Tag Archives: environment

The Future: What comes next?

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THE FUTURE: clean Drinking water, electricity, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Distilling fresh drinking water

Water splashDESPITE our little Earth being more than two-thirds water­, only three percent of this is drinkable. To make matters worse, a large portion of this miniscule percentage is either polluted or contaminated. Despite what some doomsayers might say, a lack of fresh water is single-handedly the biggest threat to the survival of our species and many others.

So how can we produce more of it cheaply? Simple. Boil dirty water beyond recognition. Boiling water at extreme temperatures not only kills germs, but rising water vapour leaves behind any sediment or pollutants, which don’t vaporise. Water vapour collected via this distilling process is highly pure and drinkable.

American inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has invented a small portable device that can produce clean drinking water from any source — even ocean water and sewage. He calls it the Slingshot, which is designed to produce 1000 litres of clean drinking water a day and can be manufactured for under $2 000 (roughly R14 000).

Of course it takes huge amounts of energy to boil water at such temperatures. To counter this, Kamen uses­ a heat-exchange device which is powered by heat and produces the energy needed to create heat. This closed loop of energy allows the Slingshot to run on less power than a toaster.

Food production in major cities

Sky farmIT is estimated that about 80% of what grows in the ground can be grown indoors under controlled environments. Indoor farms and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) make so much sense when we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas.

Furthermore, growing food directly where it’s needed, will result in lower inflation and therefore cheaper food. No fuel or transport costs would affect the price of staple foodstuffs. Weather conditions would no longer be an issue and we would no longer need to worry about farm attacks.

According to Dr Dickson Despommier from the University of Columbia, a 30-story high sky farm about the size of one New York city block, could consistently feed around 50 000 people per year. The logic is quite simple: to produce food where the people live. The result would be being able to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables easily and cheaply on a daily basis.

Link: The Vertical Farm

Future by Design

FUTURE DESIGN: Applying technology intelligently for a better future

IMAGINE living in a house that is permanently dust free, driving a car that automatically repairs itself, traveling at two thousand miles an hour in absolute comfort, and having the chances of getting ill significantly reduced by living in a city that self regulates it’s air and water by design. These idealistic-sounding goals are more possible than you might imagine.

Future by Design is quite honestly the most inspiring documentary I have ever seen that illustrates just how possible and practical such things are. There is, however, a bittersweet quality to the film: on the one hand it shows how technologically advanced and capable we are – illustrating how the world could be today rather than tomorrow or in the future. On the other hand, it describes how behind we are politically and how future progress is painfully halted due to certain systems set in place.

Thomas Edison had to actually make an electric light bulb before anyone took him seriously and backed him up. The same scenario can be said of Jacque Fresco – the man behind Future by Design. Fresco has been a social and industrial engineer and inventor all his life. Now in his 90s, he still invents and implements his ideas for a new, re-designed society – focusing his attention on The Venus Project – a small 25 acre ‘futuristic’ society located in Venus, Central Florida.

Developed since the late 1970s, The Venus Project is a living model of how hi-tech and nature can co-exist. The small society consists of a scattering of dome shaped homes co-existing in a lush, natural environment. You cannot see one house when you’re in another and the entire project represents how sustainable communities could be created worldwide.

“The Venus Project has a vision of what the future can be if we apply what we already know to achieve a sustainable world civilization, says Fresco. It calls for a scientific redesign of our culture in which war, poverty, hunger, debt, and unnecessary human suffering are viewed as not only avoidable, but unacceptable. Anything less will result in a disastrous continuation of the problems inherent in today’s world.”

Jacque Fresco

Jacque Fresco

And it isn’t necessary for one to have studied science or design in order to understand Fresco and his working concepts. I found my jaw on the floor as he presented designs (in all fields) that simply made so much practical sense.

Even more appealing was the social philosophy behind each idea – that being to improve the standard of living for all people while simultaneously saving the planet. As an engineer, Fresco’s ideas are not part of his own view of how the world should be, but rather how the world could be today and what it takes to start progressing towards it.

Some Future by Design concepts:

  • A dome-shaped home requires the least amount of material to build and offers the maximum protection against the elements due to its shape.
  • By increasing the air pressure slightly inside the home, dust will not be able to enter it. Cleanliness will be a major factor in the future home environment.
  • There is a type of memory alloy that reshapes itself when heated. Cars made from this material will straighten out any dents when heated (assuming that accidents will even happen in the future).
  • Sensors installed in the front of vehicles can detect how far away other objects are and keep a constant distance between them.
  • Travelling underwater is likely to become the future of sea travel as it is far more economical than travelling on the surface of the ocean where one is confronted by wind and waves.
  • A long, thin boat that breaks the surface tension of the water by rapidly releasing air bubbles at the front while simultaneously drawing water towards the rear (propelling it forward) will be able to travel very economically at remarkable speeds.
  • Having computers and machines continuously regulate the air and water supplies of cities and eliminating contaminants will significantly reduce viruses and disease.

The real appeal of Future by Design is the idea of creating harmony between people and nature. The Earth is far more abundant that what we are made to believe and there are even ways of making the planet more abundant by improving nature and applying design technology intelligently.

It is a sad reality that we live in an age where more time and technology is devoted to destroying humanity rather than advancing it; where global equality is greater than it has ever been; where more resources are invested in making a bigger, better bomb rather than providing clean drinking water where it’s needed.

“Social designs must be based on the carrying capacity of the Earth’s resources, and not on the philosophy, desires, aesthetics, or advantages of particular people” – Jacque Fresco

The standard of living proposed by Fresco and films such as Future by Design is by no means perfect; it is just significantly better. After all, the blunt truth is that no one knows what the future might bring, only that we can do a lot better with regards to the intelligent management of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of all the world’s people and protection of the environment.

What can be accurately predicted is that the future of communication lies in 3D imaging, and I would therefore urge everyone to give Future by Design a watch. It should appeal to anyone who has an interest in technology, ecology, people, design and society, and the possible future of our civilization.

Related Articles: A Resource-Based Economy

  1. Part 1: The power of the planet
  2. Part 2: A world without money
  3. Part 3: Incentive to work in a moneyless society
  4. Part 5: Smart Homes
  5. Part 6: Automated governance?

For more info check out the following:

A world without money

IMAGINE: A society without money, laws, unemployment, pollution, crime and unnecessary human suffering …

John Lennon — the man behind the timeless classic ‘Imagine.’

John Lennon — the man behind the timeless classic ‘Imagine.’

I HAD my music player on shuffle mode the other day when it randomly came across the great sounds of John Lennon of The Beatles and played Imagine. There is possibly one verse missing from Lennon’s timeless classic, that being: “Imagine there was no monetary system, it’s a little hard to do. No hunger, greed or crime, humankind living as one.” I’m no lyricist, but I think trying to imagine a world where money doesn’t exist should be an important part of such a song.

For those of you who are not familiar with the great sounds of Lennon, he was basically trying to encourage people to realise that capitalist society is comprised of a series of complex systems that shape our beliefs and values and determine our behaviour. He then encourages us to use a little imagination and envision a world where such systems do not exist. Wise man was Lennon.

I firmly believe that we are a product of our environment. Our behaviour, ideologies and interactions are almost entirely based on the society we are born into, the experiences we have and the media we are exposed to. In other words, our customs, behaviours, and values are by-products of our culture.

No one is born with greed, prejudice, bigotry, patriotism and hatred; these are all learnt behaviour patterns – picked up from the society in which we live – Zeitgeist Addendum

This society has evolved over millions of years to incorporate various systems of control. Today we are bound by systems of law, education, transportation, religion and, most significantly, the monetary system. We take it for granted that these systems are there and find it difficult to imagine living any other way.

In reality, it is these systems that hinder our imaginations, freedoms and human ingenuity. But, we are now entering a new stage of human awareness — a stage which understands that several of these systems are outdated and are in need of serious reform if humankind is to prosper and live as one. And no system is more outdated than our monetary system.

Can you imagine what life would be like if money didn’t exist? Imagine there were no possessions; nothing to kill or die for. Let’s paint a little picture:

An Obsolete Monetary System
money gone forever, because it is no longer relevantThe money-based system evolved centuries ago as a device to control human behaviour in an environment with limited resources. Back then scarcity was something very real, but now we have the technology to produce and harvest an abundance of resources.

Today money is used to regulate the economy, and to say that things have gone a little pear-shaped is an understatement. In truth, all of the world’s economic systems (socialism, communism, fascism, etc.) perpetuate social stratification, elitism, nationalism, and racism, and are primarily based on economic disparity. In other words, so long as a social system uses money or barter, people and nations will seek to maintain the economic competitive edge.

As a result of the imperialistic spread of money-based systems, inequality today is greater than it has ever been. This is because our current monetary system is not capable of providing a high standard of living for ever­yone, nor can it ensure the protection of the environment because the major motive is profit.

Similarly, our outmoded political and economic systems are unable to apply the real benefits of today’s innovative technology to achieve the greatest good for all people, and to overcome inequality. Our technology is racing forward, yet our social designs have remained relatively static. In other words, cultural change has not kept pace with technological change. To make matters worse, science and technology today have been diverted from achieving the greatest good for reasons of self-interest and monetary gain.

The Earth is still the same place; it is just the rules of the game that are obsolete and create strife, deprivation and cause unnecessary human suffering …

So, what’s the solution? Should we simply burn all our decorated notes with a similar vigour as the bra-burning feminists of the sixties? This may be a little drastic, but let’s picture a world where money didn’t exist.

(The following is based on the aims and proposals of The Venus Project — an organisation that proposes a feasible plan of action for social change):

A resource-based economy
To better understand the meaning of a resource-based economy, consider this: if all the money in the world were destroyed, as long as topsoil, factories and other resources were left intact, we could build anything we choose to build and fulfill any human need.

This is because it is not money that people need; rather, it is free access to the necessities of life. In a resource-based economy, money would be irrelevant. All that would be required are the resources and the manufacturing and distribution of products.

Simply stated, a resource-based economy would utilise existing resources rather than money, and would provide an equitable me­thod of distributing these in the most efficient manner for the entire population. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other form of debt or servitude.

Abundant Mother EarthThe Earth is abundant with plentiful resources. Today, our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counterproductive to our survival. Modern society has access to highly advanced technologies and can make available food, clothing, housing, medical care, a relevant educational system, and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy such as
geothermal, solar, wind and tidal power.

When education and resources are made available to all people at no cost, there would be no limit to the human potential. Although it is difficult to imagine, even the wealthiest person today would be far better off in a resource-based society.

Today, the middle classes live better than kings of times past. In a resource-based economy everyone would live better than the wealthiest of today …

In such a society, the measure of success would be based on the fulfilment of one’s individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property and power. Know that it is now possible to have everyone enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities that a prosperous civilization can provide. This can be accomplished through the intelligent and humane application of science and technology. The choice is ours to make. We no longer need to imagine.

• This article was inspired by the documentary film Zeitgeist Addendum. To learn more about The Venus Project or to become a part of the movement visit: www.thezeitgeistmovement.com and www.thevenusproject.com

You can read the other two parts to this series below:
Part 3: Incentive to work
Part 1: The power of the planet
Evolve: A response by Wogan May

The power of the planet

ELECTRICITY: All you ever wanted to know about power generation but were too afraid to ask

Planet powerDO you remember when South Africa experienced what was portrayed in the media as a “power crisis” last year? You know, when the country was experiencing regular power cuts due to poor planning on our government’s part? Does “Eishkom, she’s broken” ring a bell? It almost seems like a distant memory now.

What concerned me most about that little historical moment was not the thought of sitting in the dark burning candles for a good few months, but rather everyone’s poor attitude toward the whole ‘crisis’.

Some people (not only South Africans) really believed that SA was going to be left in the dark for an entire age. The majority spent their new-found energy — after being freed from watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing on computers — to slate Eskom and the government and express their hasty thoughts that South Africa was going to the dogs.

Also huddled in the dark during the same crisis one might have heard the reassuring utterances of a few positive South Africans who believed that everything would be fine and order and light would soon restore itself. And that it.

We’ve got the power!
Due to the non-renewable nature of fossil fuels, which are burned to produce the majority of our electricity, it is only natural to be fearful of it one day running out and leaving us in the dark. However, few are aware of our current state of technology regarding energy production. A large portion of the public is also unaware of how sustainable and abundant our planet actually is.

Currently we don’t have to burn fossil fuels at all. There are many renewable sources of energy available that are clean, sustainable and abundant.

Hydro, solar and wind are three powerful sources currently available that require virtually no preliminary energy to harness (unlike coal, oil, gas, biomass, hydrogen and all the others). Scientists are even developing better ways to harness geothermal energy from deep beneath the bowels of the Earth itself.

If used in combination, and efficiently harnessed through technology, these four mediums alone could power the world forever…

WIND POWER
Wind powerWind power is the conversion of wind energy into electricity using wind turbines. Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 19% of stationary electricity production in Denmark. As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.

Wind energy has long been denounced as weak, and due to it being location-driven, impractical. However, this is simply not true. The US department of energy admitted in 2007 that if wind was fully harvested in just three of America’s 50 states it could power the entire nation.

Using wind energy as a power source is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels, because it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

Theoretically, wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be over five times the world’s current energy use in all forms.

SOLAR POWER
Solar powerSolar power is the result of converting sunlight into electricity. This solar energy has such abundance that one hour of light at high noon contains more energy than what the entire world consumes in a year. If we could capture one hundredth of a percent (.01%) of this energy the world would never have to use oil, gas or anything else ever again.

The question it is not availability but the technology to harness it and there are many advanced mediums today which could accomplish just that. Some technologies, such as solar thermal concentrators have an element of thermal storage, such as molten salts. These store spare solar energy in the form of heat which is made available overnight or during periods that solar power is not available to produce electricity.

Many developing countries are building solar power plants, replacing other sources of energy generation. Since solar radiation is intermittent, solar power generation is usually combined either with storage or other energy sources to provide continuous power.

On a slightly larger scale, in Germany, a combined power plant has been demonstrated, using a mix of wind, biomass, hydro-, and solar power generation, resulting in 100% renewable energy.

GEOTHERMAL POWER
Geothermal power is power extracted from heat stored in the earth by a process called “heat mining”. This energy originates from the original formation of the planet, from radioactive decay of minerals, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. Through a simple process using water, heat mining is able to generate massive amounts of clean energy.

Geothermal wells do release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of conventional fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.

Geothermal power

Geothermal power is also highly scalable, with a large geothermal plant being capable of powering entire cities. It is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally-friendly and recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating.

In 2006 an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) report on geothermal energy found that 13 000 zettajoules of power are currently available in the earth with the possibility of 2 000 ZJ being easily tapable with improved technology. The total energy consumption of all the countries on the planet is about half of a zettajoule a year. This means about 4000 years of planetary power could be harnessed in this medium alone. And when we understand that the earth’s heat generation is constantly renewed, this energy is really limitless and could be used forever.

Hydropower stationHYDROPOWER
Hydraulic power or water power is power that is derived from the force or energy of moving water. Hydroelectric power currently supplies about 715,000 megawatts or 19% of the world’s electricity. Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions and can be far less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal (as well as daily) high peak loads.

  • Tidal power
    Tidal power is derived from tidal shifts in the ocean. Installing turbines which capture this movement generates energy. The trapped water turns turbines as it is released through the tidal barrage in either direction. In the United Kingdom 42 sites are currently noted as available – forecasting that 34% of all the UK’s energy could come from tidal power alone.
  • Tidal stream power
    A relatively new technology, tidal stream generators draw energy from currents in much the same way that wind generators do. The higher density of water means that a single generator can provide significant power. This technology is at the early stages of development and will require more research before it becomes a significant contributor. Several prototypes have shown promise.
  • Wave power
    Harnessing power from ocean surface wave motion might yield much more energy than tides. Generators either coupled to floating devices or turned by air displaced by waves in a hollow concrete structure would produce electricity. For countries with large coastlines and rough sea conditions, the energy of waves offers the possibility of generating electricity in utility volumes. In fact, it is estimated to have a global potential of up to 80.000 terawatt-hours a year. This means 50% of the entire planets energy usage could be produced from this medium alone.

This post was inspired by the documentary film Zeitgeist Addendum. To join the global Zeitgesit movement visit www.thezeitgeistmovement.com and become a part of the solution to the global crisis.

You can read the next two parts to this series below:
Part 2:
A world without money
Part 3: Incentive to work

Protecting ourselves from the Global Warming

“We must protect ourselves from the Global Warming… Top scientists in Colorado believe that Global Warming will strike two days before the day after tomorrow!” – South Park

I was walking past the fruit and vegetable section in a supermarket one winter’s day when I felt a powerful gush of warm air seduce my face. The seducer was a household fan that had a heated coil in its centre which heated the air to a remarkable extent.

I soon learned that these new heating devices are very considerate on their energy usage and weren’t badly priced either. However, our coldest winter yet is thawing to a close, and it won’t be long before we go to lengths to keep cool.

Cooling off:
Contemporary air-conditioning systems are not only heavy energy consumers but also have an utter disregard for the ozone layer. At full volume a household air-con farts out enough greenhouse gases to chock a small elephant.

Thank the pope ScienceDaily have recently reported that scientists from Madrid have produced a solar-powered air-conditioner that is far more environmentally friendly than previous cooling systems. It is said to use a reduced amount of greenhouse gases and does not harm the ozone layer in any way.

The “Absorption Chiller”
Known as an “absorption chiller” the device makes use of solar and residual heat as an energy source. For the science people, the technology combines the use of lithium bromide solution with a reduction in the use of water, which supposedly damages the ozone layer and contributes towards the greenhouse effect.

More technically speaking, the absorption mechanism is capable of producing cold water at temperatures ranging from 7º C to 18º C when the sweating thermometer on the wall displays temperatures between 33º C and 43º C.

A look to the future:
The new cooling system seems to have arrived at a good time too. Last year 191 countries were involved in a signed agreement to avoid the use of ozone depleting substances as well as set a 25% consumption limit by 2010 (as compared to 1996).

By 2020 it will become law for all developed countries to replace all HCFC refrigerants, such as those used in air-conditioners, with green substitutes. No mention of developing countries however. I guess the ‘First World’ is quite content to continue selling the cheaper, more lethal air-conditioners to the ‘Third World’ forgetting that we all share the air that we breathe…