2030 – a partial utopia?

Boiling the kettle remains much the same, but behind this simple act are a range of new forces.

It seems inevitable now that 2020 was going to be an eventful year. Mostly for the wrong reasons. However, for many climate activists, 2019 has been by far the more eventful year, with 2020 stuck in a Covid-related holding pattern. This isn’t quite true however – renewables have soared, and not just because of reduced electrical demand, to be the UK’s largest source of power this year (so far). The citizen’s climate assembly has concluded its results only last week, the government is mulling over new plans to decarbonise transport, climate related economic recovery policies are cropping up all over the world, coal continues its worldwide death spiral, hydrogen has had a leap forward and even housing retrofits have had a new lease of life this year. However, this is all far away from the green utopia of which we are all dreaming, leading to the question – what will it all look like in ten years time? For the talk of goals and targets for future years, we don’t often take the thought experiment of what the future will look like directly.

It’s New Year’s Day, 2030. You wake up in a warm bedroom, despite the overnight storm. Your house is one of those upgraded as part of a retrofit package, which have got increasingly generous over the last decade. You’ve barely thought about the invisible cavity wall and loft insulation upgrades since they were put in a few years ago, especially as everyone eligible in the country has been offered them. More noticeable as you walk downstairs is the heat pump, which you turn down now you’re up. While many people have them now – in fact, they no longer sell old gas boilers, so you have to buy them if your heating needs replacing – it’s taken a long time to get them going, and gas is still the most common form of heating. You remember the shock of replacing the radiators and the disruption to the house when it was first installed, but since, the pump has been quiet and efficient. It’s also cheap, for the electricity supplying it has been much more affordable now that the grid runs almost exclusively off renewable energy, nuclear power, storage and interconnected grids, the storm of the night undeniably feeding in to the dominant form of offshore wind power. You make breakfast, turn on the TV, and start the kettle for a cup of tea. Unbeknownst to you, the new kettle you bought a month ago is made from recycled steel, part of a new drive to reuse industrially intensive resources. If it breaks, you have an app for that, part of a new drive to reuse common household items that’s taken off recently. After breakfast, you call for a rental car to go and visit your family. With more bus and rail links than there used to be, you don’t really need to own a car in many parts of cities and towns, but with reduced services on New Years, it’s one of those times where it pays to have a car on hand. Driving off in your fully electric vehicle, smart systems inside alert you to battery status and the different types of chargers nearby and available. You’re running short of time, so stop off at an ultra-rapid charger at a ‘petrol’ station. Five minutes later and with a fully charged battery you continue on, passing predominantly electric cars, vans, and even an electric lorry. The majority of the cars on the road are electric now, but petrol and diesel cars still have a noticeable presence, even if you can’t buy them anymore from today. With a few miles to go, your mind drifts, and you think about what 2040 will bring.

This is all hypothetical of course. Many will be angry this vision doesn’t include a completely carbon neutral UK, or conversely that everything above is wishful thinking that can’t possibly be expected to take place. Both viewpoints are wrong – it will be virtually impossible to decarbonise areas like flights and heating in the next decade, but equally radical cuts in electricity and road transport are possible with technologies and industries already available to us. It’s also not a completely optimistic view of the future – the storm that hangs over the vision could be fuel for wind turbines or an extreme weather event, depending on interpretation. My vision for 2030 is that of a partial low carbon utopia. One where serious action has been taken on climate change, and emissions are less than half of what they are today, with a lot of new technologies and ideas embraced in a relatively short space of time. Yet there is no denying, not everything can be done in the next ten years, as much as I would like it to be. The 2020s are the critical decade for the climate fight, but they will not end it, only do a majority of the damage to our opponent. If we cannot claim a green utopia in a decade, then we must do everything in our power to claim – a partial utopia.