Tag Archives: problems

The Utopia That Never Was & The CCG Vision

24 Mar

Introduction

We stand at the brink of dystopia, but I want to share my ideas about the world that might have been. It is a common myth and slander upon environmentalists that they want people to go back to living in caves enjoying only a primitive lifestyle vulnerable to whatever misfortunes might befall them.

In this fantasy world – which might easily have been the real world of today had my ancestors been possessed of greater vision and ambition – people enjoy all the benefits of a technologically advanced civilisation. How is this possible? Well – the simplest way to make it possible is to find solutions to problems that are not inherently destructive, particularly to the future.

Let us therefore take a selection of key problems and explain how we solved them in our fantasy world using only existing and historic technology (with references at the end to support my arguments):

Personal Transportation

1. Bicycles

Please bear with me. I don’t mean what most people think of as a bicycle. I mean fully faired recumbents capable of substantially greater speed with protection from the elements. At the cutting edge of existing technologies (developed by amateurs without much funding) I am aware of human powered bicycles moving people at over 80mph[1].

I would like to emphasise that the principles of aerodynamics and laminar airflow universally apply to all vehicles moving against wind resistance, not just bicycles. If a bicycle can move at 80+mph under human power – any other source of similar power could do the same (even a very small petrol/gas engine).

Did I mention the health benefits of cycling?

2. Solar powered cars

So it’s too far to cycle even on your 40-50mph (more realistic for longer journeys by people of moderate fitness) recumbent bicycle. Now society has done the sensible thing of letting people telecommute as much as practical and made sure people are able to live close to their workplace but you might want to visit relatives who live hundreds of miles away off the beaten trails of public transport. Perhaps you could rent a solar powered car for this sort of journey. Speeds of 100mph are possible with only a few horsepower[2] and good battery range for cloudy days, although a practical family version might perform less impressively.

3. Flywheel powered cars

Ah. Yes, another issue with the bicycles. They might work less well for families with shopping to move around. That’s OK though – we can all use electric cars.

Um… actually, no, we can’t. Batteries typically have limited lifespans and involve seriously toxic materials in their manufacture – or materials that are very limited. If the world all drove lithium battery powered cars within only ten years we would deplete the global lithium supply.

Flywheels are a good solution[3]. Energy density isn’t super at current levels of development (can be comparable with lead acid batteries) but they can be recharged very quickly indeed. For shorter journeys or trips in areas with the population density required to support recharging stations there is no real reason they shouldn’t work just fine. They are used today for niche applications but you will find the technology is not especially new and has been used for vehicles before in very limited applications.

Long Distance Transportation

1. High speed (and regular) railways

We actually have some of these. Most countries serious underutilise this idea though. Obviously they must be driven by clean energy – but for moving goods and mass long distance or moving fast (hundreds of miles an hour) these are it.

2. Airships

You can’t build a railway through an ocean, I hear you say? Quite right. I suppose we need another solution for hauling mass and people over oceans. Airships are far more energy efficient than anything else flying as no energy is expended keeping them up. An airship circumnavigated the world before any aeroplane and they were used to make Atlantic crossings in respectable times[4] with technology nearly a century old now.

I’m afraid we can’t use helium – it isn’t common enough, but hydrogen ought to work just fine with a little technological effort. We’re happy driving around at 90mph next to fragile metal containers filled with highly flammable gasoline after all.

I’d like to think we could power them with solar energy but nobody has bothered to do it yet and I’m trying not to speculate on things we don’t have or haven’t done.

3. Supersonic passenger liners

But I have to get thousands of miles in only a few hours for this very important meeting, I hear you say? Fine – supersonic passenger liners[5] burning biofuels could do the trick for the very few people rich or important enough to afford it. But frankly biofuels are not a scalable solution and I don’t want to devote mental effort to the class most responsible for destroying my future. I do appreciate that total equality cannot happen or work – more on this in my next point.

Overpopulation

There, now that we’ve assuaged the “needs” of the westernised cultures, let’s consider the basic problem of a growing population that is unsustainable and generally eroding the habitat it depends upon.

The key here is to simply avoid the problem. Easy as that?

Actually it almost is that easy. It just requires people to give a shit about each other a bit more and cooperate to eliminate poverty and achieve more equitable distribution. I’m not talking Communism – just basic human decency. Poor people almost universally tend to have far more children and family sizes tend to shrink dramatically as standard of living and life prospects for children (and parents) improve[6]. I include access to contraceptive choices as part of quality of living.

So instead of exploiting each other into the dust and letting a few rich parasites suck all the wealth and power to themselves so they can get ever more of it – we need a basic social conscience and a recognition that people have a right to a minimum standard of living worldwide – and that this benefits us all. We can still have incentives to work and innovate and some people with greater affluence than others.

Back to your caves, rich western trolls.

Clean Energy

1. Wind power

Used successfully for centuries. Practically free, plentiful – and like railways we are actually using some of it. Flywheel power stations could buffer wind output significantly.

2. Solar power

The wind doesn’t blow with the regular consistency that we would like. Yes, it’s true. So we need more choices.

Enter solar. No – not those stupid photovoltaic panels that are so popular and fashionable (though they may serve for niche applications – like the cars).

Concentrating solar thermal power[7] is available using relatively simple and plentiful materials and techniques. It is suited for industrial scale power (though we haven’t built any truly massive plants as yet) and can operate even when the sun doesn’t shine. How?

You collect energy from the sun using lots of mirrors in sunny parts of the world and store the heat into a large reservoir of molten salt (potassium nitrate works well). The larger this reservoir the more efficient the storage as heat loss is a function of surface area and heat storage a function of volume. By storing the heat you can run day and night, survive days of cloudy weather, and even control precisely the rate at which you draw energy out of the heat store. What’s not to like?

3. Fusion power

If it ever works. If people could act responsibly with unlimited energy. Still, scientists need hobbies…

Resources

Some resources are required for the operation of a technologically advanced civilisation. Metals – for example. These are finite (or more precisely formed only very slowly over geological timescales) so how do we solve this problem?

I’m sorry but again the answer is boring and simple. The good old reduce, reuse and recycle – with a few other twists.

We have predicated a civilisation on the idea that it is good to consume as much as possible as fast as possible – with no thought of future generations. This is idiotic. We need things that can last a long time – and be repaired easily – and recycled only when they are beyond repair or use.

If I buy a tin opener from the supermarket today, it will be a little flimsy thing that is likely to break within months to a year[8]. My mother has a nice solid metal one that is around a century old and continues to be used very regularly. There is no reason it couldn’t work just fine for another century or more.

While at times of technological progress some things may go obsolete quickly this is no excuse for discarding these principles. Do you care so little about your children and their children that you would take all these things today and leave them with nothing but problems tomorrow?

In Conclusion

I often say that we must break out of the prisons of our minds – the little boxes into which we comfortably reside, ordained for us by society and our peers. I hope that I have addressed many of the common problems often seen as insurmountable in this article.

I know it seems almost certain that we are headed for a dystopia in which only the strong and ruthless are likely to survive and prosper. However, these ideas are still important as an explanation of what the CCG vision is and even if mankind must first fall before it can rise I maintain we can ultimately achieve a good destiny as a species, even against all the odds. If we cannot avoid our fall we must learn and do things right afterwards. I want some of those individuals capable of surviving the coming storm to also carry enough compassion and wisdom to understand that this is about a lot more than just themselves or even their children – but about the future of all people for the rest of our history.

Even if it takes ten thousand years, this is the end to which I work. As an individual I feel as though I face the storm almost entirely alone and know that the probability of my survival and success is very small. This is why I cast words and ideas out into the world in the hope that some may find fertile ground.

I would close with a little anecdote about a conversation I had with my mother late last year. I mentioned a possible settlement site for the Deus Juvat project (which I run), and I observed that I expected that in a hundred years this site might well be quite pleasant as it would likely be colonised by trees (and other things). My mother said to me: “What use would that be to you? You wouldn’t live to see it.”

I had to explain the single most important solution to our problems to my mother – that we care about people to come in the future. If the people of the past had thought this way, we would not have these problems today.

[1] http://speed101.com/
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_car
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flywheel_energy_storage
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LZ_129_Hindenburg
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concorde
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence

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