I did a remarkable thing on holiday last week. I found out what it takes to save the world.
As light holiday reading, I read the new book from sustainability champion Jonathon Porritt. Set in 2050, The World We Made is history teacher Alex McKay’s account of how his world was brought back from the brink.
It takes some pretty seismic global events to prompt the salvation.
In 2050, McKay’s world is one in which 90% of our energy comes from renewable sources
There are food riots and internet wars. There are droughts and famines, floods and hurricanes. There are protests: not least around surging youth unemployment. And there is terrorism - significantly 2019’s cyber-attack on British and American nuclear
The governments of the world react. In 2020 the United States finally signs up to a global climate change treaty and agrees to a global carbon tax.
In 2025, China declares that all coal-fired power stations will be shut down.
Religions too are stung into action. Runaway population growth is curbed in 2018 by a reversal of the Catholic church’s stance on contraception; and all faiths unite in 2022 to tackle environmental issues.
But there is one event in McKay’s reality that really changes the world for the better. It is the moment we get serious about
The trigger is grid parity - the point at which a unit of electricity from solar energy costs no more than a unit of electricity from any other source. It happens in the fiction world right now - between 2012 and 2018 - and it is transformational.
It assists the battle against climate change (although many more initiatives are needed to halt that totally). It frees individuals and countries around the world from dependence on big foreign energy companies. And it transforms the lives of hundreds of millions
Now, in 2050, McKay’s world is one in which 90% of our energy comes from renewable sources.
And the most remarkable thing? McKay’s reality is all made possible thanks to a massive, state-backed investment in renewable technologies by China. Why? Because the Chinese see the future and they invest in it.
Yet as this week’s news shows, we seem further from that reality than ever. We see two of the UK’s biggest wind farm projects being scaled back; and we see the government ploughing £200M into sucking an extra 4bn barrels of oil and gas out of the North Sea. Meanwhile universal political support for the new nuclear power stations programme remains.
So it’s hard not to concur with Porritt when he says, in his postscript: “Most of the time, I’m more angry than I dare describe.
eeing this beautiful planet of ours systematically abused, day after day, and seeing the misery of billions of people constantly ignored, day after day, gets harder and harder to bear. How dare we continue to live like this?”
Hard to argue, isn’t it?
- Mark Hansford is NCE’s interim editor