This post looks at how technology can change politics. This may be difficult! I note that politicians are forever banging on about the need for others to change and the need for obsolete industries to close, yet very slow to change their own processes. However it’s fun to think of what is possible…..
Nala is worried. This is an important vote to provide the budget for early years education. She feels that it is very important. But her screens are finely balanced.
She listens as the Education Secretary leaves the podium and is replaced by a childcare expert. The expert is good. She explains simply how the budget will be spent, and how the lessons from other countries have been learned. Nala’s screen responds.
The screen shows the views in real time of her constituents, or at least those who chose to log in. For this vote the interest has been enormous. On the one hand there are many people who see this as a vital move to improve education and improve the lives of working mothers. Others are concerned that the budget should go elsewhere, notably for coastal defences.
The fossil fuel orgy has ended now and carbon emissions are very low. The greenhouse gases that have already been emitted are however producing a gradual rise in sea level as the oceans warm and as ice sheets slowly melt. The rise is now starting to threaten flooding of some coastal cities and towns. Scientists are able to predict with some confidence how sea level will rise for the next hundred years, and decisions are needed on which areas will be defended, and for how long. The required defences will be costly. Many citizens want sea defence to be an absolute priority, and they see early years education as non-essential.
Nala does not have to vote as her constituents demand, but she has promised her constituents that she will take note of their wishes when voting. She has already briefed her constituents and recommended that the early years project should be funded. Given the level of interest in this topic it would be difficult to disregard their wishes. She feels relieved as their opinion becomes positive, and leans forwards to press the voting button.
She sometimes regrets the interactive nature of modern democracy, but she thinks that it is far better than the old way. Then, only a few years ago, people had elections every few years. After they were elected politicians went to the capital and immersed themselves in the political life there. They tended to be influenced by pressure groups, rather than their constituents. Constituents felt powerless and there was widespread discontent with politicians. Single interest groups, which could still motivate people to vote, began to dominate politics. Each election became in effect a referendum on one high key issue or another.
Now politics is quite different. There are still political parties but each has made some form of pledge to respect constituents’ views, because parties that make no pledge do not get elected. Each party has a simple manifesto showing what it stands for rather than spelling out detailed actions in many areas.
Why can’t this happen now? It is. If you have 14 minutes to spare you can watch a rather good video here. If you don’t have that time suffice it to say that the internet is already shaking our existing ideas of democracy.
Greater levels of engagement will be vital going forwards. As pressure grows on the planetary limits there will be many difficult decisions and many sacrifices required. Governments will need to be strong to resist and control commercial interests. It will be vital to engage the public fully in politics.
This is a milestone week for human stupidity. We commemorate the end of World War One, a dreadful waste of life which could have been avoided by an agreement in 1914. To demonstrate that we have learned nothing, one hundred years later we are about to drift into another disaster. Scientists have been warning of the dangers of global warming for over 20 years. Their latest report predicts long term consequences that are even worse than the First World War. Those effects can be reduced by an agreement in 2015 and rapid action thereafter. If not, things will get out of control. Will we learn the lessons of history?
As my contribution I show a low carbon High Street in 2050, to demonstrate that the changes we need to make are really are not that difficult!
What’s the difference? The Café looks normal. There are cars parked. The shops are busy. The changes are inside the shops.
The shop beside the café provides home services. Tax on carbon emissions (see QTax) provides the bulk of government revenue. As a result employment taxes have disappeared except for the very wealthy. It is now relatively cheap to get cleaning, decorating, washing and home repairs done by specialists. See this for how employment patterns will change.
The second shop hires out tools. Many people enjoy gardening, or doing other work at home. This shop stocks many tools and can get hold of specialist tools from a network. This saves the emissions resulting from manufacturing new tools that sit around in people’s garages doing nothing . The shop also provides face to face advice. Customers can collect tools or they can be delivered to their homes from the back of the shop using relatively little energy (see robobike).
The third is a clothing shop. Clothes in 2050 are of the highest quality and tailored to individual needs. Customers can come here, get personal fashion advice, and use the latest technology to see themselves in various fashions before they buy. The clothes are then made at a city 10 miles away and delivered to the shop later in the same week. This system avoids the material waste that comes with cheap mass produced throw away clothing.
The food shop is busy, though most people have food delivered, many eat out, and many use the robo-bikes to deliver it cooked. Food tastes have changed because of personal health monitoring systems, and there is much less waste. (see waste). There is also much more fresh local produce.
The e-assist shop helps people with their personal e-assistants. These devices make everyday life far easier. Their software is developing very rapidly. This shop helps with problems and carries out updates when required. Update and repair have become relatively low cost compared with buying a complete new device.
The pub at the end is thriving too. People can enjoy a range of local beers. Tonight the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid will attract a full house. Advanced technology will make the experience compelling. The crowd noise will be awesome, the camera angles stunning, the shared experience unforgettable. Many will also have a meal. Low employment taxes mean that the cost of beer and food is relatively low. Sharing the video experience is more enjoyable than watching alone at home, and avoids the need to manufacture individual entertainment systems.
The cars in the street are driverless electric taxis. They are recharging from loops buried in the road. Shoppers will use their phones to say when they want to go home and the system will tell them which taxi to take. Shared journeys will be normal, though a rapid individual transport option will be available at extra cost. Energy requirements for transport will be less than 25% of current levels. People with disabilities will have a better life, given independence and safety by these new vehicles.
The street does not need parking space for personal cars, though they remain an option and many people keep old cars for use on special occasions. For normal life cars are seen as a nuisance, always needing recharge, hard to park, and costly because they are underused assets with a significant carbon input required to build them. Another benefit is that accident rates in 2050 will be very low because driverless taxis are safer than human drivers.
The electric taxis generally carry multiple passengers so that there are fewer vehicles on the road. They travel steadily, their computers rarely making driver errors. This means that the roads are safe for cyclists. Those who live on hills simply use electric bikes, requiring a fraction of the energy needed by a car.
The street thrives because money is not being wasted on energy. There is no great flow of money out of the local economy to fossil fuel companies. Everyone can earn a decent living because they have access to great education through the internet and because technology permits a better work-life balance, especially for women. People therefore have money to spend on the High Street.
Compared with 2014, this street:
Allows everyone to continue their lives, generally with some improvements.
Uses less than half, perhaps only 25% of the current energy input. This is important because without action world energy requirements will fourfold over the next hundred years due to population growth and spreading prosperity. This street could hold global energy requirements near current levels, giving us a fighting chance of supplying the world from low carbon energy sources.
Why can’t this happen now? There is no reason at all why some of the reduction in emissions shown here cannot be achieved by 2020. Some of the technology requires development but given intense work it could be available within a few years, so this High Street could in fact be reality by 2030.
Why isn’t it happening? Much of the change depends on the tax regime. World governments seem totally unable to grasp the importance of taxing carbon pollution. Taxation is an effective way to change habits quickly. We must raise the price of those activities that produce carbon emissions, and reduce the price of less polluting options.
International action is needed to ensure tax is fair, and to set levels for taxation of international trade. Countries that take action need to be able to tax imports from highly polluting countries. Without such a tax countries with cheap coal energy will prosper and attract industry from virtuous countries – a bad outcome.
Rather than impose a proper cost for carbon pollution, and allowing the market to sort out how to respond, the nations fiddle in the market, imposing whatever solutions politicians find attractive. They make promises to cut emissions, then find some way round them when it becomes politically unpopular. The result is ineffective chaos. Carbon emissions continue to rise.
Nations also seem unable or unwilling to focus research activities into radical technologies such as those highlighted in Sketchfifty. Research money is going into those areas that are profitable now – health, small improvements in efficiency for cars, new ways of extracting fossil fuels, and traditional types of renewable energy. That is because companies understand those areas, whereas genuinely new technologies involve high risks and long development times. We need the most intensive research into any technologies that could possible make a major contribution, so that these options are available to our successors. They include desert solar power, nuclear power, robo-bikes, and new transport technologies such as SWIFT and bus-trains.
We also need non-technical research into how to make systems like the QTax work, and to define the best approach and how to implement it. Any change will be unfair to some people so tax changes need to be carefully designed and explained.
What can you do to make the required changes? If you live in a democracy, get in touch with those who represent you. At present they think you care more about other things. It was probably just the same in 1914.