—— You can only control the consequences of your actions if you know what they will be. We’ve taken a closer look at four important trends—and played out some possible scenarios.


… there were only online shopping?

If that were the case, then the digital ordering and delivery infrastructure would improve. Apps could more precisely show when the new pair of shoes would arrive and there would be more and more flexible pick-up possibilities. In the United States today, customers can have their orders delivered to the trunk of their private vehicle. In the future, delivery services could also gain access to homes or apartments with digital keys.

Experts predict that shops would disappear from inner cities for the most part, particularly in smaller towns. For most people, this would be almost unimaginably horrific, but it could also have positive consequences: it could create new living space, as well as space for new recreational concepts, and offer higher quality for leisure time activities. Handicrafts and trades might also migrate back to inner cities: with decreasing rents for shops, smaller manufactories could also produce competitively again. Yet traditional stores are unlikely to completely disappear: online retailers such as Zalando have meanwhile been opening brick-and-mortar locations to better analyze what their customers want and what clothes suit them. Stores that rely on shopping as an experience and local customer loyalty might also be able to survive. What consequences a complete switchover to online retail would have for the climate remains debatable.

Contrary to what is often assumed, the environment could actually benefit under certain conditions. Some calculations estimate that parcel shipments, including returns, produce only half the greenhouse gas emissions of a six-kilometer shopping trip by car. This would be especially advantageous for rural areas. Furthermore, shopping areas would no longer have to be lighted or heated. But as long as returned goods continue to be sent halfway across Europe to be re-processed in Poland or the Czech Republic, a better climate footprint for online retailers still remains a long way off.

… everyone stopped eating meat?

Climate pollution would be considerably reduced. According to a study by Oxford University, a meat-free diet would cause 60 percent fewer emissions. Right now, the average four-person family in the United States produces more greenhouse gases by eating meat than it does by driving its two cars. And a lack of meat consumption would free up a great deal of land: some 2.7 billion hectares of grazing land and about 100 million hectares of fields that currently grow fodder crops, according to a study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Taken together, that is almost the size of Africa.

Representatives of the meat industry, however, warn of the economic fallout of going meatless: livestock husbandry generates 1.4 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. According to Andrew Jarvis from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, while vegetarianism would have “a lot of positive environmental and health impacts” for developed countries, it would exacerbate poverty in developing countries. That’s because livestock in general makes a significant contribution to overall incomes there. If land and grain prices fell, farmers around the world would struggle to remain competitive.

In Germany alone, where almost two thirds of agricultural income comes from producing milk and meat, massive losses in jobs and revenue would be likely. Yet it is unlikely that this will ever happen. According to the UN, global meat consumption is rising steadily: from an average 23.1 kilograms per person in 1961 to probably more than 45 kilograms by the year 2030.

… all vehicles ran on electricity?

e could dispense with using petroleum for the most part in traffic, which would have a better carbon footprint. In any case, there are enough of the resources required for building batteries, such as nickel, lithium and cobalt, for the next 20 to 30 years.

And during this period, we’d have to switch to a circular economy anyway, obtaining raw materials via recycling. If there were only electrically powered vehicles on the road, we would need a charging point for each one and enough quick-charging stations. That remains a challenge. On the network side, we have to respond to the increased demand, and without expanding the electricity grid it wouldn’t work, because these networks of renewable energy are being expanded anyway, at least in Germany, because climate-friendly heat pumps are replacing oil and gas heating. Although the use of the charging infrastructure during peak times such as vacation periods would remain a challenge, it would theoretically be possible already in the next 20 years to electrify all the global vehicle traffic with battery drives and fuel cells.

There is also enough electricity for such a scenario, particularly since the additional electricity demand in Germany would amount to around 15 to 20 percent; in countries such as India it would only be around 5 percent. With reasonably free markets, renewables will become the cheapest option across the board. The biggest obstacles at the moment are not the costs, but rather the roadblocks in people’s minds.”

Volker Blandow, Head of E-Mobility bei TÜV SÜD

… we became cyborgs?

The best-selling author and futurologist Yuval Noah Harari isn’t the only person who thinks that implants and prostheses will soon be curing physical disabilities. Ralf Gansel, a product specialist for active implants at TÜV SÜD, also believes that we will evolve into cyborgs sooner or later.

“Not like in Hollywood with the Terminator, but in a more positive sense.”

Ralf Gansel

For instance, cochlear implants that electrically stimulate the auditory nerve are already helping some deaf people regain their hearing. Another procedure called deep brain stimulation is providing relief for Parkinson’s and for obsessive-compulsive disorders. With Parkinson’s, electrodes implanted into the brains of fully conscious patients deliver electrical impulses to areas of the brain that control muscle movement. “The procedure can also be used to prevent addiction,” Gansel says. Researchers are also ­currently working on technologies that not only check organs, but also automatically pump insulin into the bodies of diabetics.

Yet implants aren’t being used just for illnesses, they’re also being used for everyday life. The company Digiwell–Upgraded Humans earns its money by injecting microchips the size of a grain of rice under people’s skin. These can be used to open doors and gates with the wave of a hand. This is also the case at tour operator Tui Nordic in Sweden. There, employees use such microchips to unlock their lockers or activate printers. “I can also imagine that in the future we will also have mini-versions of our cellphones under our skin,” ­Gansel says. For such technologies to gain acceptance by society, however, Gansel believes that safety must come first. It’s difficult to imagine what could happen in the future if it was not a computer being hacked, but the software implanted into a person’s brain.


Stocksy/Marc Tran (shopping cart, globe); Stocksy/Yaroslav Danylchenko (houses); Stocksy/Ruth Black (head)