Lives in a Modern Society

Here are some lives in a Modern Society.

Andrew : 2023

The year is 2023 in a Modern Society. Andrew is a 33 year old working for a development company in Chicago. The company specializes in work to reduce warming in the city – to make it more liveable but also to reduce its carbon footprint. Andrew has 3 pictures of Chicago on his office wall; one is a photograph taken from the air 5 years ago. Another is a photograph taken 3 months ago from the same spot; it is noticeably brighter than the first photograph because roofs, car-parks and roads have been painted white (to reflect more sunlight and reduce warming); you can also see more rooftop gardens. The third is a picture of what Chicago should look like in 2030, again from the same spot; it’s noticeably greener, with rooftop and urban farms, more trees and new parks. Andrew’s company also transforms people’s houses to be more energy efficient; adding insulation and window shades is cost effective and subsided by the government. Andrew’s company intends to offer solar panel systems early next year, when a programme of government subsidy is finalized. Much of the work is actually done by volunteers; this really is a local renewal programme.

Mohammed : 2024

The year is 2024 in a Modern Society. Mohammed is a 23 year old in France from a disadvantaged suburb of Paris; he still lives with his parents in a council house. He left school without qualifications but has volunteered 4 days a week as a gardener for a council for 4 years now. This gives him a degree of financial independence but more importantly he has learned a trade that he likes; he has found something he is good at. He is hoping to launch himself as a free-lance gardener (an auto-entrepreneur) and is currently getting free advice from a small business counselor; he’s learning about his legal obligations, how to build a client base and financial issues. If everything is successful, he will receive a 10,000 euro grant to buy some equipment and a second hand truck. He expects to work in a neighbouring, more wealthy, suburb and will start by putting cards in people’s mailboxes to find customers. Life for Mohammed isn’t easy, but he does see that he has opportunities that weren’t available to his older brother at the same age.

Charles : 2025

The year is 2025 in a Modern Society. Charles is the new king of the United Kingdom and is considering how best to respond to the new Land Value Tax. The royal family owns a lot of the land in the country and will be taxed on that land’s unimproved value. Some of the land is in the countryside and has relatively low value, but some is in central London, Windsor or Edinburgh and is of high value. Most of the land is owned indirectly in various ways (e.g. via the Crown Estate) rather than directly by the royal family, but the new tax will completely change the monarchy. 

The new tax was introduced 3 years ago for most landowners but huge estate holders like the monarchy, the Church of England and the Duke of Westminster were given a 4 year grace period to plan the transition; for many of those big estates there is a double whammy – not only do they have to pay tax but they have also lost subsidies they received as land-owners. The scale of the problem and prospective changes are breathtaking and there are no pain-free solutions for the royal family. 

One approach is to sell some of the most significant properties (e.g. Sandringham and/or Balmoral); the would raise some cash and reduce the tax bill. Another is for the royal family to generate much higher levels of income from the property it owns; potentially renting out apartments in royal property. Fundamentally, the monarchy will need to get smaller or run itself more like a business. It won’t just be Charles’ decision, of course, but he wants to participate in formulating a solution. 

Ernest : 2026

The year is 2026 in a Modern Society. Ernest is a 40 year old investment banker working in the City of London. The last few years have seen many changes for Ernest. Ernest pays more in income tax and he also pays a little bit of the new wealth tax; he is still doing very well but he is definitely worse off financially than he was. When he started working four days a week he decided that living in the country made more sense; from Richmond, he moved to near Gatwick and commutes by train 3 days a week (he telecommutes for the 4th day). Train services have improved in the last few years and while the commute isn’t a pleasure, it’s much less stressful than driving to work; factoring in the cost of parking, it’s also cheaper. The City is now car-free environment, and it’s a radically more pleasant place to work; Ernest would never have guessed how much that would improve his quality of life. Another change is that his colleagues are a little less white and male; his bank has to publish compensation information broken down by gender, race and nationality. Right now, the information can’t be used to sue the bank for discrimination but that changes in five more years; like lots of workplaces, Ernest’s is rapidly becoming more diverse. Ernest understands why these changes were made and is broadly sympathetic to them, though some of his colleagues object to them. He’s more relaxed and he really enjoys his extra time off; the improvement in quality of life is probably worth the financial cost.

Jane : 2027

The year is 2027 in a Modern Society. Jane is 25 and lives in Sheffield in the UK. She graduated from the local university as an architect; the fairly recent reduction in university fees meant she was able to attend university without taking a loan, though she needed to do some part-time work as a student. She is working for a local firm on a redevelopment on a previously abandoned site in the center of the city; the introduction of the Land Value Tax has encouraged owners of abandoned sites to sell them for development and for companies to relocate to Sheffield (because land values are lower than in areas like the south-east); the local economy has improved as a result. A year ago she was able to move out of her parents’ home and buy a small flat. 

Her father was a lorry driver; a difficult, lonely job but one that provided reliably for the family. But he has lost that job to automation; lorries now drive themselves for most of their journeys. For a few months he worked on a zero hour contract to drive the very beginning or the very end of some lorry journeys; the automated driving still has trouble in some awkward spots. But the work only averaged a few hours a week and he decided it was better to move on, so he volunteers as a school bus driver 3 days a week. His income has certainly gone down but he appreciates he has more free time and it feels like a sort of pre-retirement to him. When he lost his job to automation, thanks to recent legislation, he received a small lump-sum from his employer and used part of that money to help Jane with her university fees. 

Jane’s mother didn’t work before but now she also has a zero hours contract where she helps a delivery company when it is busy; she averages 2 days a week but is guaranteed wages one day a week (thanks to recent legislation). She also volunteers at the local library 2 days a week; this keeps her active and gives the family a small amount of extra income. Jane’s parents’ income has certainly gone down but so has their costs; they gave up their car – because of the free public transport – and buy much of their food cheaply in the local cooperatives; financially they are about even. They feel involved in society and take a lot of pride in Jane’s success. You can read about Jane’s worse life in today’s society here.

Sophie : 2028

The year is 2028 in a Modern Society. Sophie is a recently retired teacher in France. She lives alone and has a small but adequate pension which she augments by volunteering as a tutor for 2 days a week. She is glad of the extra income but more importantly it allows her to stay in touch with her ex-colleagues and to feel useful. She uses a local car pool when she needs a car and is glad to avoid the cost and hassle of owning her own car. She visits her daughter by train a lot; it’s a long journey and she really appreciates the big discounts she gets with her 100 euro a year savings card. Like most French people, she doesn’t have A/C in her house but she recently got a grant to upgrade the insulation in her house and that helps a lot; for Sophie, summers are hot but bearable. When it’s very hot she often spends her afternoons in the local community center, which is air conditioned; she is picked up by a free shuttle the council operates. Sophie does regret that she can’t afford to travel more – flights are now pretty expensive – but she sees this as a small price to assure the future for her daughter and grand-children.  

John : 2030

The year is 2030 in a Modern Society. John has recently become an independent farmer in Iowa. Instead of exclusively growing corn and soy for a big agro-business, he now also grows  wheat, beans, hay and oats and he is raising some cows and pigs. He is having to learn a lot of the farming techniques his father used 40 years ago (before the local farms consolidated around agro-business); it’s very exciting for him. He now leaves some fields fallow so he can take some water from the aquifer for irrigation; this also makes the soil a little more productive. This diverse agriculture is more work and he is considering taking on a farm-hand. He sells almost all his produce to instate cooperatives; they are subsidised by the federal government and pay higher prices than agro-business. He also is given very basic crop insurance by the government; this is all part of a program that retargeted the corn subsidies to help small farmers and a more balanced agriculture. Elsewhere in the state, big agro-business are breaking small lots of their mega-farms and selling them to new, independent farmers; again, the effect of retargeting the corn subsidies. After years of population fall in rural Iowa, communities are slowly rebuilding. You can read about John’s worse life in today’s society here.

Anton : 2034

The year is 2034 in a Modern Society. Anton is the head of the World Carbon Bank which is headquartered in Frankfurt. This was set up 10 years ago as an EU initiative with a goal of managing CO2 emissions around the globe. Most countries around the world signed up with the bank because it would allow them to receive compensation them from the developed world’s CO2 emissions; small, poorer countries generally pollute only a little but suffer more from other country’s pollution. The bank sets a social cost of carbon annually and countries that pollute above their nominal sustainable limit have to pay this cost to the bank on their excess. The US did not join the bank when it was set up but joined 5 years later partly under the pressure of US opinion and partly so it could continue to participate in world trade. 

The biggest contributor last year to the bank was China; out of a GDP of $28 trillion it paid $1.2 trillion due to its CO2 emissions. The second biggest was the US, with a slightly higher GDP and slightly lower contributions. The contributions the bank receives are divided between compensation and carbon capture projects; at first most of the money went in compensation but now 70% is spent on capture projects. Compensation is divided between all the countries according to how they are affected by climate change; population is considered but low lying countries like Bangladesh and the Island nations get a higher percentage. The bank invests in carbon capture projects; a lot of them are in China and the US, so their large contributions come back to their economies. 

Anton’s job is very difficult because every country wants to ‘hide’ their emissions and to skew the bank’s policies in their favor. But the bank has been successful in encouraging countries to cut emissions and in investing heavily in carbon capture projects. There is hope that next year they can drop the social cost of carbon (because the carbon capture projects are working well) and that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere will start to fall. 

Jamel : 2040

The year is 2040 in a Modern Society. Jamel is works in a brand new synthetic fuel farm in Morocco. A huge array of solar panels in the desert tracks the sun as it moves across the sky; the generated electricity is used to do two things. First, CO2 is captured directly from the air; around 30% of this is directly buried below the site and removed permanently from the atmosphere; the World Carbon Bank pays for each tonne of sequestered CO2. The rest of the electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and then combine them with the CO2 to form a synthetic fuel. The synthetic fuel can be used just like petrol but with two important differences; first, CO2 released by its combustion was already in the atmosphere prior to its manufacture, so it’s a carbon neutral fuel; secondly, its combustion produces no soot or fine particle pollution, it’s a clean fuel. 

The synthetic fuel is piped out to tankers (themselves powered by the fuel) that take the fuel to France; the same tankers carry fresh water back from France to be used to generate more synthetic fuel. Now thermal or hybrid cars can be built instead of electric ones thus avoiding the heavy batteries (and the pollution associated with their manufacture) and recharging issues. Most new lorries and busses will be powered by this synthetic fuel. Airplane flights have been very expensive for the last 20 years and they should become a lot cheaper as a result of synthetic fuel. 

Production of synthetic fuel only took off after two recent inventions; first, a more energy efficient way of electrolysing water; secondly, the development of solar panels which work efficiently at high temperatures (earlier models were less efficient in hotter climes). Morocco has lots of sunlight, it is relatively near France and its ideally situated to manufacture this synthetic fuel for France, so a new Franco-Moroccan company has built this enormous farm. You can read about Jamel’s worse life in today’s society here.

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