The world in
A veteran environmentalist visualises a sustainable
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