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.
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.
The picture is on the North-West coast of Africa in 2050. Large ships are loading fuels for export across the world. In the distance smaller ships are loading specialist chemicals and bringing feedstock for processes.
Inland, across the 5000 kilometre wide Sahara desert, huge solar power stations are in action. Some use solar cells, others store heat and use it to make power for 24 hours a day, others generate hydrogen. Near the Atlantic coast, where access is available for large ships, industrial plants use that hydrogen and electricity. The output is chemicals of various types and transport fuels for cars, ships and planes.
Mauritania, which is on this coast, is now one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Its development from one of the world’s poorest countries was as sudden as the oil boom that transformed the Persian Gulf in the twentieth century. It boasts cities built by the best architects. Its citizens own the top soccer teams. Its population has grown as it has attracted people from across Africa and the brightest and best from across the planet.
The abundance of electricity has attracted other industries both to Mauritania and to its neighbours. Nigeria is now a top manufacturing country and has remained prosperous even though there is little demand for its oil.
This is not the only such industrial site in the world. There are others in Australia, the Southern USA, Mexico, Namibia, the Middle East, India and China.
The North African countries that face the Mediterranean also generate electricity and hydrogen but their prime market is direct sales to Europe. Half of Europe’s electricity supply comes from North Africa.
Why can’t this happen now? Fuels produced this way are more costly than fossil fuels. Opinions differ on when the cost of energy from renewable sources will fall far enough to make them competitive. My view is that renewables may be more costly than fossil fuels for many years. The cost of renewables is falling, but not quickly enough. There is more than enough fossil fuel available to destroy the planet.
Isn’t solar electricity becoming competitive now? Well I keep reading that it is, but I suspect that doesn’t include the costs of the kit required to turn an intermittent supply during the middle part of the day into a 24 hour supply wherever it is needed. I’d be very pleased to be proved wrong.
Can’t we increase the price of fossil fuels to deter their use? Taxes on fossil fuel, or charges on fuel producers will always be politically unpopular. They make fuel expensive. They leave the poor unable to heat their homes or travel to work while the rich can still afford tons of fossil fuel for their super-yachts.
The most important issue in bringing about a sustainable economy is to find an acceptable financial mechanism to drive it. The Qtax is one option. It directly measures the environmental degradation caused by each individual. It does not prevent the rich from owning super-yachts, but it punishes them financially if they use fossil fuels to build or propel them. The rich will therefore drive development of sustainable technologies.
Why make fuels? Won’t everything be electric in 2050? Many things will be electric, because it is efficient to use electricity directly, but liquid fuels like petrol are much more energy dense than even the best battery. Hydrogen gas is another potential fuel. It can be used directly as a fuel but it tends to work out heavier than a liquid fuel because of the heavy containers needed to store it. There are therefore many applications where range, weight and power requirements will dictate the use of a liquid fuel.
Why not make liquid fuels from plant materials? That is done at present but the amount that can be made is limited by the space available to grow plants and the fact that we need plants for food. In theory much more could be produced using solar power in deserts.
Is it possible to make liquid fuels this way? See Wikipedia for the state of development of these processes. The cost and efficiency of these conversion processes will be crucial factors in deciding whether they are widely used.
Isn’t it environmentally destructive to industrialise the desert? Yes, to an extent it is. Humans have to make judgements about which parts of the planet they want to sacrifice in the interests of protecting the remainder. The Qtax gives a mechanism to drive the least damaging forms of planetary degradation. Desert power production to meet all of the world’s energy requirements would use much less than half of the available desert, There will still be vast tracts left empty. See SEWTHA for details of how much energy can be produced in this way.
Is desert solar the obvious answer to all our problems? It looks very promising, and will probably be a big part of the future. There are however potential political questions that could affect the reliability of supply. The cost of this energy will be higher than fossil fuels, and if it is too high only the wealthy will be able to afford it. It is worth developing other energy options until those questions are answered.
What do you think of these sketches of a future city? I think it could cut energy use, save lots of countryside and offer a great lifestyle.
Every home is close to the countryside. There are restaurants galore. Millions of job opportunities within 30 minutes commuting time. A wide range of sports can be played or watched. There are plays, concerts and cinemas. There is a choice of schools, universities, hospitals, museums, art galleries all within easy reach.
The disabled, the old, children and cyclists can travel safely. Trains are used for travel along the city, moving walkways aid walking across the city. All services, and all deliveries are electrically powered and underground.
A roof and triple glazed walls protect the whole city and keep it at the right temperature. It is easier to control the temperature of the whole city than many individual homes because the external surface is very much smaller. There is no fuel poverty because homes do not need to be individually heated. There is no sweltering heat either if the city is built in the tropics.
The city could be built up to 20 storeys high and perhaps 2 kilometres (1 and a quarter miles) wide. At that scale it could provide homes for millions of people. It would have added attraction if an existing, fast growing city was at one end of the line.
The linear city offers a new alternative. A life that combines a place in the country with the buzz of a major city. A place where a family could be brought up. There is no need for a car, except perhaps for occasional trips at weekends when one can be hired.
The city duplicates the dynamism of similar linear cities like Manhattan or Hong Kong, and by keeping things compact it leaves the environment available for all to enjoy.
Best of all, energy use on cars and heating/cooling will be a fraction of their current level. Follow this link. The red column on the left estimates individual energy use in the UK. Other developed countries will be similar. You can see that cars and heating/cooling represent a good chunk of the way we currently use energy. The linear city could be a big part of a sustainable future, especially with a couple of billion more people to house on the planet by 2050.
I hope the pictures tell the story. I really struggled with some of these, and nearly gave in and used Powerpoint. Sketching is more fun, and I’ve put in for a course starting in January!
Why can’t this be done now? It can, and to an extent it is. There is however a big leap from a suburban world to living in close company in a city. People still aspire to leave the cities for the suburbs. The city presented here may not seem attractive until the fuel price rises to the point where individual homes and cars become unaffordable.
I’ll probably enter this concept into a competition in early 2014 to see if it gains any support there. But I’m not hopeful, I think that its time has not yet come.
What do you think? Would you live here? Let me know your views by clicking on the poll or posting comments.
I’ve done a page with a little more information on linear cities in the ‘Background and Assumptions’ section.