For me, the beginning of 2009 has a particular significance. It marks the 20th anniversary of this column. And so in keeping with the spirit of Janus, here’s my list of the top things that have changed the world for the good and the bad over the last twenty years, along with some of my hopes for the future.
In 1989, the idea of curbside recycling was in its infancy. Early recyclers would dutifully pack up their cans and newspapers and drop them off at a depot, that more often than not, had been established a community group.
Today, blue box programs are in place is most cities across Canada. In recent years, curbside organics recycling programs have been introduced, enabling households to divert even more of our waste. Many municipalities now boast diversion rates of more than 50 percent for household waste.
Unfortunately, only 30 to 40 percent of our waste is generated at home, which brings our total national diversion rate is less than 25 percent. The remainder comes from commercial, industrial, construction and demolition sources. In total, Canadians produce more than 31 million tonnes of waste annually, or about 2.7 kilograms per person, per day.
The problem is that as fast as we can figure out ways to reduce our waste, manufacturers come up with exciting new ways to produce it. In 1989, single use products were almost unheard of. Today, virtually every type of consumer product - from razors and toothbrushes to window wipes and toilet bowl brushers - is available as a disposable item.
All this consuming has created a massive inequity in resource distribution. In 1992, 80 percent of the world’s resources were being consumed by 20 percent of the world’s population. Less than a decade later, that same 20 percent was consuming 86 percent of available resources.
In order to provide all these goods and services as cheaply as possible, the last few decades has seen the growth of the mega-corporation. As a result, today 51 of the largest economies in the world are companies, not countries.
The proliferation of drive-thrus is another phenomenon that has made a profound mark on the environment. From Tim Hortons to drive-thru banking and dry cleaning, virtually every service can be accessed from behind the wheel of the family automobile. The result is traffic congestion (particularly at intersections that host a neighborhood Tim’s), unnecessary idling (which translates into increased smog and greenhouse gas emissions) and increased waste from all of those disposable cups and fast food wrappers.
The success of the drive-thru was enabled, in part, by the introduction of the mini-van in the 1980s. Today, the family van has become a home entertainment centre, babysitter, mobile restaurant, status symbol, stress reliever (and creator). It has also helped to create the fattest and most unfit generation of children in human history.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom. In 1989, the idea of a global network of information was the domain of universities and intelligence officers. One year later, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web – arguably the single greatest technology achievement of humanity.
Today, the Web provides free access to information to anyone with access to a computer and a phone line. It has successfully leveled the playing field for community and environmental groups and has created an information platform that is global in scope.
The proliferation of the Web has driven the demand for faster, more powerful and compact technologies, which has transformed another 80s innovation, the cell phone. The latest generation of cell phones is thousands of times more powerful than the first personal computers, provides instant access to a global communication network and opens up brave new worlds of ideas and information.
Given all that has happened in the last 20 years, it’s anybody guess what will happen next. But any way you look at it, 2009 is going to be a very interesting year.
For more information about the Internet, check out www.webopedia.com .
For more information about Janus, or virtually anything else you can think about, spend some time browsing the world’s largest online encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org.