This is a future scenario I have wanted to write for some time now. Some ideas are not original and all of the technology exists today, however the basic story line is my creation and is centred around the state of Victoria, Australia. I hope you enjoy my vision of a possible journey to zero carbon.
It is a lovely spring afternoon, and a special day it is, because Victoria’s greatly anticipated 11th annual progress report regarding the ‘Path towards Zero Carbon’ has just shown that we have achieved a 45% reduction in our states carbon footprint since 1990. Twenty two years ago I would not have thought that this would have been possible.
The West Antarctic ice shelf is still melting and so is much of Greenland’s ice sheets, and sea levels are set for a meteoric rise by 2100, and the impact of climate change on the Murry-Darling basin and native ecosystems get worse every year. However it is good to know that we are on the right path, and that Victoria is leading the way by demonstrating how life is possible and enjoyable in a low carbon world. If the rest of Australia continues for follow our lead we will hit the legislated target of 95% reduction by 2035 which is fifteen years earlier than the climate scientists believed was necessary.
When people where hit with a double whammy in 2011 with the 15th year of drought in the Greater Melbourne area, and dwindling global oil supplies and rising prices, people finally began to realise that action was necessary. Throughout Melbourne, people are busy in the gardens planting their spring vegetables and harvesting the last of their winter crops that will supply 70% of the cities fresh food needs for the coming summer. When food prices began to rise dramatically, the government began supplying every home with free 10,000 litre rainwater tanks, with generous subsidies for plumbing connections, so over the next two years the city’s water storage problems began to subside. Carbon Victory Gardens sprang up all over the suburbs to help feed hungry families, as commercial farming techniques began to fail due to expensive fertilisers. With these systems so used to the addition of petrochemical pesticides and herbicides to control pests our soils were useless without them. Organic gardening and Permaculture became the norm and people with these skills were highly respected and sought after for large community workshops. Community gardens sprang up everywhere by mid 2012 and nature strips were planted out by local councils in 2013 with fruit, nut, and berries in an effort to help feed locals. Roadside stormwater drains were configured so that these trees were adequately watered after every downpour.
These simple changes brought on a wave of excitement within the community. With the roads much quieter, millions have turned to all forms of cycling. From trikes to rickshaws and carts, people have become mobile and children and aged citizens alike felt safe to ride the streets again. Electric bicycles turned the hills in the eastern suburbs into an achievable journey, thus eliminating one of the biggest barriers to city cycling. No longer are the streets of the city ruled by inconsiderated drivers, with the very same former drivers began to appreciate the plight of the cyclist in former years.
When the state government went into partnership with a small Victorian electric vehicle company in 2014, and funded the construction of 150,000 small electric vehicles in one year, people were shocked. These new cars were exempt from registration and citylink tolls that other vehicles had to pay and the price included a government guarenteed 50% reduction in vehicle insurance due to the lower number of fossil fuelled powered vehicles on the road. These incentives were an instant hit with consumers. They were so quiet and pollution throughout the city reduced by 25 percent in one year. To accomodate for the additional electricity required for these electric vehicles, strong legislation was passed to ensure that all street lighting was turned off by midnight and that heavy fines were imposed on any company found to leave office lighting and appliances left turned on in unoccuppied buildings after 10pm in the evening. With an ammendment to the Premium renewable feed-in tariff in December 2009 to include business as well as residential and non-profit premises and a removal of the 5 kW cap, saw a rapid uptake in all forms of renewable energy across the state, all privately funded much to the governments delight.
In addition to the renewable energy boom, two geothermal power plants were constructed in 2015 near Geelong providing an additional 3500 MW of baseload capacity to the grid. Furthermore, ten 800 MW solar thermal molten salt power plants located near Mildura were finally completed in 2018 (8000 MW in total) saw the begining of closures of some coal fired power plants throughout the state. All coal fired power plants have been legislated to be closed before 2030 thus ensureing the 95% reduction target set for 2035. The molten salt solar stations, alongside wind, solar PV, and geothermal baseload provided all of the electricity needs for the state. In 2019, Victoria began to export electricty via BassLink to Tasmania due to ever increasing water shortages in that states hydroelectric system. Even some of Melbournes electric tram systems could be reactivated and changed back over from the horse drawn system necessitated in the early years of the crisis. City gardeners were most diappointed at the reduction in free fertiliser!
It was not all beer and skittles in during the ‘Great Transformation’, which occured from 2010 to 2015, it was the older baby boomers who found it hardest to adjust. Born during the age of rampant consumerism, many valuable skills were lost and it was up to a dedicated few to help reskill the general population to avoid mass starvation as the oil supply dwindled and climate change began to really kick in. Water conservation became a necessity and not a niceaty.
The cost of flying rose dramatically with only the mega rich being able to afford this mode of transport. During the Great Transformation over 90% of the worlds airline companies in existance in 2009 collapsed into bankruptcy. International travel once more became dominated by wind powered ships, however they are much larger and comfortable than sailing ships of the past. With the newly created renewable energy sources, more and more manufacturing was able to be relocated back to Australia to create meaningful jobs for those people not skilled in farming, energy production and transportation. Some of Victoria’s industrial companies lobbyed and complained hard during the Great Transformation, however as carbon prices escalated and further incentives for renewable energy grew, the companies engineers found radical new ways to be vastly energy efficient and to begin to substitute with power from biogas, combined heat and power, and heat exchange technology. As the price of oil and natural gas peaked in 2012 and began to rapidly decline, they sat back and watched their competitors struggle with the rising costs and congratulated themselves for being ahead of the pack.
Looking back, I believe that the greatest achievement has been the return of the overwhelming sense of community that arose mid way during the Great Transformation. Of course there was looting and some chaos at first but martial law soon put a stop to that in the first few months of 2010. I believe it was as people began to spend more time in their neighbourhoods, caring for their veggie patches, livestock and each other, upgrading their homes where they could and began brewing their own beer, wine and preserving excess harvest that this change happened.
Some people still complain today, but most realize that something wonderful is happening not only to the state of Victoria, but all over the world. While we are still very concerned about what the future may bring, we are also imensely proud of what we have achieved so far.