The world today is on the verge of a crisis, perhaps multiple crises. Although the roots of almost every problem can be traced to over-population and over-consumption, solving these problems will not be quick or easy. Some have even theorized that draconian measures will be necessary to save humans from themselves.
This article offers a short glimpse into a possible future, even a hopeful one. But it’s a future rather different than the world we enjoy today, with a different approach to practically every aspect of our lives.
As you walk down a typical suburban street, you would notice many small differences from the world around you today, and some things that are the same. People still live in houses, similar enough in appearance, but different in construction. Most houses are “printed” with concrete by a large machine, and heavily-insulated. Outside paneling is concrete board, while the shingles are fiberglass. The houses themselves are typically smaller, and sit on smaller yards than would be normal now.
Each home has a geothermal tap for heating and cooling, or perhaps shares a neighbourhood central tap. Solar panels abound on everyone’s rooftops, and many neighbourhoods are not connected into a central grid at all. The roads and streets are concrete, and what few streetlights to be seen feature low-power lighting, shaded and directed down, with a solar panel and battery incorporated into each one.
In the yard and gardens, local and heirloom varieties of plants and vegetables are in abundance. Water is strictly rationed to each house, and many jurisdictions outlaw lawn watering entirely. Most yards have from 2-3 composters in the back, and many sport greenhouses as well. The price of having a yard is growing at least some of your own food. Some neighbourhoods have jointly-owned property for growing larger crops in a more efficient manner. These plots may include space for small livestock like rabbits and chickens, including laying hens, that the people in the neighbourhood buy shares in. In fact, joint neighbourhood projects are very common, and relying on your neighbours is once more in fashion.
Large buses, humming quietly with their fuel-cell drive trains, provide most mass-transit, often feeding into high-speed rail lines. What few cars are seen are small, compact, and all-electric. Communities maintain small fleets of large electric vehicles for cargo and transportation use, leased out as needed.
Inside the home, most things that would be made of plastic or wood today are made from spun glass, some metal, and concrete. There might be some wood, but it would more likely be some sort of composite material made from bamboo or kiri wood. If a house has a fireplace at all, it would be strictly ornamental, perhaps with a heatless electric “fire” for appearances.
Appliances would be smaller, and much more efficient. Many houses might not have dishwashers at all, with the occupants doing dishes by hand. Along with low-flow taps and shower heads, bathrooms may be equipped with two toilets: one waterless for liquid waste, and one low-flow for solid. Waste management will often be on the local level, through natural systems that treat waste without any chemicals at all. Greywater collection systems will be in place, typically on the house, or at most the neighbourhood level, with the grey water used for things like irrigation and flushing toilets.
A major difference would be the lack of pets. In a world with limited resources, pet ownership would be at a premium, with working animals taking precedence. Cats would be charged with pest control, while dogs would be very limited. Pet ownership will be limited to small rodents and the occasional cat. For companionship, especially for the elderly, robotic “animals” would be common, often charged with monitoring health and providing limited assistance.
Most people in the suburbs would be knowledge and service workers, either working from home or working locally. Those few who commute do so using the mass transit system.
Outside of the cities, services would be widely distributed, and locally-based. Water, power, and waste management, including sewage, would be based and controlled at the neighbourhood or, at most, town level. Telecommunications, information access, and entertainment would be provided by broadband wireless or satellite service, one of the few highly-centralized services available.
This glimpse of small-town life in a possible future reveals a world that in many ways is much smaller, more tight knit, than our own. International travel is rare, limited by high cost and lack of resources. Even travel beyond the local area is rare. Personal car ownership is not common, but mass transit is. However, with the ubiquitousness of the internet and long-distance communications, people will be more in touch virtually with each other.
It’s a world of trade-offs, less comfortable then the world now, less secure. This is a best-case, though, and depends on sacrifices that many may not be willing to make.
By Colin Dunn and Julia Girouard