Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Can Jet Skis be sustainable?

The answer is yes. And powerboats, SUVs, helicopters, Formula One cars, planes and lots of other things we enjoy can all be sustainable too. They just need to use sustainable fuel.

20150108 Jetski and car corrected20150108 Jetski 1 corrected

There are lots of routes to sustainable fuel. The simplest but most dangerous is to make it from plants alone. Why? Because it takes lots of land to grow fuel, and we need that land for wildlife, and to grow food for people.

A better route is to use solar energy to make hydrogen, then use that hydrogen to make liquid fuels. I’ve included a page on a route to do that. On that page I reckon that methanol from the solar route would be 20% to 120% more costly to use than petrol in the UK in 2013. It would therefore be easily affordable for a jet ski, and for other leisure uses. In time, given technical advances, the cost of this fuel would be expected to fall.

The solar power would be best produced in deserts. There are lots of them on the planet – in North Africa, Australia, the Middle East, North America, Asia and Southern Africa. Ships could bring fuel from any of them, reducing the risks associated with dependency on one source of supply. See this earlier post for a view of whether the deserts can power us.

The picture shows a family outing to the seaside in 2050. Both the SUV and the jet ski use methanol fuel. The SUV can be away from civilisation for days if required. The jet ski too burns methanol, and is just as light and powerful as its 2015 versions were. Methanol fuel can be obtained from filling stations, which have converted to sustainable fuels to replace fossil fuel.

Why have I been banging on about battery electric cars and buses if this is true? Electric cars will be preferred for routine journeys like commuting and shorter journeys like shopping. They should be cheaper to operate than current fossil fuelled cars, and considerably cheaper than methanol fuelled vehicles. That is because battery vehicles can chose when to recharge, picking times when electricity supply is high and costs are low.

Battery vehicles will have adequate range for urban duties. They are pollution free, and may be mandated for urban use for that reason alone. Sustainable liquid fuels will therefore be reserved for those activities where battery vehicles cannot do the job.

Will methanol be used in internal combustion engines like those of 2015? Yes – very often. There will also be a new option to use fuel cells, which are quiet and efficient. Fuels like methanol (or hydrogen) are far easier for fuel cells than petrol or diesel.

How will Politics Change in 2050?

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…..

The build-up to the big vote


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.





Will Robot Bikes bring home the bacon?

The robot bikes arrive!
The robot bikes arrive!

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.

Can Driverless Cars help people with disabilities?

How driverless cars can bring a fairer society
How driverless cars can bring a fairer society

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.

What is an individual’s fair share of the earth’s resources?

This post looks at the role of religious leaders in protecting the planet.

The Archbishop's funeral

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.

Will Future Cities be Linear (Issue 2)

Some time ago I produced some pictures of a linear city. It looked rather like a huge greenhouse and attracted some criticism. These pictures show a modified city with separate buildings, town centres and rather more variety. I hope they are self-explanatory.

Just like the earlier version this city copies Manhattan. It is only 2 miles wide but it is as long as required.

The aim is to house millions of people but ensure that none are more than a mile from open countryside. Public transport is provided in the form of trams and trains. Cycleways are built into the city from the outset. Housing density is high so that distances are short. Energy consumption on travel and home heating will be less than 20% of current UK average levels. At that level renewable energy could meet the need, making the city effectively zero carbon.

The Central Street
The Central Street


City Plan
City Plan
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
How roads would be organised
How roads would be organised



The Edge of the City
The Edge of the City
The Centre of a Local Town
The Centre of a Local Town

Can we find a better Work-Life Balance?

Asha sorts things out.
Asha sorts things out.

Asha works for a software company. It is a fast moving business where competition is fierce. She is a project manager, a demanding job. She has two children, one aged 4, the other 7.

Her company produces personal software that measures food intake by continuously analysing images taken by the wearer’s spectacles. It isn’t too hard to measure piles of potatoes and meat, or to understand the contents of processed food since that is available from the producers. However one of the weak areas of all food intake software is added salt. People shake salt pots onto their food, and it is very hard to know exactly how much has been added. Likewise cooks casually toss salt into home cooked food.

They have been working with a University in Nairobi to solve this problem. The software analyses images in very fast time to assess the number and size of the grains of salt.  They are having problems. She needs the software to be in use by October 2050 to combat other organisations that are beginning to take their customers.

Asha gathers her team around a conference board. The Professor and Researcher in Nairobi explain how work is going. Her own team look for answers. The conference board listens and displays relevant information and its own ideas and questions. It searches the internet for relevant research and announcements. People move ideas around in 3 dimensions on the board. Costs and timescales of various options are generated and compared. Asha can look her team members in the eye to assess their level of assurance and commitment. Eventually they agree a way ahead.

At 3.15  Asha and her entire team go home, because an adult education group has booked the office. Their working day follows a pattern which is quite common in 2050.  They start the day by working at home. They go to the office from 9.15 until 3.15. They work again from home at some point during most evenings. It is a working day that leaves time for the family. The early morning and late evening sessions allow conversations with those in other time-zones. They also allow time for continuing professional development which is key to business success in 2050.

Asha lives in one of the new linear cities. Her commute to work is only 10 minutes by bike. The children go to a nearby school so it is easy to collect them. Her partner works similar hours in another company. If they worked in an 8 ’til 6 company they would be disadvantaged because they would be considered to be part-time. Organisations in 2050 offer varied working patterns to attract the best staff. Her company attracts people in their thirties and forties with growing families, a rich pool of talent.

Why can’t this happen now? To an extent, it is. However change will occur much more rapidly in future, driven by the fact that the world will become more complex and talent like Asha’s will be able to dictate employment terms.

p.s. I’m sorry about the picture, it is harder than I thought to sketch people!


Can we Employ Everyone in a Low Carbon Economy?

Jim talks about decorating a lounge
Jim talks about decorating a lounge

Jim visits his friend Arnav in the nearby city. Arnav has just moved to a new flat with great views over the surrounding countryside towards the coast. He shows Jim the lounge and asks for his views on the décor. Jim thinks that the room is great but isn’t too keen on the decoration.

Jim suggests a few people who may be able to help Arnav.  Jim’s interior designer would be a good start. He could maybe suggest some better colours and revise the room layout. He knows a business that will renovate the furniture. He knows of several good sculptors if Arnav wants to recast the existing sculpture. The wall screens show broadcasts when Arnav is alone, and are his interface with work colleagues, but can be set to be part of the decoration when Arnav has company. Jim  knows a company that specialises in creative options for those screens. Arnav will probably also need a decorator, an electrician, a plasterer, a cleaner, and a project manager.

In 2050 service industries have expanded. Few people would think of trying to decorate a room without professional assistance to create the vision and to implement it. The quality of decoration is one of the factors that defines the status of a person. People visit each other’s homes much more often than in 2014, because public transport is so easy. Many people, especially mothers, use IT to allow them to work from home. Colleagues and clients often see the interior of homes, either during face to face meetings or in the background during video conferences. Room décor is important.

The service industries associated with decoration are just the start. Others deal with clothing, fitness, food, holidays, education, IT, and many other topics.

This expansion of service industries brings environmental benefits because the planetary impact of service industries is generally much lower than for manufacturing industries.

It also means that we can employ everyone in a low carbon economy. There is no direct link between carbon use and employment. It will be possible to create a thriving and sustainable economy in future without changing the basic human need for status and a good lifestyle.

Can’t we do this now? We already are to some extent. Service industries in western economies are expanding at the expense of manufacturing, though at present this is because of manufacturing automation and cheap foreign labour rather than because of environmental concerns.

The trend towards brand names is also encouraging. People will readily pay considerably more for a fashionable brand name. They would sooner buy one item with a good name than 10 generic items. The effect is to reduce the number of items made and bought, reducing environmental impact. The advertising for these high status items is increasingly claiming environmental benefit as one of the main reasons to buy the product.

By 2050 public opinion will have swung much further and it will be regarded as vulgar to indulge in excessive consumption. Status will be defined by image, quality and style rather than by the number, size or power of personal possessions.

The Q tax will help to drive this trend. It will ensure that advertised claims of environmental benefit have a basis in reality. It will also drive behaviour by making excessive consumption costly in financial terms.

Can buses compete with trains?

20140316 Coach coloured

The bus-train from Liverpool to Cambridge (UK) whines quietly by at 90 mph. The journey of 192 miles will take under three hours, faster than trains or cars. It operates under computer control while the staff on board spend their time serving meals and coffees. 120 passengers enjoy the ride, watching TV and arriving relaxed. It uses roads that were built in the last century, with minor changes at junctions to accommodate these large vehicles.  There are no traffic queues because most people chose to use public transport rather than private cars.

The bus is electrically powered and its energy consumption per passenger is less than a tenth that of a diesel car. Its small energy consumption is consistent with the use of renewable energy sources, so it is effectively zero-carbon.

Across the world, bus-trains operate where there are no direct railway lines. On other routes they compete with trains and provide pressure to reduce ticket prices and improve services. They stop at new bus stations at the side of major roads. People use local buses, trams, trains or short-range electric cars to access these stations.

Why can’t this be done now? It is already starting to happen. Long-range electric buses have already been developed and will become more practical as batteries and fuel cells improve. Batteries can be used for buses for journeys of up to perhaps 200 miles, hydrogen fuel cells will permit longer ranges.

Articulated or bendy buses are already common in many cities, and fast articulated buses have been built. Buses are becoming more luxurious, for example some recent  buses have are fitted with personal entertainment systems and internet access.

Automatic control is being demonstrated for cars, and computer control should be easier for buses that follow simple routes on major highways. The system will cut operating costs and allow long journeys without rest breaks. By 2050 automatic control may be mandatory to cut the risk of human error and to provide a rapid and predictable response to problems.

What is needed technically is simply accelerated development and testing to set safety standards. There will also be a need for politicians to change legislation,  provide incentives, and make the required infrastructure changes. Finally there will be a need for personal tax changes to ensure that excessive use of fossil fuels is prevented, since that will drive the use of low energy systems such as this.



Can we make Bus travel more energy efficient?

Buses 2050
Buses 2050


Jim has a beer in the centre of his town. The beer is local, brewed the same way for 200 years. The buses also look fairly conventional, but the truth is that they are 5 times more efficient than buses in the old days – for example in 2014.

Some of that improvement comes from their engineering. Most of it however comes from how they are operated. In 2014 buses simply drove around to a schedule and people waited at bus stops. Sometimes the bus was full, and people got annoyed. Mostly the buses operated nearly empty. In 2050 all that has changed.

Jim will need a bus home. He reckons it will take him 15 minutes to finish his beer and mentions it to Pat, his electronic assistant. Pat comes back in 30 seconds and tells him the bus will arrive in 19 minutes and he has seat 25. The bus comes as predicted.

The main reason that the bus is so energy efficient is that it is nearly full. In 2014 buses in the UK operated with only 9 passengers on average. Most countries operated with similarly inefficient bus systems. Buses were more efficient than cars in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre, but the difference was not huge. In 2050 buses carry 30 passengers on average. The bulk of the efficiency improvement comes from that fact alone.

How is it done? Everyone signals the journeys that they want to make. Buses are sent when there is demand. Sometimes two or three buses must be used. They link together where routes intersect, and people transfer as in the picture above.

The bus company computer controls the buses. The roads are much less congested because far fewer journeys are made by car, so bus arrival times are predictable. There is much heavier demand for buses so they can operate frequently.

What if Jim needs to leave urgently and there is insufficient demand for a bus right now? Pat will scan the options and come up with the best. Jim may have to pay more, and incur greater environmental damage perhaps by using an electric taxi for part of the journey. If so he will pay extra Q tax. But that an unlikely event. Public transport can normally get Jim everywhere he needs to go, at the time he needs to travel.

Shouldn’t the buses be streamlined? These are slow buses for use in town only. I’ll show long distance buses soon.

p.s I apologise for not posting for a few weeks, I had some projects to complete. Note also that even in 2014 it makes environmental sense to use a bus. It will run whether you use it or not, and if you use it the extra fuel burned will be negligible. In contrast if you take the car, however efficient it is, significant extra fuel will certainly be used.