Imagining 2020 — the world will be what we make it

Hot Topic is pleased to join with Scoop and Celsias in launching a new series of articles with the theme of Imagining 2020. We want New Zealanders, as Scoop co-founder Alastair Thompson explains in this introductory post, to imagine what a low carbon future might be like:

The idea is to provide a platform for a collective long-term forecasting effort which considers the impacts of economic transformation on each sector in the NZ economy. If we start by dreaming and imagining our futures, then perhaps we can effectively gain some control over them.

Imagining 2020 will be what Al describes as “a creative commons online discussion festival in which individuals and businesses are invited write about how a low-carbon future affects their individual circumstances”. As the project progresses, we hope to get contributions from a wide spectrum of opinion in NZ, with (I hope) a focus on the positive aspects of the transformation we will inevitably have to make. This is your invitation to take part — email (address below) for details. Over to Al:

In recent months the climate change debate has all too often been framed as a matter of what level of sacrifice we as consumers and businesses are prepared to bare to save the planet. Domestically and internationally various economists have produced econometric models which show the likely negative impacts on GDP growth – extrapolated to household income – of climate change mitigation measures.

On the other side the public is berated by doomsayers who tell us the question is not what the cost of change is, but what the cost of not changing will be in the future. However as many commentators have since pointed out, the reality of climate induced economic transformation is infinitely more complicated than either these perspectives indicates.

A sacrifice approach to the issue of climate change induced economic transformation is a wrong headed – as our international trading competitors such as Japan and China have already clearly recognised. There is huge opportunity for economic growth in transformation.

Meanwhile the “fear the future” approach is a giant turn off. It is defeatist for one thing. If we are doomed anyway – say the cynics – then why not enjoy the view while the ship goes down. And while the argument may be true – until we actually start to smell the fear personally, it is hard to comprehend what threats global warming really poses to us.

Therefore a group of New Zealand websites has decided to get together and encourage discussion of the positive side to climate change mitigation. After all — how many of us really believe that the way the world is currently run is optimal – both for our personal lives as well as for the environment.

So let us think about what opportunities and benefits are present in the coming transformation to a low-carbon future for NZ and global economy. How can our lives be improved by a reorganisation of the economy? How can we use this opportunity for change to fix many of the obvious wrongs in the current consumption driven trading and economic system?

At the beginning of the 21st century we are on the cusp of a once in a millennium opportunity for globalised re-engineering of the political economy. All the ducks are lined up. What we need now is sufficient imagination to build a new and better future for the planet and our children. It is a time for some dreaming and imagining.

The following is my set of beginning assumptions of what low-carbon economic transformation is likely to mean:

  • oil and transportation costs will continue to rise as a result of peak oil as well as carbon taxes;
  • the sales pipeline (manufacturer to consumer) will grow increasingly efficient – driven in particular by online innovation;
  • small businesses and cottage industries will expand as consumer goods move from a “disposable” basis to a “recyclable/reusable” basis;
  • consumers will spend more time in their local environment, consuming locally produced goods and interacting with each other – i.e. communities will become more important;
  • Govt. regulation will increase as energy/resource smart technologies are discovered and the Govt. seeks to accelerate their adoption in the real economy.

All of these things has interesting impacts on Scoop as a business. And in terms of our planning for the future a consideration of the likely impact of these trends is very interesting.

Clearly few if any of these things can be effectively modelled.

Innovation and disruption are inherently hard to predict and the main econometric models which attempt to plot the impact of a Kyoto 2 agreement do not even attempt to consider these issues. Rather they simply look at the aggregate impact of rising prices at a macro-economic level.

But in the real world we as individual businesses and consumers can expect a complex set of rebalancing of the way we live our lives and do businesses. Some industries will become more competitive and others less so as a result of change. And the key to success in such an environment is – of course – to plan.

In response to the disconnect between the opportunities in transformation and the perception of sacrifice around climate change – an alliance of online media partners (Scoop, Celsias and Hot-Topic) have hatched a plan.

“Imagining 2020” will be a creative commons online discussion festival in which individuals and businesses are invited write about how a low-carbon future affects their individual circumstances. The idea is to provide a platform for a collective long-term forecasting effort which considers the impacts of economic transformation on each sector in the NZ economy. If we start by dreaming and imagining our futures, then perhaps we can effectively gain some control over them.

And one thing we can be certain of is that economic transformation is what is ahead.

Here in New Zealand while “40% by 2020” is the catch cry of several NGO led campaigns (Greenpeace’s & Oxfam’s “Feel The Heat” petitions among them), the Government’s response to this challenge so far has been to throw a lowball to the rest of the world.

Climate Change ministers announced an initial target of between 10% and 20% at the beginning of August. Since then New Zealand’s presence at the Bangkok UN Conference on Climate Change (view reports from Greenpeace’s Geoff Keey) was less than inspiring, and our contribution at the conference failed to inspire.

The latest disappointment is that our Prime Minister is not even intending to attend the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen due to begin on December 5th and run to December 18th. At a practical level NZ Government actions are also disappointing. They show little inclination to begin the sorts of transformation necessary to achieve even the most superficially modest targets we might adopt.

So far this year the new National led Govt. has:

  • removed the ban on new thermal generation;
  • cancelled work on vehicle fuel efficiency standards;
  • reversed the sales ban on incandescent light bulbs;
  • and is now in the process of pushing through an emissions trading scheme which seems to be neither effective nor sustainable.

I say superficially modest, because even a target of 20% reductions by 2020 will require NZ to cut – or offset – current emissions by 35% to 45% by 2020 to meet its obligations. And that’s a lot. But while the NZ Government may be a little confused about both what objectives it should seek, and what that will mean, there is no reason for us to be similarly confused.

The idea of the “Imagining 2020” discussion is not a debate about what our target should be, what should be realistic, or what policy’s to adopt to get there. Instead we want to sidestep the here and now and instead imagine how a low carbon future would look when achieved?

While the reality of the future may turn out to be a big mess, here at the beginning it is worth looking to how we would like our low-carbon future to look.

What will a low carbon future mean for our businesses? What will it mean for our lives? These are the question the Imagining 2020 project wants you to help answer. And so we (Scoop, Celsias and Hot Topic) are issuing an open invitation to all to contribute to the Imagining 2020 project.

Write to us telling us what you think a low-carbon future will look like for you personally, for the country and world. If you are a business then we want you to think about what it means for your company – and if you are not frightened to provide some possible advice to competitors then we would also be interested to hear about your strategies to deal with the coming period of change.

Simply email Imagining 2020 and you will be sent instructions on how to participate. Or visit Scoop, Celsias or Hot Topic where you will be able to read in greater detail some responses to the Imagining 2020 project.

Once we receive your responses we will edit them, compile them and publish them across the three websites. We will encourage others to read them and hopefully be inspired and encouraged to think positively about the future.

This article first appeared as a Scoop Editorial, and is based in part on an article which appeared in the October issue of In Business magazine.

3 thoughts on “Imagining 2020 — the world will be what we make it”

  1. I see more use of virtualization to consolidate racks of only partially busy servers into fewer racks of faster, more power efficient servers. Potentially even driven by the carbon price being added to the already very significant power costs… also more use of passive cooling server rooms.

    Just to be transparent, virtualization falls somewhat within my field, I’m even speaking on new Linux support for it at the Australasian Linux SysAdmin miniconf in Wellington Jan 2010.

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