Jacob's dream 2050
What are our visions for the future? And how are we going to get there?
Here is a vision of my own. I am an optimist.
Jacob was born in 2007. The year is now 2050, and he is 43 (something some members of Grace will identify with, at least approximately), and a dad (same again). He has a wife, Alison, and two children, Matthew aged ten and Jenny aged eight. Jenny is named after a legend of the emerging church.
What sort of lives do they lead? The dominant feature in their lives -- and everybody else's lives -- is the existence of carbon credits. The level of carbon emissions which is sustainable has been calculated, and then divided equally among all people, and so each individual is allocated a carbon allowance to live within. It is not my job here to explain how that will work -- leave it to the accountants -- but to describe the effect on their lives. An inevitable result of the requirement to live carbon constrained lives is that environmental impact -- not just related to climate change -- has become a factor in any decision. It has become an innate part of everyone's mindset.
I will begin with their house. The family lives in a Victorian terraced house in northeast London, which they inherited from Jacob's parents. It still looks like a Victorian terrace, apart from the solar panels on the roof, but it is different inside. It is now so carefully insulated that no heating is required (it is amazing how uncluttered a house is when it has no radiators). The electricity from the solar panels is insufficient for all the family's requirements, so some of their electricity still comes from the grid, and they have to limit what they use or, quite literally, the lights would go off. The grid electricity, long since decarbonised, mainly comes from offshore windfarms, some of which are owned by former fossil fuel companies who were foresighted enough to see the need to diversify (even if they only saw the need to keep their shareholders happy). The largest windfarm in the North Sea is owned by BP, which has not changed its name.
Jacob is an information manager for a bank, and he works from home (so no commuting), using a computer with battery backup in case there is a blackout. The computer is ten years old -- although technological improvements still continue at breakneck speed, they are focused on improvements which require no new hardware, because resources for hardware are extremely limited. Similarly, new furniture is a rarity; furniture is made to last. Some of the family's furniture is inherited. If somebody has furniture to dispose of, they can easily find somebody willing to take it off them, an extension of Freecycle.
Alison is a teacher at a secondary school. She walks to work -- she deliberately chose a job that would enable her to walk, although if it was further she would cycle. (The family doesn't have a car, and neither do any of their friends, with the exception of one who is disabled. If somebody living in a city under normal circumstances has a car, it is a safe assumption that they are disabled). The children walk to a local primary school, with a group of schoolfriends supervised by one of the parents -- an updated version of the school run. The children's school uniforms are hand-me-downs, from a scheme organised by the school to facilitate clothes recycling (it includes casual clothes as well as uniforms). There are no food or drink machines at the school. At break times, children gather round the water fountains in the playground.
Some of the food the family eats would look familiar to someone who gets an organic box. Virtually all food and other purchases are ordered online and delivered, through a coordinated delivery once a week. Small local shops exist, but there are no large shops. Most of the family's food is vegan, although they eat meat on special occasions. They eat very little processed food, because the energy cost is too great. There is limited rubbish -- as much packaging as possible is designed for reuse and recycling, and the delivery companies collect and reuse packaging. Food waste is used for compost. "Ordinary" rubbish is collected only once a month.
Sometimes people find alternative uses for their rubbish. Jacob saw an example on a local news web site just this week: someone was caught fly-tipping by his neighbours, including a policeman, and they handcuffed him to a gatepost and emptied their compost bins over him -- the modern equivalent of putting someone in the stocks. Then he had to clear up. It is unlikely that he, or anyone else in the neighbourhood, will ever fly-tip again.
But that was not an original idea; the source was obvious -- last week it was all over the news web sites, particularly the red tops. A pop star had been suitably punished by his fans for deciding to take a flight to New York to do a concert. Flying still happens, but, unless the benefits clearly outweigh the environmental damage, it is considered completely unacceptable. Performing live at a concert is not a valid reason for flying, and people in the public eye are expected to set an example to everyone else. If the pop star manages to salvage his reputation, he will do a virtual concert instead.
Some international sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, still continue because they are valued so much. There are concessions to people needing their bread and circuses. I have already mentioned bread.
To return to Jacob's family, where do they find their circuses, or, more literally, their entertainment? They have a TV (a very small one, by the standards of the early 21st century), and they all have gadgets for playing music and games. But the time they can spend recharging them is limited, so they need to find other ways of entertaining themselves. The children borrow books from a library, and when they were younger they also borrowed toys. They go to play in the park with their friends, again with a parent keeping an eye on them. Jenny's great love is singing, which her parents appreciate because it has no carbon costs at all.
She is the star of the school choir, and she would probably be the star of the church choir if her family went to that sort of church, but they actually go to an emerging church. It runs in parallel with a church in New Zealand, founded by the children and grandchildren of Andrew Jones. Sometimes they run parallel services from exactly the same plan, and then enjoy examining how things went differently at the two services. Nobody from the church in London has ever met anybody from the church in New Zealand, nor do they expect to, but since they can communicate easily it doesn't matter.
What with all the exercise, the unprocessed food, and the lack of pollution from cars, the children are very healthy, but are they lacking in experience? They have never been abroad. Some people travel abroad, such as Alison's sister, who is vegan and has very few electrical items, and saves up her carbon credits so she can occasionally travel to continental Europe. Jacob's family have been on walking and beach holidays in England, and they always go to Greenbelt. Greenbelt was forced to prove its environmental credentials many years ago, or enlightened people would have stopped going (and who wants to go to a festival only attended by unenlightened people?) There are actually many more festivals than there used to be, because people go on day trips to festivals as a substitute for travelling further. Back in the year 2000, the children at Greenbelt were asked what would create heaven on earth for them, and one said "more Greenbelts". It looks like they have had their wish.
As well as the festivals, a treat for the children is to go to a virtual reality simulator, enabling them to try activities such as skiing and scuba diving which would be impossible in real life. Although he has never been abroad, Matthew has grand designs for a trip right across Asia. He is already saving carbon credits and thinks he may be able to travel when he is in his mid twenties. But by then he can expect to be working -- how could he take a very long trip? Sabbaticals, for the specific purpose of taking long trips, are a standard perk of many jobs.
At Christmas, the family are visited by Jacob's older brother Ted. Ted is a geologist at a university in Birmingham -- he is currently engaged in a project to investigate the long-term safety of carbon sequestration. He has no family, but he can't afford the carbon costs of living alone or commuting, so he lives in a shared house within walking distance of the university. This house, unlike Jacob's, is a new house, purpose built to high environmental standards (all houses have been required to be built to these standards since the year 2016). He shares with five other people, including students, which sometimes feels a bit odd considering that he is nearly fifty, but the students respect him and regard him as a source of wisdom and maturity (and they are slightly less likely to get drunk and behave irresponsibly than other students). And everyone mucks in in the allotment at the back of the house.
Ted travels to London on a coach, down the near-deserted M1. The coach is run by the company formerly known as EasyJet, another company which saw the need to diversify. EasyJet's great rival, Ryanair, did not survive. Their death knell was sounded in the year 2010, when the chief executive was voted "most irritating environmental villain of the year". (How embarrassing can you get?)
Halfway to London, the coach needs to stop for refuelling, since its electric battery is inadequate for the entire journey. It stops at a service station, and switches the battery for a replacement. The service station has its own wind turbine to reduce costs when recharging batteries. Recharging batteries is an ideal use for wind turbines because it is not time sensitive.
So Ted joins the family for Christmas. To mark the occasion, the family eat food such as turkey and chocolate which they don't get to eat very often, and enjoy it all the more because they eat it so rarely. And they give each other presents -- Matthew is absolutely made up with his present from his Uncle Ted. Ted has given him some of his carbon allowance to save towards his big trip.
Take a step back for a moment. The world is very constrained compared to what we are used to -- what sacrifices would you have to make? If you came to Gracelet in April, you will have an idea of how much you will need to cut down. Would it bother you if you couldn't eat meat? If you couldn't have so many gadgets? If you couldn't drive a car? I would expect everyone to be bothered by the restrictions on travel. But if you were expecting a collapse of civilisation, that has not happened. And in many ways life has improved.
I have indicated what is happening in the UK. What about the rest of the world? Everyone in the world has the same carbon credits, but when they were introduced, not everyone had the same capacity to use them. So the people who arrived late to the party suddenly found that they had the easiest job.
A similar story was told by Jesus. [Matthew 20 vv 1-16 -- the parable of the workers in the vineyard]
During the transitional period when carbon credits were being introduced, the USA in particular really struggled to update its infrastructure to a low car-use economy. They needed to extend timeframes, so they bought some of the credits from poor countries who did not have the infrastructure to use them all. The poorest countries then had the funds to build their country's infrastructure, to improve their health and security (in some cases, flood defences were a priority). After waiting all day for someone to hire them, they ended up at the same level as everyone else.
The sacrifices are worth it -- on a global scale, many people's lives have been vastly improved. And most importantly, environmental collapse and (just as bad as environmental collapse and possibly even worse) wars over resources have been avoided, and it is not necessary for me to write an apocalyptic story. It is even possible that in a thousand years time people will look back at climate change as a good thing. It was what finally united humanity behind a common goal.
Some more words of Jesus: "I come so they may have life, and have it in abundance." [John 10 v 10]
Now return to the present. I started off by saying that environmental impact had become part of everyone's mindset. There are signs of that happening already, but will it be quick enough, or complete enough? Start with yourself. What is your mindset? And what can you do to guide others?