Visitors are surprised that our cities and towns of 2040 are so compact, charming, clean, safe and esthetically appealing. The surrounding forests and fields are lush, healthy and teaming with different species. The towns and cities lucky enough to have old quarters of housing and canals from previous centuries, compassionately care for these places giving a sense of rooting to architecture and culture. Trees, flowers, parks, open waterfronts, lakes, rivers and canals are regarded as crucial for healthy surroundings (EC,2012). There are neither visible cars nor parking places, but plenty of automatic trams and pathways for bicycles and pedestrians. Car traffic, parking and “green” trains (Eco global society, 2013) in urban areas are all underground or in tubes. Most trains are of the hyperloop- or maglev type or similar. All cars are connected to GPS systems that automatically take over driving when within city limits. All roads outside city areas are “green” and adapted to the surroundings (Danson, 2013).
All houses are at least passive-houses in the sense that they are heated by geothermal energy and produce their own electricity by high-efficient solar panels and windmills and other technologies (BBC News 2013). All transport vehicles like cars and airplanes (MiT,2013) are electric. Coal and oil are regarded as raw materials. As fuel it is only used in veteran vehicles for especially interested collectors and regarded as products of an irresponsible policy of the past.
The public as well as private sectors invest heavily in ecologically friendly processes and nano-technologies (Danson, 2012). The research in alternative energy sources and energy storage in batteries is very advanced (Sadoway,2012). Batteries are almost hundred times more efficient compared to those just 30 years ago, other energy storage forms (Scotland & Henderson, 2012) have advanced exponentially, and efficiency is expected to increase by ten times again the next decades. It is obvious to all that human competence and creativity have been unleashed in our society.
Seen from above, new town and city areas are almost difficult to spot, since all new buildings look like rolling hills rather than the square boxes of the past. All roofs and terraces are covered by trees and gardens (Hansen, 2014). Rainwater is collected on the roofs and in big underground cisterns – to collect water for dry spells and relieve sewage infrastructure in periods of flooding. The long, relatively low buildings with spacious apartments built-in terraces are between three and seven floors high depending on the location and may be several hundred meters in length. All apartments have views over natural landscapes, adjacent “hills” or lakes. The infrastructure for handling waste, water, sewage, electricity, the geothermal heating and computer-guided transport systems is situated centrally in the buildings and underground. All constructions are placed in safe distances from river beds and beaches, since flooding (Munich re) due to the global warming and climate change still going on has to be considered (World green building).
All buildings and infrastructure are robust and built for extreme weather events like long droughts, strong winds, very heavy precipitation now and then also in the form of wet and heavy snow (EEA, 2012). Windows and other vulnerable areas are protected by shutters automatically appearing when necessary. New, single houses are rare, since they are considered too vulnerable for the frequent extreme weather situations resulting from the fossil fuel era that ended only 15 years ago. Electricity production and heating of homes have been decentralized as much as possible. The strong storms, the heavy snow and extreme ice formation periods in the short winter periods have made air cables and masts increasingly vulnerable. Cables are consequently placed in narrow corridors underground and in mountains. Much of the drilling expertise from the fossil fuel era is now engaged in drilling deep holes for geothermal heating. During warm periods, air is pumped into an underground system cooling it before it continues to central air conditioners.
Building social capital and local cohesion are important political goals, and there are plenty of open air and indoor meeting places (Watts, 2012). The previous fossil fuel era cult of worshipping and empowering ruthless profiteers irresponsibly exploiting limited natural resources or fellow human beings has been replaced with admiration for individuality, creativity, merit and compassion. Wealth is defined as overall well-being providing the freedom to become creative and unique individuals. Experiences are more important than “stuff” (Wallman. 2014). “Reckless greed for more” has been replaced with “moderation, individuality and wisdom”.
Several towns and cities with universities have specialized in attracting highly educated and creative people, “bohemians”, artists, “nerds” of various kinds, researchers and professors. They display themselves as competent, heterogeneous, multicultural and particularly creative communities. One of the catch words is the three T’s: “Technology, talent and tolerance” (Hedges, 2012). These creativity hubs attract more competent people, and creativity teams keep thinking paradigm-shifting thoughts and producing new inventions at an incredible pace.
The food prepared and served is to a large extent vegetarian. Some meat comes from roaming cows, deer, sheep and goats that are kept to ensure an open, healthy agricultural landscape (Savory, 2013) . Other meat is grown on algae-substrates in big tanks run on solar energy. Vegetables are to a large extent grown privately in small-scale gardens (True activist,2012) and on terraces and roofs as well as more commercially in vertical buildings in the vicinity of the consumers (Greenwise, 2012). Farms grow ecologically, and continuously build resilience (Trites, 2013). After the great price increases on food that started taking off in 2012 (LATimes), it became clear that it is not wise to rely on huge imports of wheat, soy beans, maize and lentils for raising meat producing animals in factory-like conditions (Factory farming). The cheap and reliable delivery of foodstuff from distant countries was over with an increasingly capricious climate (Guardian, 2012)
Among the most respected and highest paid vocations is the teaching profession. Favorite subjects are natural sciences, philosophy, art, architecture, computing, robotics, nano-technology, ecological industry and creative engineering. All teachers know how to balance instructivist and constructivist teaching and in what situations ICT can support learning efficiently and when it cannot. All teachers have to keep themselves constantly updated, and adult online education is a matter of course.
Industrial production and businesses all have clear corporate social responsibility profiles with triple bottom line accounting. Without such profiles it is difficult to obtain credit in the banks. Most companies define themselves as “B-corporations” where previously external costs have been internalized. A wide variety of law enforcement is available for policymakers (Ando, 2012). The legal framework within which all enterprises have to perform is strict and enforced. Multinational companies trying to pressure the legal framework in their favor by pushing external costs on the community are instructed to abide by the rules or leave the country.
The best CSR enterprises are rewarded with extra good credit rating from the banks and obtain special rates from the insurance companies (UNEP-fi, 2012). They are also enlisted on the Dow Jones Sustainability index, the only corporations that almost all pension funds are allowed to invest in. Through efficient international cooperation, the former tax havens, acrobatic financial speculation and irresponsible banking typical for the fossil fuel era were abolished 20 years ago. Tobin taxes are imposed on all international financial transactions to reduce financial speculation. Regulations are simple without loop-holes, they are concise and easily understandable and give cut-and-dried penalties.
Waste production is reduced to a minimum (Industrial ecology). All organic compounds are composted. All other elements in the value adding chain are re-used or recycled (EEA). Several industrial products can be personalized and produced in three-dimensional digital printers (3D printers). Cheap mass production of low quality belongs to an irresponsible past. Chemical use is minimized, and is subjected to strict control regimes (Jarl).
There is a maximum wage set at 15 times the lowest salary, a legal minimum wage. Conspicuous consumption is regarded as primitive and hopelessly outdated. The normal fulltime working week is stipulated to 20 hours. Retirement age is of little importance, as most people are able to continue into old age working part-time and often from home offices.
This could be a description of a sustainable society of the near future.
When looking back to twenty years earlier, we can try to explain what happened.
In the period of 2012 – 2015 it became clear to most people that global warming and the challenge of climate change was becoming “so massive, so global, and so complex that it could be overcome only if we looked beyond the issue categories of the past and embrace a grand new vision for the future”. It also became clear that this issue was far too complex to leave to environmentalists to solve on their own. Environmentalists appeared too elitist and too narrow focused. Ecological thinking sees complex relationships and interactions among industrial plants, workers, health care, energy, pollution, and economic growth as no less part of the planet’s ecosystem than a forest (Nordhaus and Schellenberger, 2007, Gilding, 2013).
During the fossil fuel era, the majority of our decision makers had been used to being populists, more or less paralyzed and dictated by the interests of the big coal and oil industry.
“We stand at a fork in the road. Conventional oil and gas supplies are limited. We can move down the path of dirtier more carbon-intensive unconventional fossil-fuels, digging up the dirtiest tar sands and tar shales, hydrofracking for gas, continued mountain-top removal and mechanized destructive long-wall coal mining. Or we can choose the alternative path of clean energies and energy efficiency.
The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making” (Hansen, J. 2013).
They also tended to listen far too much to the CEOs of big and ruthless international companies rather than considering the best interests of their own people. After 2015 it became increasingly obvious that the world’s biggest corporations could not be allowed to keep on transferring political power from elected governments to their own closed boardrooms and endlessly increase their number of political lobbyists. The CEOs of Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Shell, Gazprom, Aramco, Unocal, BP. Philips Conoco, Halliburton, Koch Bros and others were never elected in democratic elections but nevertheless had more political clout than the governments of most countries (Anderson and Cavanagh, 2000).
During the financial crisis from 2008 to 2015, it became clear even to stubborn monetarists that exponential growth in a finite system (our planet) is not possible in the long run. – With a 5% annual growth, consumption would double every 14th year. There are clear limits to growth in material consumption and waste production. However, there are no limits to immaterial growth.
A sound ecology is the basis for a sound economy. – Decoupling financial economy from real economy, and letting speculation blow the financial balloons to astronomic sizes, became such an obvious folly that it had to come to an end (Theis & Tomkin). We urgently needed to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, and to pursue a sane course toward sustainable energy independence.
A new system; “green eco-economy” or “natural capitalism” was developed. The strategy was to:
- drastically increase resource productivity in order to slow resource depletion at one end of the value chain and to lower pollution at the other end;
- from year 2015 onwards ensure a 10% annual increase in energy efficiency and an annual 10% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by a simple flat across-the board fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels, collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry, the fee gradually rising over time, the funds distributed 100 percent to the public, equal amounts to all legal residents (Hansen, 2012).
- require industrial processes to mimic biological ones in order to eliminate waste;
- base the economy on the provision of services rather than the purchase of goods;
- invest massively in regenerating natural capital and ecosystem services and pay off ecological debt;
- Build all new town- and city areas based on self-reliance, resilience, local cohesion and ecologically sound principles. Several models were started in the first decade of the century and has since developed. (See: Masdar)
- ensure income distribution and address economic and political inequality;
- abolish all “perverse” (Robin et al, 2003) and environmentally damaging subsidies and tax breaks (Nourish 9 billion.org, 2012; Koplow, 2008 ; Ochs, Anderson and Rogers, 2012)
- incorporate environmental and social costs in all prices on goods and services. Externalization of negative costs are prohibited (Ando,2012);
- reduce the materialistic, anthropocentric and contempocentric values of production and emphasize responsible, long-term values. – We borrow the world from the future. It is irresponsible and unethical to pass on reckless debts to our children (Transition network);
- invest massively in and subsidize the use of renewable, environmentally friendly energy forms and “green” technologies. This because “big, long-term investments in new technologies are made only by governments and are almost always motivated largely by concerns about national security or economic competitiveness. Governments make the long-term investments in R&D and infrastructure, and the private sector capitalizes on them to develop specific products” (Nordhaus and Schellenberger). The technology exists (UNEP, 2011);
- convincingly inform people that the era of cheap oil was over around 2006. This was based on the EROEI formula: “Energy Returned On Energy Invested”. In 1930 the EROEI in the USA was 100:1, in 1990 it was 18:1 and in 2012 it was as low as 3:1. Ninety million barrels of daily oil cannot be produced in the cheap “old” way.
- regard the market as a tool – not a master nor a religion – a tool to achieve more prosperity in general, individual self-realization, social cohesion and equity, robust and healthy ecosystems, reduce national and international tensions, reduce international organized crime and terrorism, reduce environmental risks and ecological scarcities, create sustainable jobs and lasting economic value, increase wellbeing and happiness to all, not just a few billionaires. Laissez-faire capitalism is a devastating failure in this respect: “Regulatory capture is when regulators become captives of the individuals and firms they are supposed to be watching, regulating, and disciplining when they break the law.”Industry capture” is beyond just regulatory capture. Industry capture, which is unique to only a couple of American industries (hint: oil is the other one), is when the industry itself becomes so omnipotent, so all-consuming in our lives, so all-consuming of our money, so filthy rich that it buys and sells government officials, legislators, administrations, and presidents. So powerful that it has effectively captured the nation”(Gilani, 2012); (Sutherlin, 2012); (Clark, Foster & York, 2009).
- systematically transfer political power from the big companies to democratically elected governments and ensure that politicians actually take responsibility for building democracy and sustainable development;
- reduce and eventually stop the rivers of petro dollars to corrupt, brutal and fundamentally religious dictators, sects and terrorist groups in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in the USA (Bjorke, 2012);
- vigorously fight international and organized crime by closing tax havens and other whitewashing institutions, eliminating the use of cash and deciding that governments or presidents not democratically elected cannot legally commit their own nation to repay loans unless they can prove legitimacy. Financial institutions lending money to dictators and tyrants do that on their own risk;
- end the casino capitalism and replace it with “natural or ecological capitalism”. The neoliberalism ideology of Milton Friedman and his Chicago school is eventually perceived as what it really is; a criminal ideology systematically stealing wealth of all kinds from the big majority while creating a handful of corrupt multibillionaires and plutocrats. The neoliberal ideology has depleted and polluted ecosystems and natural resources, built enormous ecological debts, channelled fortunes to corrupt psychopaths, tyrants, traffickers, weapon smugglers and warmongers, tobacco kings, mobsters and carbon barons. It has provided tsunamis of petrodollars to the most tyrannical and bloodthirsty regimes in the world. The ideology removed all restraints on unethical and ruthless casino capitalist institutions like e.g. Enron and Lehman Bros. and Goldman Sachs. They deliberately make new financial crises every 6-8 years. Ordinary people have to pay, the billionaires get richer. These strange institutions that privatize all profits when they win, and come running (or flying in their private jets) to the governments for taxpayers money when they lose. The monetarist ideology is simple and brutal: internalize profits, externalize costs! Make the public pay! It is time to put the corrupt CEOs in prison and replace them with ethical, social and environmentally responsible bankers. Examples: Triodos Bank Foundation and Global Alliance for Banking Values. “The old economy of greed and dominion is dying. A new economy of life and partnership is struggling to be born” (Korten, 2012)
- mobilize the broad masses of the public by inviting, churches, mosques and temples. “Mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics, Jews and Quakers, Unitarian Universalists and the rising wave of reformist Muslims — are the strongest remaining cultural forces left with the moral authority to insist that we have a duty to the poor, that democracy cannot survive without a commitment to justice, and that compassion is always a better survival strategy than competition (WCC,2012). The market says: Everything and everybody has a price, and is for sale. Faith says: The most valuable things in our lives — good health, safe food, strong families, a clean environment, a just economy, meaningful work, access to opportunity — are beyond price, and should by right be available to us all” (Robinson, 2012).
- mobilize NGOs, Rotary, Lions, Inner Wheel, Kiwanis, Boy and Girl Scouts and similar organization, private sector, schools etc must be encouraged to participate in mass movements for transforming the world from the fossil fuel paradigm to the sustainable society paradigm. Democracy does work better than corpocracy.
- declare an end to disharmony, and commit to an age of peace, co-creativity and global coherence (Hubbard, 2012)
- be a clear alternative: be in favor of the secure, moderate, prosperous, responsible and sustainable society, and demand the “carbon barons” and their “carbon agents” to explain what points above they are against and how their future society will look like.
In hindsight it seems the year 2012 was a turning point. The signs of climate change were increasingly evident. Floods, droughts, massive forest fires, unusual weather, more extreme storms all over the world made it clear that the former economic system increased the general, uneasy feeling of insecurity, caused tension and conflicts and depleted ecosystems. Governments could no longer guarantee the future ecological and economic security for its people within the framework of the system. Reduced food production combined with reckless speculation led to dramatically increased food prices. Extreme-Christians as well as extreme Islamist fundamentalist groups ran a depressing and aggressive doomsday discourse. Many disillusioned environmentalists also expressed that major eco-disasters and the end of civilization seemed inevitable. Strikingly enough, the ancient Mayan civilization calendar stopped in December 2012. It was around that time that the transformative changes leading to the economic and ecological paradigm shift took off.
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