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A Green Future Where You Can Borrow Cars And Drink Rainwater

By Alok Jha

A low-carbon economy will be the culmination of thousands of decisions by governments, businesses and individuals about how we choose to balance environment and economy. There isn't one correct future but many, with each detail in each country dependent on the will of its people.

One thing is certain, though. Anyone concerned about having to give up their modern lifestyle for an austere existence can rest easy. The big differences between now and the low-carbon future will not be the way the world looks or what we will be able to do in it, but how it is arranged.

The biggest hurdle is electricity. Three-quarters of our global electricity needs come from burning fossil fuels. The low-carbon future will demand that none of that electricity emits carbon dioxide. So every gas or coal-fired power plant, of which there will be many in China and India, will have carbon-capture technology to trap and store CO2 underground. Renewable sources including wind, tide, wave and sun will, through investment in basic research in the coming decades, be commercially viable. Far from being forbidding installations belching out carbon dioxide, renewable power stations will be smaller, emit no CO2 and tap into near-limitless supplies of free fuel.

Clean electricity will have a knock-on effect on the other modern carbon nasty - transport. When electricity is cheap and clean, there is no reason not to use its power as much as possible. Electric cars, buses, lorries and high-speed trains will move us and our goods, yet make no contribution to global warming. Though mass public transport will be the travel mode of choice, personal cars will remain. You might not own one yourself, instead borrowing from clubs when needed. By planning towns around pedestrians and investing in cycle lanes, local councils will encourage travel under two miles to be under your own steam or by hydrogen buses.

Flying will be a problem. Improved aerodynamics, lighter aircraft and mixing biofuels into jet fuel will bring down the carbon cost of air miles. Carbon reductions in energy production and road transport will mitigate some of the rise in emissions from the growth in flights in China and India, but environmental campaigners will not be satisfied. Expect punishing taxes on plane tickets, tied to their carbon cost, to discourage flying unless there really is no alternative. In these situations, a personal carbon-rationing system, linked to national CO2 emissions targets, will allow individuals to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But the number of long journeys, particularly for work, will drop dramatically as high-speed internet connections enable high-quality video conferences and easy communications for people on different sides of the world. Many people will stop commuting to their offices or factories, preferring to work from home.

Homes might look the same, for nostalgic reasons, but will be fundamentally different. Bricks coated with solar paint will be held together with cement that soaks up CO2 from the air around it. Triple-glazed windows will reduce the need for heating in winter and cooling in summer.

Only the most energy-efficient fridges and washing machines will be available to buy while LEDs in lamps and displays will turn electricity into light efficiently instead of wasting most of it as heat. Automatic controls will warm rooms only when needed and switch appliances and lights off when they're not needed.

Our throwaway culture will disappear. By encouraging people to re-use as much as possible, less waste will end up in landfill and the carbon in our possessions (the stuff emitted to make our clothes, toys or furniture) wil not be wasted. Products will be made to last and, when they come to the end of their useful life, be repaired rather than thrown away. Packaging will be virtually nonexistent and, where it exists, will be recyclable or compostable.

People will use water more carefully. Rain will be collected from home and office rooftops and filtered using carbon-free electricity so that it is drinkable. Any water drained away in a building will be recycled and treated locally to wash clothes or flush toilets. Bottled water will be banned.

Food will come from local farms or factories to reduce the carbon cost of transport. Meat lovers, because of their high-carbon diets, will have to use up their personal carbon rations whenever they bite into a steak or else make sure their food comes from local, sustainable farms that produce meat artificially.

Locally-produced electricity will also play a big part in keeping homes carbon free. Solar thermal panels, community-based combined heat and power plants running on carbon-neutral wood chips, micro wind turbines and ground source heat pumps mean that local districts won't need all their power from today's centralised power stations. Local heat and power networks could even feed into the national grid during times of great demand.

This is one of many visions for a low-carbon world in 2050. It seems a long way off and whether we get there depends on decisions made over the next few years.

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.
Photo credit: flickr/iChaz, Creative Commons License.

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To advocate any sort of Carbon credit system, is to commit the despicable act of calling for further limitations on the personal freedom of one's fellow man (as if there weren't enough already). This is easily detectable in the fact that it takes the form of a patch-fix (as if we don't already suffer enough from those).

Here's some simple off-the-top-of-my-head thinking:
Don't want heaps of Carbon in the air?
1st thought: Plant more trees!
2nd thought: Implement an economic structure that simply doesn't reward environmental denigration, OR rely on socialist-style government regulation in the form of more laws and more taxes on the people and private business alike.

2050... Weak vision for the future much?

The fact that this article fails to even mention the idea of a root cause (let alone discuss those probable), renders it's propositions nothing more than subjective nuggets of wishful thinking.



Posted by: Jason on 1 Apr 09

O dear. Another utopian worldview from an urbanite journalist. We'll all happily drink rainwater, charge out electric Tesla's (our the club's loaners) with our solar panels, build our houses from bricks covered in 'solar paint' and cemented with CO2-slurping cement. Et cetera. Green technofixes and we'll all live happily ever after. Artificial meat? Lab-grown cubes of protein?
How much power will that solar paint give you? I just looked at the solar irradiance data through a local weather station here. It is a lightly overcast spring day just after the equinox, at 46° North. Solar energy input is about 350 watts per square metre. No modern high-end solar panel will turn more than 15 percent of that into useful electricity. Just 50 watts or so per square metre, if the panel is pointed exactly right. 'Solar paint' will certainly be far less efficient than that (and note that there may be far less wall than roof surface in a free-standing house, and that in an apartment building there is not all that much exterior wall per habitation unit), so you'll never be able to charge the batteries of the electric car. And if it does not rain for a while, what will you drink? When does the cement between your brick get saturated with CO2? It's not all that much to begin with...

Indeed this is just the usual bit of wishful thinking. Technology will conjure up magical fixes and produce all the energy we need, clean and green, from thin air.
Again, the root causes are not addressed: too many people on the planet, of which a certain minority already uses far too much energy and other resources to maintain their comfortable lifestyle (that's us). Either the Earth's population needs to be reduced to about a quarter of what it is today, or everybody will need to live a very frugal life indeed.

Posted by: Schwep on 2 Apr 09

Sigh. A carbon-credit system is despicable, is it? Limitation of freedom? We don't have the "freedom" to beat up our fellow-men on the street, nor do we have the freedom to dump our trash in the river. There are plenty of things that we are not "free" to do because they are destructive and dangerous.

Innumerable human actions produce carbon dioxide, and will continue to until we can completely restructure the way we live. If we are to limit CO2 output before such time as we develop a carbon-free society, we may need to resort to something like a carbon-rationing system. If we don't, not only do we risk leaving an uninhabitable planet for our ancestors, but we will probably see a great deal of climate-based conflict within our lifetimes. There'll be a lot less freedom to spread around in that scenario.

I agree that the article is a tad rose-coloured (carbon capture on coal plants? Unless it includes the entire process of extraction, I'm gonna say not likely.) But is proposing a society that manages to avoid pragmatic necessity (laws, taxes) while increasing individual agency/deregulation any less utopian than the OP?

Posted by: Chris L on 2 Apr 09

Is this an April Fool's joke?

Posted by: Josh on 2 Apr 09

In response to the nonsense Chris L posted.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -Benjamin Franklin

To make my point explicit, we have a choice between:

1. Expansion of government (physical conflict) and
2. Conversation.

Upon logically extrapolating these notions, it's plain to see that one is the desire of a child yearning for daddy's protection, and the other is the choice of a self-respecting person.



Posted by: Jason on 3 Apr 09

"Take back your city tonight!

Discussion is always welcome,

But maybe we need to try somthing more Radical! in the grey zone of what is considered legal by those who make the laws; the very same ones that sat by for generations as the planet died. The game is already over, we have already lost. This will all end badly.
Species die. We are no different.- but for once as a united people can we take one last stand.

Lets remember that we are not fighting for oil,the right to vote, land, gold, or even diamonds.

We are fighting for our lives!- Its Survival!

Any act that threatens our lives; dealt with summarily and swiftly; would be an act of self defense.-on a very basic level?

there is only ONE actual Superpower.

We the People."

Silverman 2009

This is an invitation to take back your city tonight.

Walk at night,
Walk in groups,
Take regular walks,
Hold hands,
Talk to someone face to face,
Don’t ignore the wrong,
Blow the whistle on crime,
Help the needy,
Be the change,
Make yourself visible,
Be safe,
Plant fruit trees,
Pick fruit,
Plant flowers,
Plant seeds,
Water plants
Pickup garbage,
Walk your dog,
Carry your cat,
Pocket your hamster,
Play music,
Sing your heart out,
Sing together,
Have your say!
Mend a fence,
Trim a tree,
Rake up leaves,
Smile at your neighbour,
Smile at a stranger,
Hug someone new,
Learn a new name,
Embrace the concept of true freedom!
Freedom as in free!
Fight the fear.
Get together,
Do a bit of gardening,
Be the people you have been waiting for!
Share a sandwich,
Share stories,
Take pictures,
Spread the message,
Do even know what your city looks like at night?
Ill see you tonight!

Posted by: Reagan on 15 Apr 09

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