Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

It is interesting to note that, historically, empires are born, grow and contract , almost disappear, except for some ruins. But mostly leaving some cultural achievements, even writings, to us some steps behind.

For instance, Babylon (the Eufrat, Tigris empire - what’s now Iraq), ancient Egypt (the pharaoh land), old Greece and Rome collapsed. Caused by some kind of hubris or ignorance of environmental restrictions and consequent destruction of the basis for their sustainability. They depleted their resources and civilizations built on limited resources could/cannot survive.

But they left a tremendous cultural inheritance to us.

What are we leaving behind for future generations – that’s something to think about but I leave the question for now. However, it will hardly be our architecture and organization of communities – our town planning! We seriously have to look into more sustainable alternatives!

How do we adopt to a decrease in energy supply and consequent drop in economy growth? How do we keep the “necessities” we are used to in the post-industrial years – our current “lifestyle”? Our SUV’s, limousines, and weekend trips to the village and weekend houses? How do we get to our jobs and schools when fuel is scarce and expensive?

Well, in a way we are lucky! We haven’t yet totally adopted and mimicked the western countries, the so called “developed” ones. This will be one of my points in following writings.

I will also try and pose a few questions and hints with regards to our profession as architects and town planners. It’s based on my experience from our 3rd world country – Botswana – and I am happy I am here in the days to come. But first some recap of the current situation: 

ExxonMobil presents its outlooks until 2030 on website <exxonmobil.com/ energyoutlook> and some of the findings regarding future fuel deficit are:

·         One of the most important “fuels” of all is energy efficiency;
·         Technology is essential on all fronts.

T The seriousness of ExxonMobil’s comments is underpinned by following graph from Roy E Anderson’s article in <Energy Bulletin.net> “When Oil and Gas Are Depleted” (2011/08/02):

When reading this graph, it should be noted that Roy Anderson is one of the more “optimistic” forecasters. The depletion of energy resources is steady but spread over a 75 yr period. Many writers think the period is shorter and might be very violent as for Iraq and Libya.

The “ever growing need” of 1.5% a year is indicated and the completely new energy situation and the end of our small children’s life is evident. It is back to 1850 in fact! But it gives us some time to come up with Plan B, the plan we neglected to come up with 50 yrs ago when the situation now was clearly foreseen. But surely it means a different lifestyle – however, some writers think this might become an increase of life quality instead.

What will be the major problems we have to resolve?

According to Roy E Anderson some problems for the 10 billion people at end of the century will be: (quote)

·         Feed them without nitrogen fertilizers and bulk transport
·         Cloth them with only natural fibres
·         House them without oil or gas heat
·         Sustain and satisfy millions of unemployed
·         Provide water in a changed environment
·         Build structures without oil and gas to harvest energy from renewable sources
·         Provide adequate information re. recording, processing and distribution of what we know today

And these problems and others must be solved within the lifetime of a person born today. (end quote)

The last problem he mentions is very interesting. Information today is often in computers and networks based on chips and cell phones.

The manufacture of computers and cell phones as well as the running of them is also very energy and resource consuming, unfortunately, apart from being a thorn in the flesh for many rulers.

It is hardly conceivable that the means to read information on chips will survive for many future generations – where are the necessary batteries, for instance?  We’ve already loosed the skill to design “by hand” – all architects/town planners today are in some kind of CAD computer programme. My old professor said – you lose your “handwriting” and you’ve lost your skill!

But it is our obligation to insure that the knowledge we gain of our situation is preserved and available for our followers just as was done by past civilizations.

Something to think about until next time!

(Continuation > click HERE to read  Now’s the Time)

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