Welcome to the year 2030. Welcome to my city – or should I say, ‘our city’…” Thus begins an article that Ida Auken wrote in 2016 for the World Economic Forum. In it, she astutely crystallizes modern-day social and technological trends into a depiction of everyday life in 2030. In the future, people have free access to everything they need: food, transportation, accommodation. “The main trend underlying this vision,” says Auken, “is the shift from product to service. Every product is essentially a service waiting to be used.”
Sharing plus the circular economy
So what’s the engine powering the sharing economy? It’s digitization. Only a digital platform can hold and manage all the information that sharing requires. “Convenience is essential. People will only share if it’s easy,” notes Auken. The sharing economy is inevitable, she believes. “Cars spend 95 percent of their time parked. It’s absurd not to use them.” Society will have to adopt the circular economy, too, says Auken. That’s because, in a sharing economy, products are high-quality and designed for durability. Waste produced by consumption is recycled, not thrown away.
Ida Auken (born in 1978) pushed Denmark’s transformation toward environmental sustainability and a circular economy during her time as environmental minister from 2011-14. At the G20 summit in Rio in 2012, the ordained Lutheran priest chaired the EU conference of environmental ministers.
The politician had hoped that her predictive statement at the World Economic Forum would raise awareness. “But it opened my own eyes, too. I hadn’t realized that these trends represented such a serious threat to privacy.” We put our privacy at risk long before we let companies use our homes for business meetings in 2030; instead, the threat begins the moment our trips are documented by a shared vehicle. Digitization and social media have essentially set back privacy 200 years, according to Auken. “Two centuries ago, people lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Today, big corporations know a tremendous amount about consumers’ private – and possibly intimate – lives.”
She equates our current treatment of data to environmental attitudes in the 1960s. “Back then, people didn’t worry about trash or emissions,” warns the former Danish environmental minister. “But people ought to know what’s being done with their data.” This isn’t something that individual nations can regulate away. “The problem with the digital world is that it doesn’t care about borders. What we need is an international democratic debate about what governments and corporations ought to know about us.” This approach has a weakness, though: “Programmers are always faster than regulators.”
That’s why we need a broad set of ground rules to protect us in interactions with one another in the digital age. For example, ten technology human rights that unambiguously define universal property rights and rights of use. Digitization is being adopted at very different speeds, says Auken. “There are insiders and outsiders.” The outsiders are people who reject digital transformation entirely or have simply been left behind. The outsiders are people who reject digital transformation entirely or have simply been left behind. “Much larger than the group that felt shortchanged by globalization, for example.” Only one thing can stop this from happening: education. “In a practical sense, people should know how to use, create and program digital services. But we also need to encourage critical thinking about technology,” says Auken.
New approach to decision-making
By 2030 Denmark plans to meet all its energy needs from renewable sources. That’s what Ida Auken is fighting for.
As a politician, Auken practices something she calls “reversed lobbyism”. “When people come to me with a specific concern, I try to help them. And I share my message about sustainability and the circular economy.”
Interpersonal interaction is what really drives progress, in her view. People of different cultural and educational backgrounds come together and share ideas. “Bringing people together unleashes a kind of magic. I also see it as a new way to experiment with decision-making.”