What the world will look like in 2050

October 31, 2013

Hugh Macpherson takes you on a tour of 2050, courtesy of Jonathon Porritt’s latest book.

The World We Made by Jonathon Porritt is a commendable book. Its primary message is that the sustainable future  many of us are hoping for is not as far-fetched as we might sometimes believe it to be. While it sometimes requires a slight leap of faith, having read Porritt’s vision of the world of the future it surprises me how rarely I had to suspend my disbelief.

Each chapter of the book details a particular societal issue or trend and explains how it has been resolved or exploited from the point of view of 2050. There is a lot to like about the book, particularly for those interested in sustainability. However, I wouldn’t rule out sci-fi fans either. I’m certainly one of them, and enjoyed the book as much with my “Trekky” hat on as with my sustainability one.

It would be easy for me to take a cynical approach, but that would be missing the point. Cynicism is a bit of a default setting nowadays, and Porritt’s book is an effort to break through it. So in that spirit I will give you a rundown of my ten favourite or most interesting trends from Porritt’s world of the future, with implications for business and society as a whole.

  1. Micro-Manufacturing – In 2050 we still need stuff. But community-owned 3D printers mean we can order specific blueprints, pay for the raw materials ourselves (organic resins that have replaced plastics) and build the stuff ourselves in our community-owned workshops.
  1. More efficient planes – It may seem small, but technological advancements make air traffic control more efficient and prevent planes from circling over airports before landing, reducing flights’ carbon footprints by up to 10%.
  1. (Some) Geo-engineering works – Ocean fertilisation initiatives encourage phytoplankton blooms to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the deep ocean.
  1. Universal money – Three types of currencies exist: national currencies, local currencies, and the new universal currency, which facilitates the international taxation policy (see number 5).
  1. We work less – In 2050 we are working almost ten fewer hours per week. Time is handed over to developing community projects like agriculture, manufacturing and education.
  1. Tax havens are a thing of the past – Countries, one by one, start to introduce regulations to help reduce their own economic deficits. Eventually an international financial transaction tax framework is introduced that puts an end to tax havens.
  1. “Benefit” companies – Companies that can prove a demonstrable social benefit for existence and commit to stringent environmental and social targets are given “B” Company status. They benefit not only from increased consumer trust but also receive tax breaks.
  1. The Enough! Campaign – Over the coming decades, young people are united through collective disillusionment in the social and political order to join forces and protest across the world for change to international political and economic priorities. A balance is struck between the competing perspectives.
  1. Climate change damages millions of lives – Despite all our best efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, much of the century is characterised by efforts to deal with the effects of the carbon dioxide emitted over the previous century and a half.
  1. Energy trading – Technological advances in electricity storage and transferral have developed to the point where instantaneous electricity transmission from one location to another is possible. Micro-generation becomes a secondary source of income for many.

The book looks at dozens of other characteristics of this vision of the future and I’d recommend you read it to find your favourites. Some readers may be able to take pride in the knowledge that they are in the part of society trying to make Porritt’s world a reality; others may find that it makes for more uncomfortable reading. All will be surprised, entertained and enlightened.

Hugh Macpherson is a Senior Researcher with Corporate Citizenship in London.