The Glimpse into the Future articles have all been about looking towards a possible, and largely hopeful, future. Almost all of the various technologies and practices mentioned in these articles currently either exist, or are under development. Others, like thorium reactors, can be developed, and will be if needed.
There have been several key technologies and concepts at the core of all of the articles. One of the most important concepts was decentralization. Things like power and wastewater can often be more easily supplied at a local level, using sustainable technologies. It is easy to see a neighbourhood or a farm being powered by a small solar and wind farm, with some off-line storage. It is harder to see a factory managing on such, especially in power-hungry industries. As a counterpoint to the decentralization of residential infrastructure, there will likely be a greater centralization of power-intensive industry, to take advantage of large, base-load power generation. In a future after peak oil, such baseload generation is likely to be combination of hydropower, large-scale solar and wind farms with some storage, and next-generation nuclear plants that produce little in the way of long-term waste.
Even as cities grow, the tendencies within the city itself will be towards decentralization of core services. Solar panels on buildings, rooftop and interior gardens, greenwalls in every window, and building-based composting of all waste are ways to reduce a building’s load on the city’s infrastructure.
Key technologies of the future include both alternative energy, recycling systems, and transportation. Several of the articles made the point that the future is a less mobile world, especially past the regional scale. Shipping fleets will likely condense around more efficient, wind and bio-diesel driven designs for bulk commodities, while more perishable goods will fly by solar-powered airships. These same airships will also provide the bulk of long-distance travel, with high-speed aerospace service reserved for the very rich, and government/military use. On a local level, in cities mass-transit will be the norm, with electric cars available for longer-trips and for situations where mass transit isn’t suitable. Long-range transport will again rely largely on trains, either hybrid bio-diesel/electric designs, or locomotives using fuel cells.
Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power will become core generation technologies at the local and national level. Homes will make extensive use of geothermal heating and cooling, along with solar water heaters and power generation. On larger scales, the problems associated with solar and wind, chiefly that they are intermittent, will be ameliorated in large part by power storage systems and distributed supergrids, allowing nations to draw power from anywhere along the grid.
Recycling will be very important, with programs likely mandated by law in most jurisdictions. This includes organics composting, either for fertilizer or biofuels. The disposal of things like medications in wastewater systems will be outlawed, and if necessary chemical tagging will be implemented to track offenders.
Another key concept for the future is the lowering of the standard of living in industrialized nations, and the raising of the standard of living in the rest of the world. There will not be parity, but in some areas, like access to communications and data transmission technologies, the lesser developed world may be able to leapfrog the first world nations.
There are no reasonable foreseeable technological advances that will allow the world to continue at the current rate of resource consumption. This will have to be adjusted down sharply. All of the alternate technologies described in these series of articles will simply ease the pain, rather than ameliorate it entirely. The sooner the move begins toward these alternatives, the easier it will be in the long-term.