The world in

A vet­eran en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist vi­su­alises a sus­tain­able

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - By NATALIE HENG

WHAT do con­tro­versy-court­ing co­me­dian Rus­sell Brand and for­mer Green Party chair­man Sir Jonathan Porritt have in com­mon? A de­sire for rev­o­lu­tion.

Ex­cept un­like Brand’s half-baked News­night rant which re­cently went vi­ral – when he spoke about top­pling “the sys­tem” but was un­able to ar­tic­u­late what would take its place – Porritt ac­tu­ally has an­swers.

His recipe for a new world or­der is de­tailed in the book he launched in Kuala Lumpur last month, The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story From 2050.

A renowned en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and au­thor, Porritt, 63, is well-re­spected within the global green move­ment. In fact, he may just be one of the most in­flu­en­tial green thinkers of our gen­er­a­tion.

One rea­son for that is the many books he’s writ­ten on en­vi­ron­men­tre­lated is­sues. He’s never writ­ten fic­tion, though. This is his first at­tempt at the genre – but with a re­al­is­tic twist. All the things that hap­pen in the book – the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion, the shift­ing bal­ance of power be­tween peo­ple and gov­ern­ment, con­sumers and busi­ness – are tra­jec­to­ries based on real events hap­pen­ing now.

Porritt has spent much of his ca­reer think­ing about the prob­lems. For nine years, he was chair­man of Bri­tain’s (now de­funct) Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion.

But this is a book about so­lu­tions, and writ­ing this book gave him a chance to re­ally dig in.

Two years went into re­search­ing de­vel­op­ments at var­i­ous stages of the in­no­va­tion pipe­line. Wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion, de­sali­na­tion tech­nolo­gies, ar­ti­fi­cial pho­to­syn­the­sis, 3D print­ing, so­lar power ... the pos­si­bil­i­ties, he says, are mind­bog­gling.

In this sense, The World We Made is a re­fresh­ing de­par­ture from the usual cau­tion­ary pre­dic­tions of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. In­deed, Porritt’s done his fair share of cheer­less proph­esy­ing. This time around, he thought he’d start with the idea that we have al­ready sorted it all out, he says dur­ing a talk be­fore the launch of the book .

“I cre­ated Alex McKay (a fic­tional 50-year-old his­tory teacher) to show us how we made it to this amaz­ing world in 2050.”

Us­ing a fic­tional nar­ra­tor as a plot de­vice was in­cred­i­bly lib­er­at­ing for Porritt – like hav­ing a blank can­vas, no pol­i­tics to get in the way. He was tired of peo­ple say­ing they couldn’t en­vi­sion what a sus­tain­able world would look like.

The fi­nal prod­uct is as visu­ally en­gag­ing as it is in­ter­est­ing. Pub­lished by Phaidon Press, which spe­cialises in the vis­ual arts, the idea was to cre­ate a sense of the world 35 years from now. The re­sult is a glimpse of what chang­ing poli­cies, mind­sets and tech­nolo­gies could pos­si­bly achieve in 2050.

We see the Great “Green Wall” of China, planted over 300 mil­lion hectares for pro­tec­tion against en­croach­ing deserts. In North Africa, gi­gan­tic so­lar pan­els fan out across the dessert, pow­er­ing Europe through a trans-Mediter­ranean power grid.

Even the Kuala Lumpur sky­line is in there, a new gen­er­a­tion of su­per­sus­tain­able, su­per-tall build­ings dwarf­ing the Petronas Twin Tow­ers. New build­ings are con­structed with routers, switch­ers and fi­bre-op­tic fil­a­ments. This “dig­i­tal plumb­ing” cre­ates cities that, lit­er­ally, run on in­for­ma­tion.

“The trou­ble with sus­tain­abil­ity is that it sounds like this re­ally bor­ing con­cep­tual thingy,” says Por­rit. He hopes the book will help peo­ple vi­su­alise the re­al­ity of a sus­tain­able world, what it could ac­tu­ally look

In alex mcKay’s fic­tional world, bulk car­ri­ers in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency by us­ing sky sails out of holes in the hull to cre­ate a car­pet of bub­bles that lessens drag, es­pe­cially when com­bined re­pelling poly­mer coat­ing. Porritt says th­ese tech­nolo­gies al­ready ex­ist, they just haven’t

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