Monday, April 04, 2005

Future - The Environment

For the second of my series of future-prediction posts, I'm taking a look at the subject that has aroused the most confusion, anger and argument in recent years and is going to be the hot-topic of the next couple of decades, at least. The environment.

The next generation is likely to be the most environmentally clued-up of all and I aim to make sure that my daughter is one of them. I don't want to produce an anarchic eco-warrior, or anything, just a responsible person, who knows the value of recycling, energy efficiency etc and behaves accordingly.

That is where I think the biggest change with regard to the environment will take place over the next 25 years. In the mind. Whether you're talking about global warming, pollution or low levels of natural resources, it's unlikely there'll be a significant change in any of them in that time frame, assuming things carry on as they are currently. However, by the time we get to 2030, there may well be no way to stop massive climate change occurring. In order to stop that, there needs to be a complete change of attitude among the population of the world.

I'm trying to predict what will happen, though, not rant about what should so I'm going to leave that for another day. I think it's clear that, barring some sort of huge environmental disaster on the scale of The Day After Tomorrow, the arguments about global warming will continue while average temperatures creep up, winters become wetter and milder and hosepipe bans rule the summer. At the same time, incremental changes in public policy, retail economics and societal thinking will all do their bit to combat it. Below are some of what I think these small changes will be.

Supermarkets will add a new dimension to food shopping. Alongside the normal and organic ranges of meat, fruit, vegetables and other staples, there will be a new range, called 'Locally Produced'. The products in the range may be organic or they may not, but they will have been produced and packaged locally (within, say, 10-20 miles) and should appeal to anyone who is concerned about the environmental damage caused by transporting food around the country in trucks. Aside from the green benefits, this could boost British agriculture and give my daughter some satisfaction at having helped out someone in their local area, rather than some faceless person a long way away. Who knows, it could be so successful that it becomes the dominant way to buy those sorts of goods.

My daughter's first car will probably not be fuelled by petrol. The average oil price will probably continue to rise, as stocks of easily attainable oil begin to run low, until it becomes more economical to use a different power source. The technology is already being developed to power cars using hydrogen and, given the better part of twenty years, there's no reason they won't be commercially viable by the time she sends off to the DVLA for her licence. A scaled up version of the process may even be used to generate electricity. What could be better? Getting energy from an extremely abundant fuel source and producing just steam as an emission.

That's still a bit pie in the sky, though. For some thing a bit more down to earth, waste management will change so that more and more of our rubbish is recycled, including that generated by commerce, and what is left will be disposed of responsibly. People will also start to change the way things are packaged as they begin to buy the products that do not come with unnecessary plastic bags, polystyrene and other harmful packaging.

Of course, ideas like this will not be the only way in which people are encouraged to make a difference. Whether it will all be enough, though, only time will tell.

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