Every daring attempt to make a great change in existing conditions, every lofty vision of new possibilities for the human race, has been labeled Utopian.
— Emma Goldman
A Day in the Life of….
Professor Milton was a very attractive woman. She entered the ancient auditorium with a certain amount of grace that belied her 50 some years. She was dressed in a skin-tight, shimmering body suit that was popular with her students these days, and it showed off her figure. Her salt and pepper hair was loosely tied at the back of her neck. Her eyes were blue and bright and they promised a quick wit and delightful conversation at a dinner party.
The class was large. Her lectures had grown very popular with students in the Sociology Department as well as those outside her department. The students quieted slowly but respectfully as she waited for them to notice her, and then she began to speak. Her voice was strong and steady.
“Welcome to Sociology 301A. As you are hopefully aware this is a class in Alternative History. Unlike traditional history classes, which you can enjoy at the Web College, this class requires specific and expensive technology to embrace and therefore must be attended in person. We will be taking a much more in depth look at social behavior under very different, and sometimes very extreme, circumstances. Some of the images you will see in this class are disturbing.”
There was slight movement in the class as some students leaned forward slightly. The disturbing images were no doubt the reason for the popularity of her class.
“If this is your first Alternative History class, let me briefly explain the technology. As you know at the end of the 20th century it became mathematically clear that multiple universes existed. This was the birth of M theory. Work over the next several centuries allowed us to build probes that would pierce the veil of these “membranes” as they were called by early physicists. This allowed us to peak into the past of various alternative histories for our own planet. Exciting work is currently being done in the Relative Physics Department to try and pierce the veil in the other direction and obtain insight into alternative futures. We are also working on viewing pasts that are unrelated to Earth but these applications present several technical difficulties.
“For this class it is only necessary to have a rudimentary knowledge of this technology.
“I have decided that the structure of this class will be to investigate the life of the same person in two very different realities. This will give us a chance to discover how people with the same genetic make up might react in very different circumstances.”
There was a brief but excited murmur among the students.
“Shall we begin?”
The professor waved her hand over the desk. Instantly a globe appeared above the desk. The students had seen many globes displayed in this way and they instantly recognized this as Earth. This was a different Earth than they were used to seeing in news webcasts, however. The planet appeared very organic. Mega cities did not dot the surface. There was only one very small space station and no worm hole travel port.
The globe started to spin slowly and then with increasing speed. The focus of the visible globe began to narrow as the destination was reached. The globe scanned over the North and South American continents. It was still early there and only the Eastern side was lit by dawn. Small lights representing cities dotted the Western side. Then it focused on North America and the spin began to slow again. A large portion of the mid section of the continent had a tan appearance and few towns dotted this area. The areas close to the coast line were progressively greener. There was a large weather center in the mid portion of the North American continent.
The globe spun slowly and focused on an area in the middle of the western coast. The focus plunged toward the Pacific Ocean. There, rows of dots became increasingly large until it was clear that the dots were actually a large flotilla with a series of poles on each barge. Each pole had a barrel shaped fan vertically mounted at its tip that was spinning madly in the breeze.
The focus plunged below the water level. Below the water were a series of turbines all spinning slowly in the ocean currents. The barges made a constant humming and whirring sound. The focus followed a large cable down to the ocean floor and then back toward the East as the sound faded into the distance. The cable traveled upward on the bottom of the ocean until it hit the shore and then went into a shoreline building. Behind the building there were many buildings consistent with the late 21st century architecture. The city was green and lush. Every surface had something green and flowering growing on it. As soon as they cleared the first building several tracks on the ground became apparent. The focus began to follow one specific track. Cars of various sizes but all with the same logo, a child’s hand cupping a seedling tree, whizzed by under the focus of the image. The focus followed the rails to a group of apartments. Like all other things in this place the apartment complex had an impressive landscape. It appeared as though everything was fruiting. As the Sun broke over the horizon the students could see a wealth of flowers and colorful fruit in the complex. All of the apartments had thick walls and large pane windows facing South. They were all equipped with patios or balconies which were overflowing with vegetation. The focus continued to narrow to one second story apartment and then it entered a dark window….
Jack woke up as he always did with the gradual increase of light in his bedroom programmed by the house computer. The smell of brewing koffee, also started by the house computer, was already permeating the air. Of course it was not real coffee. Jack was well off, but he could not afford that luxury. At least not every day. This was a concoction of roasted barley, nuts and chicory that assimilated coffee but could be grown locally.
Jack rose out of his bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He relieved himself in the toilet. Two cups of water used to flush the high flow toilet washed the water deep underground. Later it will be used on sight to water the roots of the fruit trees outside. Very little in Jack’s world went to waste and virtually nothing but people traveled more than 10 miles.
Jack continued his usual routine unaware of the mass of students observing his every move. He headed to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of koffee from the coffee maker. The coffee maker plugged into two separate outlets in the wall. The first was an old style electrical outlet. The second was a set of thickly insulated tubes. Inside the water reservoir were coils of metal tubing. Concave mirrors on the roof focus sun light onto a Pyrex tube filled with oil. The oil was super heated to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and then stored in an insulated tank below the apartment structure. When heat was needed for any of the various things that the residents did, the oil was pumped through the tubing until a heat element is reached and the desired temperature is achieved.
Also below the complex is a cistern which stores the water that falls on the roof, balconies and patios for future use in the complex once it has gone through a purification process.
Below this level multiple tubes of water reached deep into the ground. The Earth is a constant 57 degrees Fahrenheit in Jack’s world (it used to be 55 degrees at the start of the 21st century). These tubes are used to cool water to that temperature. When the water arrived above ground again air was blown over the water to cool and humidify the air that entered Jack’s apartment.
With his koffee and a ration of oatmeal in hand, Jack headed to the atrium. All homes now contained such a room. The room faced south and is filled with plants in raised containers. The water (other than toilet water) that Jack used in the household flowed to the plant containers and is purified by microbes that live in symbiosis with the plants in the containers. Once the water is filtered by the plants the water is used by other food producing plants outside. The area has become Jack’s favorite spot for his morning ritual. The air is sweet with blooming plants and it is a very comfortable, warm spot to sip a morning cup and gather one’s thoughts. Jack looked out over the complex’s gardens and his thoughts wandered to the land and, as they often did, to history.
Since The Catastrophe there was not enough space to grow such frivolous things as lawns. All available land, including front and back yards, were used for food production. While Jack tended the vegetable and herb garden on his own balcony, the food produced in any portion of the actual ground belonged to the Neighborhood Supported Agriculture Association. The food produced throughout the neighborhood was then divided and shared among the neighbors. Jack owned his condo but not the land. In fact no one owned the land. Only the structure that one lived in was truly theirs. The land belonged to all and produced for all.
Jack has read about corporations and land ownership in history classes as a child in school. For Jack this concept of an “ownership society” was totally foreign. How could all of the wealth of a nation be concentrated into the hands of only a few people? How could those few people allow others in need to suffer? How could people submit to being virtual slaves to these few “owners”?
Now that most industry was controlled by cooperatives the standard work week had been adjusted to 24 hours.
Being a teacher, Jack worked far longer then others in his society. Jack could not imagine working the standard 40 hour work week let alone the 60-90 hours some were working during those horrific years. And then there was the tenuous relationship that most people had with the owners of that society. They seemed completely at the mercy of the owners. Pensions could disappear after the person was too old or sick to work. Even health care was not guaranteed. If a person in that era grew too sick to pay for their health care, they frequently lost the health care and occasionally even died from treatable conditions. “Benefits” were no longer an issue in current society since pension, and health care were considered every working American’s right and provided by the government. How could the 21st century not have seen that these “benefits” could have been theirs all along? How could they have willingly followed these owners into The Catastrophe that created such a disaster for themselves and their grandchildren?
Once his breakfast was finished Jack went back to the bathroom to shower and dress. He listened to the Cooperative News Network as he got dressed in his tunic and pants and gathered his back pack for work. A pleasant female voice, that Jack knew was the house computer, announced, “Jack, your shuttle is here.” The city shuttle was scheduled to take him to work at 8:30 am and as always it arrived on time. Jack walked through his atrium to the outside hall. He traveled down the stairs to the first floor pick up area. He would not dream of using the elevator as he was able bodied and only someone truly, obscenely lazy would use an elevator clearly meant for the handicapped. Several other shuttles were there picking up his neighbors. Jack waved and acknowledged several of them. Then he stepped toward the shuttle that was flashing his name.
Before he got into his shuttle he looked over his shoulder. The complex was typical of those on his street. The roof had a combination of energy collecting devices. In addition to the Tesla Heating System that cooked his morning food, there were also solar panels and a helical rotating structure on the peak of the roof that caught the wind and made electricity. Multiple wind catchers like this one were supported by posts straddling the monorails where the city shuttles traveled the streets. The helical wind catchers generated electricity which was added to the World Power Grid. In turn all of the community shuttles ran off of this electricity.
Jack got into the shuttle. There was no steering wheel. Only a comfortable seat and a key board. Jack took the seat and the door closed automatically. Another pleasant female voice greeted him, “Good morning Mr. Randal. What would you like to do on your way to work today? I have a new audio book on the top 10 list, and the latest movies, or would you like to finish the news broadcast?”
Jack chooses to continue to listen to the CNN broadcast. The broadcast was selective like a newspaper so he could listen to a one sentence teaser about each story and then choose whether to listen to more about the story. The car was a one seater but a variety of sizes of shuttles carried other passengers to their daily tasks through the city. As Jack entered a more central portion of town the car joined a four seater with a family in the car, probably going to school prior to work. Cartoons were played on the car windshield. Behind him a man with a storage truck attached to Jack’s small shuttle dwarfing it. Jack was in a long train by the time his shuttle pulls off the others to take him to his school. He liked to arrive a few minutes early so he can prepare for his students.©
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1. The Apartment:
Jack’s apartment is modeled after a luxury complex I saw in Phoenix while I was attending a seminar. The name of the complex is Camelview Village. No, you can’t see any camels. But here is a pix of the real thing. Nice huh.
Its even better in real life.
Check out these other Eco Friendly Communities.
2. Alternative Energy Sources:
Those who believe nuclear energy it the way out have never lived anywhere that uranium is mined or spent cores are stored. Once you consider the cost in dollars of building the plant, mining and purifying the uranium and storing the spent uranium the only way to make a plant self sufficient economically is to subsidize it with tax dollars. That does not even include the cost of cleaning up the toxic mess this leaves at both ends of the nuclear energy story. I don’t know about you but I am tired of giving my tax dollars to big business so they can make a profit. I did not include nuclear in the story for these reasons.
Likewise, I did not include biodiesel because the reality is that it takes 1.4 gal of oil to produce 1 gal of biodiesel fuel grown from corn. Additionally, corn is grown in monoculture and requires some of the most intense use of fertilizers and pesticides leaving the soil more contaminated and erroded than any other crop. It is quite simply unsustainable. Not to mention increasing food shortages.
There are plenty of people who think that we can get ourselves out of this energy crisis with the technology that we have on hand. Among them, T.Boone Pickens, Scientific America, and Yes! Magazine. This is what Yes! Magazine had to say about converting our energy sources:
Arjun Makhijani has been thinking about cleaner, more efficient energy for more than 35 years. When he heard that we need to go fossil-carbon free by 2050, he doubted it was possible. Research changed his mind, and his book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, tells exactly how it can be done. Here’s how Makhijani sees the energy supply changing for buildings, transportation and electricity. Makhijani’s plan relies in part on biofuel from algae. Guy Dauncey says we can go carbon neutral with clean electricity. There’s no single path, other than the path that starts right now.
Surprisingly little that I wrote about Jack’s world is actually fictional. Wind power is well known. We have now solved the problem of “bird blender” aspect of wind energy by creating vertical turbines. Even low wind velocity generators like the helical structure discussed in the story and the ribbon generator (not discussed here) are already a reality and working on buildings in America<
Floating wind generators are also a reality and not a fiction.
Nikola Tesla first discussed the hyperbolic mirrors heating oil in 1916. This very old technology is finally being put to good use at Nevada’s Solar One power plant. Here is a great slide show of the plant.
For more on alternative energy, check out these links as well.
3. Electric Transportation
The days of the hydrocarbon powered vehicle are numbered. With decreasing cheap oil due to peak oil, coupled with global warming, we can ill afford to ignore this problem until we do not have enough energy to create a solution. The current predictions for even mild global warming is that there will be food and water shortages in the future. If you think you can not do without your SUV, try doing without a drink of water. Not only do the cars themselves consume fossil fuels but the roads that they drive on and the materials that they are made out of also consume energy. In fact continuing to drive a car that is less fuel efficient rather than buying a new Prius will actually reduce your carbon foot print.
Most of the time the vehicles that we have just sit around and do nothing. Or worse they sit in huge parking lots that are made of fossil fuel dependent chemicals that heat the air around them further. What if we shared our cars? Then our vehicles would never be parked and we would need less of them.
That was the original idea behind public transportation. But public transportation puts the burden on the rider. The person using public transit has to be at a certain place, at a certain time, possibly in the rain, or they get to wait for the next bus or train. The vehicles are sometimes ill kept and over crowded. And so public transit is not very popular even where it is available.
But what if you made a system that was better than owning a car? A system where the car was available very shortly after you needed it or on a schedule? A car that was private? A car that knew where you wanted to go and was safe enough to place a child in alone? What if you did not have to drive the car? You could read, nap, watch TV, play a game instead of driving while you were getting to where you needed to go. You could drink and drive! (Okay…not really advocating that just saying those that do would be safe for the rest of us.) You would not have to pay to build a garage to house your car. No need to pay for maintenance or insurance. Consider the advantages.
Think it is impossible? Consider this. Brazil increased their public transit by wiring their cities with cable like San Fransisco used to have in the old days. This is a cheap way to get the electricity to all the streets. MIT is very close to developing a car that drives itself and is safe. We have been working on this problem with virtually no government support for quite some time. The Automated Highway System has written multiple reports currently ignored by our government.
Now consider this. Most of the Southwest could get all the energy it needs from various forms of solar. In fact the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona has been under employed for decades and is looking for a clean industry that would help it. The problem is that the cable to transport the energy to say Phoenix does not exist. If we wired Phoenix the way Brazil wired its’ cities, and built the cable from the open desert to Phoenix to supply the energy for a system like this then a deal could be struck with Robert Kennedy Jr.’s firm to build and supply the energy. (He announced that he would do this on a radio show recently.) Hopefully he would contract with the Navajo Nation to provide the workers for this project.
Our auto industry is in a world of hurt right now and it is only getting worse for them. Our tax dollars are being spent to bail them out of their own near sighted business model. In exchange for tax payer money the auto industry should be told to rework their factories to provide shuttles that work on this concept.
Arizona has one of the premier engineering institutions in the nation. The guys who built the equipment for the Mars Phoenix Mission live and work in Tuscon. Put them to work with the MIT guys to work out the last bugs in a self guided shuttle that is safe for the open road. Then provide that technology to the auto industry along with a government contract to purchase the shuttles.
Everyone wins in this senario. The tax payer gets repaid for its investment with cleaner air, and reliable transportation. The Navajos get clean, safe jobs in their own land. RFK Jr. gets to sell electricity. The American auto industry is once again snatched from the jaws of death by selling shuttles on government contract. And we all get a cooler planet in a few decades.
Think this is a little far fetched? Check out these websites:
Masdar: A City in the United Arab Emirates that is incorporating many of the ideas you read about here including the transportation.
The ZipCar: Lets you rent a vehicle on the spot. Kind of like sharing a vehicle with other people.
Reva: The electric car of India.
The Connected Bus :Bus is connected to the internet while you are traveling on it.
Assystems City Car: Multiple safety devices including sensing when you are too tired to drive.
Automated Road Vehicles: A website showing automated vehicles that are already in operation around the world.
BMW’s Cloth Car
MIT’s Stackable Car
Cyber Car: Automated car in Daventry currently in use.
What if Cars Drive Themselves?: An essay by Steven Schladover, Deputy Directer of PATH
4. Reuse of Water
Green houses to recycle water have been around for some time. Earth Ship design utilizes this technology but other groups have also used this technology.
Basics about Grey Water
Detailed Instructions on Creating a Grey Water Green House
More Uses for Grey Water
5. Ownership Society
I will return to this theme in later episodes of the story but consider this quote from Power and Powerlessness by Susan Rosenthal for a moment:
As wealth flows upwards to the few, the many who produce it are increasingly impoverished. In 1970 the richest 0.1 percent of Americans took in 100 times the average annual income. By 2001, this same group enjoyed 560 times the average annual income. As surplus accumulates at the top of society, sickness and misery accumulate at the bottom, and not only from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities at work. Inequality itself is deadly.
Between 1973 and 2000, the output per worker per hour nearly doubled in
the U.S. In other words, all the goods and services produced in 1973 could be produced in half the time by 2000. In her book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Juliet Schor calculates that
if workers controlled production, we actually could have chosen the four-hour day. Or a working year of six months. Or every worker in the United States could be taking every other year off from work – with pay.
Right now (I am writing this during the 2008 stock market crash) people are debating the best was to fix capitalism in the United States. I would debate whether it should be fixed or should we consider evolving to a new system that serves us better?
Suggested Reading for this Chapter:
The New Create an Oasis with Greywater
The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy
Basics of Energy Efficient Living
Homebrew Wind Power
Power and Powerlessness
Fictional Selection for this Chapter:
World Made by Hand