fluid for outdoor grills may be banned by 2010 because of the air pollution they generate; instead, we'll plant drought-tolerant ground-covers that don't need mowing and ignite our charcoal with electric starters."
No. Not even close. I don't think they've even worked to make gasoline-powered lawn mowers more energy efficient and less polluting than they were in 1990. Most of us use propane grills now instead of charcoal grills, with or without using lighter fluid. (Is that an improvement or not? I honestly don't know.) And drought-tolerant ground-covers? Ha! People are putting more chemicals than ever on their lawns, they've put in irrigation systems to keep them watered, and many folks now hire services to keep their lawns mowed perfectly. Yeah, we've gone backwards in most of these areas.
"Because almost all of our nation's landfills will be full by the mid-1990's (more than two-thirds have closed since the late 1970's), many throwaway conveniences of today may of necessity be banned by 2010. Say goodbye to disposable razors, plastic microwave-food trays and plastic utensils and cups. Overpackaged products like single-serving cereal boxes wrapped in plastic, and laundry products in elaborate plastic bottles, will also become distant memories. Instead, we will buy one big jug of detergent, then purchase concentrated refills in pouches. Rather than discarding an empty nail-polish bottle, we will carry it back to the store and get a refill. Paper products will come in just one color - brown - but they will be dioxin-free."
Okay, almost none of this has occurred. Dioxin-free paper products? I think that has occurred, because I haven't heard about dioxin in ages. Otherwise, almost everything is the same or worse than it was 1990. More single serving foods. More plastic trays and utensils. More disposable everything.
The major divergence between predicted 2010 and real 2015 continues for the next several sections....
"...virtually all household waste will be recyclable, reusable or compostable..." Ah, ... no.
"The need to make less trash will become the driving force of the 21st-century marketplace." We're moving into the world of farce with this one.
"Farmers too will do their part, and trade in carcinogenic pesticides for such organic remedies as microorganisms and flowers that exude pest-killing chemicals. ...No longer will pesticides running off farmlands pollute [our rivers and lakes]." Cue the maniacal laugh of irony. (At least there IS a growing farmers' market sector developing, much of which is organic.)
But then the divergence starts to get smaller again....
"Chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) will be outlawed because they are responsible for our thinning ozone layer (a band of gas about 15 miles up that blocks skin-cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun). This will mean that egg cartons and trays in meat packages will be made of recycled paper and not foam. We'll also do without typewriter correction fluid and liquid spot remover, which contain ozone-depleting chlorine. To insulate our homes, we will use cellulose foam from recycled wood fiber rather than blown plastic foam. Our home air conditioners will operate on a new, costly chemical that will make staying cool on the road an expensive luxury."
Yup. We nailed this one, although thankfully the "new, costly chemical" for automobile air conditioners wasn't as prohibitively expensive as feared.
"We'll be sacrificing other frills as well to slow the greenhouse effect (the gradual warming of the planet caused by carbon dioxide released when oil, natural gas, wood and coal are burned). To conserve energy and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, we will install super-efficient three-pane windows with special coatings and fillings of krypton and argon gas that collect more heat during the day than leaks out at night. We will screw in compact-fluorescent lightbulbs that give off the same amount of light as 60-watt incandescents but use only 18 watts of power."
Well, we have much more efficient windows than we did in 1990 and we utilize compact-fluorescent lightbulbs, too. So, good forward motion in these areas.
"Thirty percent of the electricity we'll use to run our energy-efficient appliances in 2010 will be drawn from solar and wind power. To collect sunshine, 1% of our nation's land -a total area about half the size of Arizona - will be covered by solar panels."
Well, we have much more energy efficient appliances than we did in 1990, but we don't get 30% of our electricity from solar and wind yet. On the plus side, 5 years past the predicted day, we're finally moving in the right direction with both these renewable, carbon free, energy sources.
"Even our cars will plug into the sun. (Methanol and natural gas may serve as transitional fuels in the 1990's, but since both contribute to the greenhouse effect, they will not suffice for long.) "We don't have electric cars today because we haven't developed a battery powerful enough to let a car go more than 50 miles or so on a charge," says Dick Klimisch, Ph.D., executive director of environmental activities at General Motors. "By 2010 we might." "
Only now, in 2015, is battery technology starting to move forward. It took an auto industry outsider, Tesla, to move us forward in that regard. Unless the currently cheap gas prices derail the research and new technology, our fleet mileage should be increasing significantly in the next decade or so.
The article concludes with a paragraph that still rings true, if you adjust the decades a bit. (We keep hoping we'll avoid the pain...but, as most of us know deep inside, usually you have to just go through the painful times to come out okay on the other side.)
"Yet for all we do, we can't reverse some of the abuse we've waged on this earth. There is no way to stop chemicals already emitted from eating away at the ozone layer. Greenhouse gases already aloft will warm the world, so storms like last year's Hurricane Hugo will be more intense, as will torrid summers like the sweltering one of 1988. "No matter what we do," say EDF's Oppenheimer, "we're in for about a decade of acid rain, serious air pollution, additional warming and ozone depletion." But if we can survive the 1990's, the 21st century might be livable. We can shape the future, IF we start today."
Oh, we're shaping the future, all right. For the most part, we're too scared of moving through the necessary pain to shape the future in a way we'll be happy about in the next 20 years. What will 2035 bring?