Mac looks at his watch. It has been a long evening in Newcastle. He got here in time to celebrate with Singapore. Every hour a new country comes on line. The screen is impressive – the presence very close. His electronic assistant translates effortlessly, there are no language barriers in 2050.
In Bamako, the solar rich capital of Mali, they can afford the very best entertainment and they are in the same time zone. It will soon be midnight.
Mac smiles with anticipation. His personal assistant can deal with every language and dialect in the world, but it still can’t make sense of Auld Lang Syne.
I love sailing but it does have a serious downside. If the wind is good you get great exercise and exciting racing. If the wind is low it can get rather dull and fail to provide much physical challenge.
So these boats, pictured at Cowes Week in 2050, are Modern Viking boats. If the wind is strong they sail. If the wind drops the crew row. At intermediate strengths, as shown here, they sail and row simultaneously. Two of the 6 crew keep the boat level, 4 row.
The class doesn’t only provide a great work out, it also provides lots of interesting tactical opportunities. There would be a need for rule changes – for example oars must be stowed close to marks.
I guess the same principles could be applied to smaller and larger boats, up to full Viking size with perhaps 50 crew.
Like everything on Sketchfifty, this type of sailing is sustainable. No need for engines, and little need for rescue, because these boats are seaworthy.
The race is over. Jim heads for the shore, because the wind is forecast to die in 45 minutes. The local forecasts in 2050 are always accurate. When he gets close to port he will drop sail and run the electric motor for the last 5 minutes into harbour.
Sailing in 2050 looks just like it did in 2015, but a few subtle changes have made it sustainable. The boat is hired for the day – individually owned boats involve too much use of resources. The boat and sails use 2050 materials and last for many years. The marina employs a large team to keep the boats in perfect condition.
Jim’s personal kit is stored at the marina, and washed for him before each visit. Jim needs to bring little with him, so he does not need a car for the trip to the coast.
There are many sailors on the train home, because sailing is affordable and popular. They meet in the bar and discuss the racing. A great day!
By 2050 we will need many new homes. That’s because there are a lot of people on the planet and most of them live in pretty poor accommodation. To add to the problem the lowest lying coastal areas, which include some cities, may be starting to feel under threat from rising sea levels by 2050. People will want to move to new homes on nearby land that is slightly above the projected sea level.
The good news is that it really isn’t that hard to accommodate people. Their requirements are a substantial space that is at reasonable temperature, protected from wildlife, strong enough to resist storms, and with an outside view. Do that sustainably and the job is done.
The picture shows a future house building site. The houses have features of a 2015 passive house (passivhaus in German). They are very well insulated with thick walls. They have heat exchangers so that warm air leaving the house heats cold air coming in. They use the ground deep beneath as a reservoir of heat in winter and cool in summer.
The walls and roof are mostly fresh air, trapped in numerous small spaces by fibrous materials and plastic foams. The fibres come from wood, the foams from fossil fuels that can no longer be burned. Robust wooden facings provide attractiveness and durability. Most of the house is made of wood.
Wood is a way of storing carbon. If we need to preserve wood what better way to do that than in the form of homes, since people tend to treasure homes above anything else. The potential isn’t huge, but it is a useful contribution. The world probably needs around a billion new homes by the end of the century. If each contained 20 Tonnes of wood and materials derived from wood, we would store 10 Gigatonnes of carbon (wood is 50% carbon). That is equivalent to extracting 37 Gigatonnes of Carbon dioxide – around our current emissions in one year.
The builders in the foreground are putting in the underground heat stores, and the heat exchangers for ground source heat pumps. All of that work is best done before the house is built, at the same time as the drains, pipes, and foundations. Their digger is fuelled by methanol from the deserts. The extra cost of fossil free methanol is a small percentage of the overall building cost.
In the background a new house is being built. Once the foundations are in the process is relatively rapid, with sections being built off site and craned into place – a process made possible by the use of wooden construction. These new homes are relatively large, reflecting the fact that many people will be wealthy. Most people will live in cities, but even there high rise apartments should be spacious by 2015 standards. All houses, whatever their type, will tend to use wooden construction where possible.
Even more than other Sketchfifty entries, this definitely isn’t a prediction. However it would be rather entertaining if Burnley did make it in the big league…
The huge crowd in Burnley is silent because the home team are losing to their rivals, the top Brazilian side Flamengo. Despite their silence, however, the noise in the stadium is deafening. The cheers and chants of the Flamengo fans in bars and halls in Rio is being transmitted to the North of England, increasing the annoyance of the Burnley fans. Burnley are the only English club in the World Club League, they have a track record of success and the crowd expect to see victories.
The old town of Burnley lies close to the centre of the capital of Northern England, the huge new linear city of Hapton. This city has grown in the northern hills because of climate projections. Despite the fact that carbon emissions have now stopped, the world continues to warm slowly, storms get a little more fierce each year, and the sea level slowly creeps higher. The land around here rarely floods and the valleys provide protection from storms. The weather, once considered rather cold and wet, is projected to remain relatively benign until the climate settles down, sometime after 2300. This area has therefore become one of the most desirable in Europe.
Hapton is home to many wealthy people from across the globe. These include the nations of the Sahara, now enjoying considerable wealth from the solar farms that cover large areas of their country. They have come here because the Sahara, never a great place to live, is expected to become quite intolerable within the next fifty years.
One of the newcomers, a billionaire from Chad, is now the owner of Burnley Football Club and pours wealth into it.
The World Club League has become possible because of advances in communications. It is now possible to experience a big match remotely. Cameras provide a multitude of views of each goal. The performance of each player can be monitored. The noise of distant fans can be fed into live games.
The crowd here still contains a few long term Burnley fans. One of those, old Bill H, has been coming here for longer than anyone can remember. He can still get around on the excellent public transport system in Hapton. He watches with relief as Ronaldo, the fourth player of that name to be voted the best in the world, streaks free of the Flamengo defence and slots the ball home. A draw isn’t ideal, but Burnley could still secure the title in their next league game.
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.
This post looks at the rather crazy sounding idea of robot bikes, with no rider. They are however technically feasible given the rate of advance in computing and would have many convenience, cost, and environmental advantages. As usual I’ve tried to liven the technical stuff up with a story.
Chloe has thrown a surprise barbecue. Some friends just called to say that they were in the area and since it is a nice day she suggested a barbecue. She lives in the country, twenty minutes from the nearest butcher. She called the butcher an hour ago and they promised to deliver.
The robot bike has just arrived. She unloads the meat while her partner fires up the barbecue. A second bike arrives with the bread, salad and drinks.
These bikes have no rider and navigate the narrow country lanes at safe speeds. They do not need to go fast because they carry no driver charging time by the hour. They can cope with potholes and if they need to stop they simply put their feet on the ground. They are electrically powered, and because they are so light (the heaviest thing on a bike is normally the rider), they use little energy to get up hills. Their energy consumption is around one tenth of that used by an electric car, which is itself much more energy efficient than a diesel. They are the lowest cost way to deliver goods.
In 2050 they are common. They have transformed some parts of the world, notably Africa, by their ability to deliver drugs, food, and equipment across rough roads using only locally generated solar power to recharge their batteries. There are many cities around the world where the roads are simply too small and crowded for cars and vans, and where these robot bikes are much easier to accommodate.
Why can’t this happen now? Obviously self-driving cars are becoming available. Robot bikes are a further technical challenge but they can be built. A Chinese company is starting their development and some US companies are looking at them for military applications.
Bill is 98. Lots of people are as old as that old in 2050. He is independent, but walks slowly and his eyesight isn’t great. He lives in a city, as most people do in 2050. He fancies a coffee and sets off. When he gets to the nearest road he simply steps off the pavement.
A camera has been set up near his home to watch for this type of incident, which is common because there are many old people and children in the area. It broadcasts a warning. Two cars are approaching, under automatic control. They hear the warning, and slow down slightly so that Bill can get across in front of them.
The first car contains four people who are heading out for a game of wheelchair tennis. The second contains a blind person and her child. She simply got into the car and told it where she wanted to go.
In 2050 the old, the disabled and those unable to drive will have much more satisfying lives. The driverless car will allow them to live normally, no longer imprisoned in their homes or dependent on others to take them where they want to go.
Why can’t this be done now? Well, of course this technology is being developed by Google and others. It is important to allow development to proceed rapidly because these cars will bring a wide range of benefits.
This post looks at the role of religious leaders in protecting the planet.
Jim looks at his screen. It is the funeral of Archbishop Inuga, who lived from 1970 to 2050. Her coffin lies covered in flowers while the world’s leaders look on. She was a leader in the environmental movement, the person who drove through the new ethics on which so much subsequent political action was based. She insisted that religious leaders should turn their attention away from the past and instead focus on the issues of the 21st century.
Her first great contribution was to state that it is wrong to destroy the planet for our successors. Few people opposed this general statement, but she gave it greater force by consistently restating it. She said that if we produce children we have an absolute moral obligation to ensure that they have the means to live. They have a right to a habitable planet.
Then she took her argument a stage further. She asked how that general obligation should be translated into personal action. What were the moral responsibilities of each individual?
She quoted “Love your neighbour as yourself” and the story of the Good Samaritan which explains that everyone is a neighbour, irrespective of race or religion. She said that it was therefore morally wrong for any individual to take an unsustainable share of the earth’s resources and thus damage the lives of future generations. Her thinking helped to provide a firm ethical foundation for action on climate change.
She angered many people. The rich saw her as a threat to their lifestyles. She pointed out that they were welcome to retain their motor yachts and other toys provided that they were built and powered sustainably. She pointed out that the rich had the money to develop the required technology. Major companies feared the effects on their business. She pointed out that they could adapt (and in due course most of them did). She had powerful enemies but her position provided her with both protection and a platform for her views.
She said that her church members should lead the way by living sustainable lives and provided firm and sensible guidance on what that would involve. She gained the support of rich and powerful church members who used their influence to gather public and political support. Politicians picked up the argument. Other faith groups registered their support. Public opinion swung in favour of action and the lifestyle changes that would be involved.
Jim joined millions of others, of all religions and none, in signifying his respect by contributing to her chosen charity. He recognised that without her, and the many others who had supported her and taken her ideas further, the earth would be a far less hopeful place in 2050.
Why can’t this happen? Obviously it can. I illustrated this with a fictitious Christian leader, but it could equally have been led by another faith, an international politician, an academic, or a celebrity. What I am sure of is that there is a need for moral leadership to come from somewhere.