2050By Bruce - November 2020 (updated August 2021 and January 2022)
I am publishing a paper that I found in an old box that had been stored in the roof space (attic) of an old house that I purchased and was in the process of renovating. The papers apparently belonged to one of the previous owners of the property. From what I can make out he was a doctor that worked at a psychiatric hospital from the early 1970s to late 1980s. They seem to be case files from some of the patients that he use to treat at the hospital. Why he had taken them to his house is anyone's guess.
Being medical records I suppose that I shouldn't have read them but my curiosity got the better of me. Besides most of the patients were long gone. A lot of the records were routine and boring. But there was one patient record that did pique my interest.
This patient had a very strange tale to tell. The case was from around the mid 80s. He was an American - his accent attested to that - however there was no record of him ever entering Australia. The reason that he gave was that the vehicle that he had been traveling in had malfunctioned and had landed him in the wrong place - Australia instead of America. That was weird enough but the story just kept getting weirder. He said that he had traveled to the future and had seen stuff that he said he needed to tell the World, to warn the World about. He said that the World was going to face a disaster if action wasn't taken. Weather patterns were going to change, more storms, more heat waves, more famine and refugees. He was very insistent that he had to warn the World's leaders so they would do something to stop it.
Of course global warming was not an issue that was on everyone's mind in the mid 1980s, though it was certainly well known in the scientific community. The psychiatrist obviously hadn't heard much about it - and besides the story of time traveling was preposterous - a fantasy of a deluded mind. Which I suppose is why the chap ended up in the psychiatric hospital.
The final record of interview with the patient was particularly interesting. The patient was riled up and ranting and insistent that he had to leave. He said he had decided that the current Government would not listen to him and that he had to go back to the future to give warning to a Government when there was likely to be greater evidence of warming occurring. He said he was going that night because there were thunderstorms predicted for that evening. The psychiatrist thought this was more evidence of his delusions, prescribed some more drugs and wrote that he recommended that the patient stay in the hospital for a very long time.
The final record from the psychiatrist dated a couple of days after the record of interview was a note that said the patient had escaped the hospital the evening after the previous interview, in the middle of a massive thunder and lightning storm. He had not been found. The case had been referred to the police.
There was another document among the case file notes. The patient said that it was from someone he had met in the future - 2050 to be precise. The patient said that he had asked this person to describe what was happening with climate change so that he could take it back with him as part of his evidence to warn the Governments of the issue. The psychiatrist thought that this document had in fact been written by the patient himself as part of his delusional state. After reading it I wasn't so sure.
Anyway this is the document that I publish below.
To whom it may concern.
I am writing this because last night I met really what I can only describe as a very peculiar man. I hope he does not mind me saying this. He has unkempt white hair going in all directions and the strangest darting eyes and nervous disposition. He drove this really weird car - unlike any I had seen. It was definitely not battery powered. Or hydrogen powered for that matter. He said it was his time travel machine - as well as his car. The rest of his story was just as fantastical. He said that he was a scientist that had traveled from the past - the mid 1980s - and had been shocked by what he had found, the state of the planet with climate change. He said he had to warn the people from the past of what would happen in the future. After we had talked for a while he asked me to write something about the state of the planet and climate change and the things that had changed so that he could provide it to the Governments of the past to try to convince them to change. He said that he had to go to collect more evidence but would be back here tomorrow and would take anything that I had written. He had to leave tomorrow evening because there were thunder storms predicted. I didn't see how that related to his timetable but I didn't question it.
He is certainly the most interesting person I had met in the last few years. No - on reflection - the most interesting and strangest person I had met - ever. So I thought - why not? I am not doing much for the rest of the day - so I wrote all I could think of - as below.
31 October 2050
Climate change really began to bite hard in the 2020s. The frequency of severe bushfire seasons increased markedly. The fires of the early 21st century were more frequent and much more severe than those in the late 20th century. This trend continued and worsened in the subsequent decades - despite the various technological innovations implemented - satellite fire spotting and fleets of quick response fire fighting drones. The impact on the bush and wildlife has been catastrophic in some areas. Many areas of bush did not have time to fully recover from the last bushfire before they were hit by more fires. While the Australian bush had evolved to survive an instance of fire it had not evolved to survive fire year after year. Combined with the lower rainfall, many areas are suffering die back - the bush is just not regenerating from bushfire as it should.
The impact on wildlife is severe. Koalas are now critically endangered - from bushfire, decreasing habitable bush, lower rainfall and increasing temperatures. As is much other wildlife. Large officially designated sanctuary areas have been set up with plans and resources to protect the areas from fire at all costs. Breeding programs are also being undertaken. Urban zoos have also increased their populations in an effort to ensure the survival of Australia's unique fauna.
It was realised that the amount of bushfire and the loss of natural regenerative capacity of that bush was adding a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than had been allowed for in the climate models. This has been addressed in two ways - all bush clearing is banned on public and private property and a massive tree planting program was undertaken and is still going on. As it turned out this did not meet much opposition from landowners. The requirement for cattle farming had collapsed so extra cleared land is not required. The massive tree planting programs were supported and continue to be supported by government employment programs. Another rule change that occurred is that while tree planting could be included in the carbon credit type schemes the amount of carbon recorded as being permanently stored by the trees was significantly discounted due to the risk to the trees of bushfire and long term drought.
While storms haven't increased in frequency they have increased in severity. When they hit they are often strong enough to damage housing and cause localised flooding. In most cases the housing and other infrastructure have been designed - or modified - to cope. It is much worse in the Northern parts of the country and other parts of the World where there has also been a marked increase in the severity of cyclones and hurricanes.
As predicted the sea level has continued to rise. While the rise is still not huge it does mean that some low level areas are flooded more often during storms. Some work has been done on building sea walls and modifying the storm water drainage system to prevent flooding. Sea level rise is predicted to continue for decades, perhaps centuries, to come threatening to all coastal areas.
80 to 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is dead. This is from the combined effects of solar bleaching, seawater warming and acidification, and pollution from water run off from mainland Australia. The ocean's natural fishing stocks have collapsed - from climate related impacts and over fishing. Some areas of the World have programs of localised coastal fish restocking, a practice that use to only occur on inland water ways.
Temperatures have kept increasing. Now in 2050 it is nudging 1.7 degrees of warming worldwide, a bit higher in Australia. The good news - the rate of temperature increase is levelling off. This did not happen by itself but through a Worldwide effort to decrease carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide release that kicked off in earnest in the 2020s. While Australia is getting its levels of carbon dioxide emissions down close to zero - below zero when carbon capture and storage methods are taken into account - it has been more difficult for other areas of the World that are not so blessed with renewable energy resources. A form of atmospheric geo - engineering has also commenced. More on this later.
Australia has been severely effected - many parts of inland Australia are now so severely affected by drought and increased temperatures the areas can no longer be used even for cattle - however cattle grazing would have been phased out anyway. Again marginal croplands are largely no longer usable - though every few years after the occasional decent rainfall farmers will still try their luck in the area and plant a crop - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Additional land areas have become marginal. In other areas orchards and crops have generally had to move south into cooler areas, often taking over areas previously used for dairy and other stock farming. The CSIRO has worked feverously to breed crop species that can survive in the hotter temperatures and drier conditions - with marginal success.
The Murray Darling Basin, once the food bowl of Australia, has been drastically impacted. The amount of water available for irrigation is less than half what it was in 2020s which in turn was a lot less than earlier years. The Murray River basin has coped better than the Darling River due to the bigger dams feeding the Murray and the better water diversion control in Victoria. Some crops with high water use off the Darling have been banned, such as cotton and rice. Water diversions from the rivers and ground water in the basin are now strictly controlled. Large areas on the fringes of irrigation areas have reverted back to dryland cropping allowing other areas to still receive sufficient irrigation water to maintain some crops and orchards. Crop irrigation off the Darling only occurs in seasons when there has been sufficient rain. Otherwise only town water supply and domestic and stock water diversions occur. It is thought that eventually all irrigation from the Darling might have to be abandoned to ensure that the river system has enough water to survive ecologically in some fashion. The irrigation water volumes taken from the Murray have also decreased but will at least continue into the mid term future.
Despite all of these significant impacts Australia is still able to grow enough food for itself and to export some, although export volumes have fallen. In large part Australia has been able to insulate itself from the worse of the impacts mainly due to its wealth.
Politically there have been massive changes in Australia. The Greens party has grown significantly, winning a large proportion of inner urban seats and some fringe urban seats. The Labor party still wins many of its old working class seats however in recent years they never win enough seats to govern in their own right. Recently they have formed a coalition with the Greens party, much to the chagrin of some of the older members. The Labor/Greens coalition has been in power federally and in some states for the last decade. The Liberal party is still around as the main opposition party, but even it has moved more to the centre. The Nationals eventually diminished until they held no seats as they refused to modernise their policies to align with the the thinking of their main constituents. Their place has largely been taken by another more progressive country based party which split off from the Nationals, however the Liberals have taken over some of the seats which were once traditionally held by the Nationals.
Environmentally other parts of the World have faired a lot worse than Australia.
Sub Saharan Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia has been the worse affected along with some of the island states. Many areas in equatorial Africa and parts of the Middle East are no longer habitable due to temperature and drought. In general any area that was marginal for any form of agriculture previously is now desert. In Asia there have been years when the monsoon rains have failed. The melt from the Himalayan glaciers is dropping as the glaciers themselves diminish. Some areas that are low lying, most notably in the Bangladesh area, flood so often that they are uninhabitable. These impacts have resulted in famine, localised wars and many many refugees. Some countries have suffered long heatwaves and raging fires which caused significant human death tolls. The governments of some countries, mainly in what was known as the third world - and also other areas where rule by government was less established - have collapsed, effectively reverting to tribes and gangs that brutally defend their own areas and scavenge for food and water to survive. It has been horrific.
The World's response has been inadequate - as usual. Australia has opened its doors a bit to the refugees - many say not enough - considering the size of the problem and that Australia was part of the group of Western countries mainly responsible for climate change. However Australia did open its doors to the inhabitants of some of the island countries of the Pacific and Indian Oceans which were becoming uninhabitable due the sea level rise and storm severity.
Even when the World finally gets carbon dioxide production down to zero its effects are going to live on for decades to come. It is going to get worse before it gets better, especially in the poorer areas of the World.
There are many other impacts as well but I have told you enough to give you the picture of some of the impacts. Now I will touch upon how Australia - finally - started to address the issues. Other parts of the World also addressed the issue - but some had a different approach to Australia - so I will concentrate on the Australian approach.
Eventually there came to be a two pronged approach. The first "prong" is what I will call the hardware response. The second "prong" I will call the software response, or changes to society and lifestyle. Both are important and both interacted with each other. The second prong has been much slower to kick off and change is still occurring in 2050 - I will come back to that later.
The hardware response is largely what you would have expected back in 2020 and earlier. Most of the solutions to climate change were well and truly known by the end of the 20th century. But for some reason these solutions were not implemented - and believe me there are many a thesis written and even a royal commission about what these reasons were and how they could have been thought to outweigh the clearly predicted dangers of climate change as warned to World leaders by the vast majority of the World's climate scientists. If the response had started to be implemented on a large scale even 20 years earlier (by 2000) the impacts being seen in 2050 would be nowhere near as severe nor the costs so high.
The growth of renewable energy is the first response - solar, wind, hydro - combined with batteries and pumped hydro. Green hydrogen has been a little slower off the mark but once there was large quantities of renewable energy generation in place it also took off. It is the scale that is truly remarkable. In the North of Australia PV panels now cover hundreds of square kilometres of desert and is still expanding. Large wind farms have also constructed where it was determined the wind profile was advantageous. All this electricity generation is mainly to supply electricity into Asia. Thousands of kilometres of undersea cable stretch to Indonesia, Singapore and the rest of South East Asia. Along with this there are mega batteries as well - both in Australia and in Asia.
A cable had been constructed to Darwin as well, not so much to service Darwin's energy needs - though it did that - but because Darwin was where the hydrogen and ammonia manufacturing plants were constructed. Ammonia was found to be an easier form to transport hydrogen in than as a gas or in pressurised liquid form. Generating hydrogen and ammonia in Darwin allows it to be directly loaded onto the ships for export.
There is a further electrical connection to the Ord River area. The Ord enabled large scale pumped hydro energy storage and also the generation of hydrogen for export due to the Ord's still bountiful supply of fresh water. The side product of pure oxygen is used to burn crop waste for the generation of electricity, allowing the exhaust fumes, which contain a high concentration carbon dioxide, to be captured and stored in underground storage area - gaining carbon credits for the operation - and making the electricity carbon negative - it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. Oh yes - the carbon tax system and carbon credits were - eventually - reintroduced - once the majority of the deniers had left or been forced out of the ranks of the Government and Opposition.
To think the deniers held such sway on Australian politics for such an unforgivably long time. They were all named and shamed in the subsequent Royal Commission into Australia's Response to Climate Change in the Late 20th and Early 21st Century - personally I wanted them charged with crimes against humanity and thrown in prison. I was not alone. However that was not to be - many were very old by this time - but the Royal Commission did give them, and in fact the whole political class of the time, the wack that they deserved.
In the rest of Australia the same things happened in the commercial markets. The scale is still large but not as large as in the North - and they had competition. In conjunction with large scale commercial arrays the boom in rooftop photo voltaic (PV) systems continued. Virtually every house, low rise office building, warehouse etc. has solar panels or integrated solar PV on its roof.
As well as this many buildings have battery systems. The majority of these battery systems do not use new batteries instead utilising second hand batteries out of electric vehicles. Some are from large scale commercial battery systems - but they tended to keep them in use longer than the car market. They are cheap. Typically a car battery might have a capacity of 60kWh when new. After say 5 to 10 years, depending on use, the battery's capacity might have degraded to say 30kWh, meaning the range of the vehicle has also halved. This could be an issue in some cars so the batteries are often swapped with new batteries. But 30 kWh is still a very decent charge for domestic situations. Instead of just being recycled the batteries are sold or leased for domestic and small commercial or community use. The way it often works is that the battery will be leased to the household - so long as the home owner has the space for mounting it. The leasing company takes on the risk of the secondhand battery failing - and will quickly replace it if it did. The lease company also organises for the home battery and PV system to be part of a virtual power network (if the home owner agrees) and will sell the power from the battery back into the grid in times of high demand, paying the homeowner a premium for the energy sold. It seems to work very well - the cost of the battery lease is well and truly covered - and the house takes no electricity from the grid. It is all computerised and run by artificial intelligence systems (AI) - as are a lot of things these days - integrating seamlessly with the grid.
Because of the preponderance of roof top solar in the suburbs in the middle of summer there was often too much PV generated electricity to be used by local residents and local industry. This was partially addressed by the availability of local batteries - domestic and medium sized local battery banks. However even this was not sufficient to deal with all of the excess electricity that was available. It is now quite common for local areas to have a small (appropriately sized) hydrogen generation plant that only switches on when there is this excess electricity available (at a very cheap price). These plants soak up the excess PV electricity converting it into hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored in massive tanks and used at later time in the year to generate electricity at times of high demand (and higher prices) to cover seasonal shortfalls. Alternatively the excess hydrogen can be transported away from the local area to other areas that need hydrogen - for industrial heating or for export. The hydrogen is transported using the old natural gas pipeline system - in the reverse direction - appropriately modified. Natural gas for domestic and industrial heating had been completely abandoned by the early 2040s. Nearly all homes and commercial buildings are 100% electric.
Transport is the other area in the hardware "prong" that there has been major changes. Private car ownership has dropped remarkably - in city areas and large regional towns ownership is down to less than 15% and is predicted to keep falling. In rural areas car ownership is a lot higher. The reason is the advent of driverless vehicle technology. This is used in cars, buses, other public transport as well as delivery vehicles. While driverless cars were initially mainly sold into the private market, the hire car market quickly realised the potential. Soon there were competing fleets of the driverless battery powered cars available everywhere in urban settings. People can ask for one through their AI assistant and a car will be at their front door in under 5 minutes. The frequency of public transport has also increased significantly - now it is not necessary at most times to consult a timetable - just turn up at the stop and the bus or train (again driverless) will sure to be along in the next 5 minutes, if not sooner. Driverless cars and other vehicles have dropped the price of getting a "taxi", as I believe they use to be called, by a factor of 3 and other public transport by a factor of 2. It didn't take people in the cities long to do the math and work out that it was cheaper not to buy and run a car. Due to the high availability there is not much inconvenience - it is in fact more convenient as the vehicle will drop the person off outside the place they want to go without worrying about parking and no more issues or costs associated with car servicing, insurance, registration, depreciation etc.
The driverless cars are the size required (or the size ordered). If there is only one person to transport the vehicle will be quite small and have a single seat (most times). If there are 6 people to transport a 6 seat vehicle will turn up. It costs less for the transport company to buy, run and maintain a single seat vehicle than a 4 or 6 seat - obviously. It is also more energy efficient as the 1 seat vehicle is much smaller so it is not transporting as much self weight as a bigger vehicle and it costs less for the hire companies to purchase than a bigger vehicle. These cost savings are passed on to the traveler.
Public transport vehicles also tend to be smaller as well due to the greater frequency. If the passenger demand is high the vehicles will join together to make a larger vehicle or becoming part of a convoy. Driverless cars will also convoy if they are traveling on a freeway or a highway. This saves energy due to decreased wind drag. All cars, no matter which manufacturer, can communicate with other nearby cars and with the central database and AI system to ensure efficient flow of traffic.
Another aspect is that the vehicles tend to be used for a much longer period than private internal combustion vehicles use to be. Every 3 to 5 years (trains much longer of course) the vehicles will go into the workshop for a major refit. Some vehicles are already into their 3rd refit. There is also a lot fewer vehicles overall due to the sharing arrangement and the greater use time of each vehicle.
This change in transport has had some further beneficial flow on effects. The massive car parking areas associated with shopping centres and transport hubs such as railway stations are no longer required to be so large. This freed up the space for more open spaces and gardens and areas for redevelopment. The area near train stations became very important for building of new civic infrastructure such as buildings for the new community co-operatives that were springing up - more on that later. Strip shopping centres no longer needed to have parking bays on the roadside - instead just frequent drop off and pick up points for the driverless cars. The parking bays have been converted to gardens or alfresco eating areas greatly increasing the amenity of the strips.
One of the other benefits of electrification of transport is that the air in the cities and suburbs is now free of fumes. Young people looking at old photos of the polluted air in cities are amazed that people actually breathed that stuff.
Another effect of electrification of the transport fleet is that petrol stations are now largely a thing of the past. The public transport cars and buses recharge automatically at one of their numerous depots located in every suburb. If someone owns a battery powered car they predominantly charge it at their house. Otherwise there are charge points on some parking bays near shopping centres.
One area where there are still petrol stations - though they are now called recharge stations - is on major highways. Large trucks for carting goods across the country mostly run on hydrogen instead of batteries due to the requirement for range and speed of refueling. And usually the recharge station would generate the hydrogen on site often having across seasonal storage capacity - they could generate the hydrogen in summer and on sunny days in the shoulder season when electricity is cheap and have sufficient storage to still supply hydrogen across winter. These recharge stations also offer recharging of battery powered cars that were doing long country trips. Though often if a person is traveling in the country in a hired battery car when it ran low on energy they will simply pull into the recharge station and jump into a fresh hire car to continue their trip - no waiting at all. The recharge stations often have a battery bank and reasonable sized solar arrays as well as it is cheaper to get the electricity this way than to buy it from the grid - not that grid electricity is expensive.
By the mid 2030s while the conversion to renewable energy was proceeding apace it was clear that temperatures were still climbing at a lesser but still unacceptable pace and if nothing more was done 2 degrees of warming may be breached some time in the 2040s. It was also apparent that some tipping points had already been breached.
Terrestrial forms of geoengineering had been ramping up for at least a decade. That involved carbon geo-sequestration in the soil, mostly biochar, and also in the deep ocean and various other forms of carbon capture and storage such as direct air carbon capture and storage and also bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, mainly utilising agricultural and human generated waste. Despite these methods being shown to be useful they were too slow to have a sufficient impact in the time frame necessary. It was decided that a further form of geo-engineering - atmospheric geo-engineering was also needed.
Atmospheric geo-engineering had always been immensely controversial among scientists and also the general public. The discussions at the United Nations Climate Summits were quite heated however it was eventually decided to proceed. Two methods were implemented. The first and safest was cloud whitening by injection of small water droplets into the low atmosphere. The droplets increase the reflectivity of clouds, lowering the amount of solar insolation hitting the Earth. The other form, more controversial, was a form of upper atmospheric geo-engineering. This was achieved by injecting calcium carbonate aerosols into the high atmosphere which would then reflect solar radiation. How effective calcium carbonate aerosol injection would be was largely theoretical - it was, as its critics pointed out, a huge experiment on our planet - as had pumping many billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere over the last 100 years. It was however backed by some measurements from instances when volcanic activity had naturally injected another aerosol, sulphur dioxide, into the atmosphere and a temperature drop had been measured. It was also thought to be needed as the nearly complete cessation of the burning of fossil fuels had lowered the amount of sulphur dioxide and other particulates in the atmosphere. This sulphur dioxide had been acting to block a proportion of sunlight. With the closing of many of the coal powered electrical generators and the change over to electrical powered cars, the previously blocked solar was getting through the atmosphere and increasing the warming. The initial argument was that the world needed to maintain the level of aerosol solar blocking that had been due to fossil fuel burning until sufficient atmospheric carbon dioxide removal had been achieved to counteract that warming or sufficient natural methane dispersion had occurred to offset that warming.
Both geo-engineering methods were desirable in that they were temporary, if there was adverse consequences then stop injecting the water droplets or calcium carbonate and over a fairly short period of time the effect would stop. By the end of the 2030s they started out slowly and gradually increased concentrations. The initial aim was to stop temperature increases rather than necessarily lowering temperatures. And it worked - with very few side effects. Over the next couple of years the rate of temperature increase slowed by more than would be anticipated due to just the slowing of the carbon dioxide and methane release into the atmosphere. It was calculated that the warming effect would have breached 2.0 degrees world wide by now, rather than 1.7 degrees, if atmospheric geo-engineering had not been used.
The current argument going on is whether they should increase the amount of cloud whitening and the concentration of calcium carbonate in the stratosphere to drive temperatures into a cooling phase. It is argued by a significant sector of the climate science community that this is necessary as a number of tipping points have already been breached, such as the thawing of the permafrost in the tundra which is releasing ever greater quantities of carbon dioxide and methane each year and the increasing instability of some of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Advocates argue that the World can't afford to allow the continued and increasing release of carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost for the time that would be necessary to get the temperatures to fall by solely relying on removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which, while necessary and will continue, is a slow process. If permafrost carbon dioxide and methane release continues it could become a runaway event beyond the control of humanity. They argue the atmospheric geo-engineering needs to be done regardless of the potential risks. The risks of not doing it are greater. Cloud whitening with small droplet water injection had been found particularly useful for localised cooling for the protection, or attempted regeneration, of coral reefs and to stop localised areas of permafrost from melting and releasing CO2 and methane. The advocates hope to be able to drop temperature quickly and sufficiently to refreeze sections of the permafrost to stop the release of more carbon dioxide and also to try to stop or at least slow the melting of the ice sheets and glaciers to slow sea level rise.
Atmospheric geo-engineering was only ever implemented as a temporary emergency measure. It was not looked on as a method to enable the continued use of fossil fuels, the phasing out of which continues unabated. It is hoped that in the future this geo-engineering can be stopped all together but that will only occur if greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations have been lowered closer to pre-industrial levels. While this process is underway getting atmospheric greenhouse gases down to those levels is still decades away.
Most cattle farming has stopped. This is partially due to climate change and the requirements to decrease methane from burping cattle. The carbon taxes really impacted the price of meat. However it would have happened anyway as genetic engineering and cloning technology had perfected the techniques for manufacturing meat like products on a massive scale and at a price less than the "natural" product. And it is pretty damn close to the original in taste and texture. Dairy products had also been manufactured in a similar fashion - I can't tell the difference between a natural milk and a manufactured milk. Other traditional meat production industries have also decreased significantly. The end of the cattle and dairy industry freed up a lot of land. Some has been abandoned, some has been converted to crops or orchards and some has been planted with trees to make up for the loss of natural bushland due to bushfire.
While all these "hardware" changes are significant, equally significant changes happened in the second "prong" "software" changes - changes to society and lifestyle.
In the early 21st century it was recognised that as well as climate change there were other significant issues confronting the World. The first of these was related to climate change - it was resource depletion. In a finite World uncontrolled consumption of material resources and their disposal after use could not continue indefinitely - the World would run out. The other issue was the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and the resultant job loss. Both these issues had to be addressed along with climate change.
To see the effect on employment of computerisation and AI you just have to look at the transport industry. Commercial drivers have been made nearly 100% redundant by driverless trucks and vans. All public transport is driverless. Even services like domestic waste collection is driverless. AI has also impacted on other industries as well. Employment in accountancy had been decimated by smart systems that talk to and transfer data and money to other smart systems. No more data entry work and most of the financial analysis and reporting functions are also done by smart systems. Whereas a company or government department might have previously had a workforce of 20 in their accountancy department it would now be down to two or three. For medical appointments most consultations are online or in the medical office but interacting with a machine that would ask questions, take blood pressure, write scripts for medicines which were automatically dispensed and sent to you at home - no pharmacist. Occasionally the machine might refer you to a real doctor. All through the employment market this delabouring was happening.
It was recognised that if left unchecked this would lead to a small well off employed class and a massive underclass of unemployed.
This was really biting into the employment markets in the early 2030s. Governments could see that they would be left paying a massive unemployment benefit if allowed to proceed unchecked and with drastically reduced PAYG tax receipts. Some political parties were also concerned about the impact on the wellbeing of its citizens if left without meaningful work. And also the impact it was likely to have on the stability of the society having a large underclass of poor unemployed people - people need to have work. If there isn't enough for everyone to have a full time job due to technology changes it has to be shared. Just as having sufficient money to live a reasonable life is a necessity.
Starting in the early 2030s the full time working week slowly was decreased from 38 hours. By the end of the 2030s the full time working week was 30 hours with 4 days of 7.5 hours. The total wage was about the same as for the 38 hour week.
The next approach was that a series of incentives initiated to encourage employers to either split the jobs into two jobs of 15 hours / 2 days each, or to achieve the same thing by encouraging job sharing. People were encouraged to recognise the benefits of working less - 2 days on, 5 days off. To be able to do this people also had to be encouraged to not feel the need to buy and consume as much to still be happy and have enough. Some people embraced this, many did not, at least not straight away.
It was determined that in large part their acceptance depended on whether they needed the money to buy a house or not. In order to address this large scale community housing projects were commenced, building houses and units that could be rented for a smaller proportion of their wage. Innovative communal housing models are also encouraged as it is seen as a way to tackle social isolation, which was becoming a more significant issue due to the decline in working hours.
Community housing is no longer seen as just for the poorest section of the community but for anyone. Community housing makes up a larger proportion of the total housing stock and now works in direct competition with the private rental market, encouraging the private market to also drop their rents.
The next major change was the introduction of a job and living wage guarantee. People of working age are guaranteed a job and an income equivalent to at least 2 days (15 hours) at the minimum wage. An additional payment may be available for housing costs if this is an issue (usually for a single person). This minimum wage has been set to ensure it is sufficient to live on. However it is not just given to people. There is a requirement for the person of working age to actually do two days work to earn the money. The Government's argument is - why waste the valuable resource of a person's labour when there is a lot to do. And people are better off when they have some form of work than when they have nothing. The Government set up a range of potential employment areas. The person could then nominate which area they wanted to work in - though they would be encouraged in the first year or two to move between the areas to find a type of work that they liked.
One of the new large areas of employment is the emergency response and environmental taskforce. When needed the taskforce is fighting bushfires, or cleaning up storm and flood damage. When not involved in this work they are tackling environmental repair jobs. For example tree planting, weed removal, river rejuvenation and cool season fuel reduction burns in forests (although the time during the year when this can be done safely is decreasing significantly - in some years down to a few weeks in the year). Other jobs (not taskforce jobs) are in garden and public space maintenance. Some jobs are office based where suitable positions can be found. Some are for working with the community co-operatives, in their shops or food gardens. A person can also nominate their own project of community benefit to do and if approved they can do that. There have been quite a few community blogs done and books written that very few would read - but that is acceptable - as long as the person thought it made a contribution. Community arts projects - of various types - are also popular. If a person really doesn't want to co-operate then after a while they are allowed to drift off. But the vast majority want to be occupied, want to be useful. And it is only 2 days per week. Working on the Government programs like this is now seen as a legitimate work option for some people for the longer term. It is no longer stigmatising.
The living wage guarantee continues into the retirement years meaning that people do not have to worry about not having enough to live on after retirement. This means that people do not have to be concerned about accumulating large amounts of money during their life to avoid living in poverty in retirement. The maximum retirement age has been abolished so some people, if they want, continue working into their 70s and 80s, though they are encouraged to only work a maximum of 15 hours per week.
This lowering of wages and the desire to consume feeds into the other requirement - the need to conserve materials. Part of the answer is the encouragement of the "circular economy". The main requirement of this is for recycling of the materials from products at the end of their useful life. But it was also recognised that this by itself was not enough. Even the best recycling systems don't recover all materials used - there is some wastage and some pollution from the operation. Some materials can't be recycled indefinitely - they degrade a bit with each cycle. Eventually they have to be disposed of. Some materials are difficult to recycle. Recycling takes energy. While this is no longer fossil fuel based it is still a waste if there is a better way. The Government itself adopted, and encouraged the community and business to adopt, the Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle philosophy.
A quick analysis of the domestic waste stream showed that most of the waste generated was packaging from food products and domestic cleaning items. This has been addressed in two ways. Firstly a packaging tax has been introduced to make the use of packaging more expensive, to encourage reduction in use, to change to more desirable packaging types and to encourage packaging/container reuse. The next was the establishment of systems and shops that required the purchaser to bring their own containers to be filled with the required product. The first shops that did this were the community co-operatives, with Government incentives. It was a little slow getting off the ground but soon shoppers caught on, especially as the products that they purchased were usually cheaper than the individually packaged counterparts. The private supermarkets had to come on board or risk loosing market share. Soon most people were embracing it.
The reusable containers cut down the waste stream remarkably. What is left is food waste (a lot of that is diverted to the household's own composting system) plant waste, old unusable clothing, some paper, broken crockery, and e-waste.
With e-waste and other electrical equipment and tools the company that provided the product had to also provide a minimum 5 to 10 year warranty depending on the product, and have systems for repair and for recycling / resource recovery at the end of life.
I have mentioned community co-operatives a number of times. They are a real success. They tend to work best in medium size rural town but are also spreading into the suburbs of the towns and cities. Government has set up a Co-operatives Board with the sole aim of encouraging the set up of new Community Co-operatives and to support their ongoing operation. The Board initiates a new co-op in an area by calling a public meeting to try to get a core of people interested in setting up the co-operative. Once that was done the Board will put in an experienced administrator, train the volunteers and commence to set up the infrastructure. Usually an existing building will be found reasonably central to the shops and public transport. A disused supermarket makes an excellent venue. Then the building is fitted out to become a food market and cafe with some meeting rooms and offices. The food market will dispense food into reusable containers, which are standardised and the buyer brings back for refill multiple times. Generally the co-op will have a full range of supermarket type foods but wouldn't have the range of brands - there would be one brand of tomato sauce (usually a no name variety) not the dozen you might find at a commercial supermarket. Similarly for the cafe - a limited range of nutritious foods cooked on site (and a few cakes as well) rotated on a daily basis.
Once set up and making sufficient money to survive the co-operative will appoint a manager and the Board appointed administrator will leave. Then it is up to the co-operative to determine what areas they provided services in. Many in rural areas start community vegetable and fruit gardens - quite sizable some of them - and sell the produce in their food market and swap with other co-ops. For the more established co-operatives they are often tasked with building and managing community housing. The funding for these community projects came from the Government distribution of capital gains taxes on houses - this seemed fitting using the capital gains on private housing to build community housing. Ultimately all assets are still owned by Government through the co-operatives board - but the co-operative has ongoing stewardship. They are most successful when they tap into their community, when the community has a sense of ownership. There have been some disasters and scandals - but overall very successful.
In terms of the economy and business the Government implemented a number of changes. A whole raft of new regulations have been introduced to define the boundaries of business operations to ensure the way business operates benefits the whole society and not just the business owners. As an example the Government limited the range of services that were allowed to be outsourced overseas - more expensive for business but more beneficial to Australia. Government introduced various incentives for employing people even though an AI alternative may have been available. Government has also mandated company profit sharing and / or part worker ownership, and worker participation in management once the company reaches a certain size.
The Government also encourages the growth of the services section, as it has a higher level of employment per dollar spent and increases economic activity with a lower level of material consumption compared to manufacturing. People that have full time (30 hour per week) jobs are encouraged to use more services for their homes, such as gardening and cleaning, to spread the money rather than the purchase of material things. Partial tax deductability was introduced for some of these services.
Another change is the expansion of government owned business enterprises. The Government started businesses in areas such as banking and energy distribution and supply and water supply - I understand that Government used to have businesses in these areas. This is not to fully displace the private operators but to work along side and in competition with them.
The next area that has been encouraged to expand is the not for profit sector. The community co-operatives mentioned earlier are an example of this. But many other areas as well - mainly in the services sector where the not for profit sector has always operated (kindergartens, schools and other education, aged care, health, insurance etc.) A lot of news organisations and arts organisations are operated by not for profit trusts. Some have been established with at least partial funding from Government seed money. Other innovative areas for the use of not for profit trusts are also investigated.
It is the Government's policy and practice to encourage potential and support new not for profit businesses as a viable business model. All sectors of the economy - private enterprise, government and not for profit businesses - work in market competition keeping prices competitive and delivery reasonably efficient. The aim is to have the economy more evenly split between the three parts nominated rather than dominated by private enterprise. And less reliant on material consumption. The Government is willing to be interventionist, on behalf of the people, to achieve this aim.
That is how Australia is addressing the issue of climate change - and other issues - in 2050. Australia has done alright - from a very slow start. It is now held up as an example to the World of what can be achieved - unlike how it was viewed in the early 21st century where it was looked on as a pariah state. But it hasn't been easy - and it would have been a lot easier - and cheaper - if the work had commenced earlier. The impacts overseas are going to get a lot worse - the potential for future suffering is immense.
Temperatures are still too high. Some parts of the World have not been able to tackle the elimination of fossil fuels as well as Australia - the World will have to assist and encourage them to fully eliminate fossil fuels by sharing technology, experiences and resources. The breached tipping points have still not been fully addressed. There may be further geopolitical destabilisation as storms and fires continue to impact and droughts and famine spread into other countries.
Australia and the World is by no means out of the woods yet. The potential for even greater disaster still exists.
So that is it. A message and a warning from the future. Or the writings of a deluded psychiatric patient from the mid 1980s. To me sitting here in 2020 the reported impact on large parts of the world, mostly the poorer areas, is catastrophic, but largely similar to what has been predicted. However the scenario painted by Daniel on how Australia handles climate change over the next thirty years seems to be optimistic given the meager progress in tackling climate change in Australia up until 2020. The changes to Australian society indicated by Daniel are large scale but are indicative of the level of change necessary to tackle the problem.
We have the 30 years to 2050. We can hope that this is sufficient to implement the changes that are required - preferably earlier than 2050, especially for the sake of other parts of the World. As climate change bites hopefully there will be the societal and global wide realisation that significant change in both technology and societal structures is required to address the issue, and, more importantly, the political will to implement the changes found. Whatever way it goes we will find out in 30 years time.
And what happened to the "time traveling scientist"? It is clear that his aim of being able to warn the World governments of the early 21st century about the dangers posed by climate change had not succeeded because not much happened in this field in the early 21st century. But then why would he have succeeded when the climate scientists of the time could not. I still couldn't get his story out of my mind. I searched through the archives of the mid 1980s and eventually found an obscure documentary - though its treatment of the subject matter was somewhat flippant - that told a tale of a scientist of the time who claimed to be able to travel in time. Physically he seemed to match the description given by Daniel. Is it the same person? I guess I will never know.
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