A Glimpse into the Future – The Developing World

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solar developing world

So far, all of the “Glimpse” articles have dealt with the changes that may come to the developed world. In the developing world, however, things will be quite different.

The nations of the so-called developed world created their technologies and practices in a fairly linear fashion. Along the way, mistakes were made, and blind alleys trapped societies with less-than-optimal technologies and practices. For example, the telephone was first developed over 120 years ago. First copper wires, then fiber-optic cables carried the signal. Recently, high-speed wireless networks have begun carrying voice and data, with the need of an extensive infrastructure. In the developing world, they are able to take advantage of that, without bothering with the extensive, and expensive, cabled systems. They are able to leap-frog us.

The future will be the same way.

Without the infrastructure, they are able to make decisions that work best for them.

Rather than large, centralized power plants, most power demands will be met by local solar and wind facilities. To support industrial requirements there will be some centralized power generation, likely hydro if available, or a small-scale thorium reactor. A thorium reactor can use waste as fuel, produces no weapons-grade materials, can’t melt down, and has waste that is only dangerous for about 200 years. This makes it by far the most effective solution for small reactors deployed in the developing world.

As the cities of the developing world rebuild and grow, they too can take advantage of technologies like using concrete to “print” a home, integrated solar and geothermal systems, green roofs and green walls. What will take the developed world 50 years to fully integrate can be done in the developing world in far less time.

In transportation, too, as the people of the developing world begin to amass wealth, they will be looking for cars even as the west strives to move away from them. Air-powered cars will be popular, as they are simple and robust, and require little more than rooftop solar to recharge. In more rural areas, a collection of air-powered cars and fuel-cell powered trucks will be available to people in the area. Any farm machinery will be methane-powered, courtesy of bio-gas generators feeding off of livestock and human waste.

On the farms, vat-grown meat will not have the same popularity it does elsewhere, due to the energy and nutrient costs. Instead, free-range chickens, cows, and pigs will wander among market gardens mulched with shredded rubber from old tires. Like in the developed world, herbicides and pesticides will be rare here, with compost from human and animal waste being the most common fertilizer. Crops will be high-yield hybrids, or in some cases genetically modified plants for drought tolerance and yield. Some farms will go back to local staples, and will invest in heirloom varieties for local consumption, and possibly even for market sales to distant consumers.

Villages and regions will make use of inexpensive solar-powered airships to bypass middle-markets and sell directly to shops and consumers in distant cities. Cash crops will include fruit, vegetables, cloth and clothing, along with coffee, tea, and other native crops. Many regions will also support plantations of fast-growing rubber and kiri trees, bamboo, and hemp.

Decentralization will be key for developing nations, in part because of the lack of a developed infrastructure. Local people will make local decisions for themselves, while distant governments will be more about ensuring telecommunications, criminal law enforcement, and basic safety regulations are followed. They will achieve much higher living standards than they currently have, but not on a level with the developed nations. However, the developed nations will have to reduce their standards to more sustainable levels.

 

Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.