Like most people, every day I throw out household rubbish that cannot (currently) be re-cycled. A lot of this is plastic where the manufacturers tell you that it’s not recyclable. As I open the bin I feel guilty that this is almost certainly going straight to landfill. Then I feel annoyed and a bit angry that I don’t have some sort of container (I imagine it as a box about the size of a microwave, maybe larger) that would burn and safely convert the heat into energy to power my home. This could be directed back into my home or back into the national grid, I don’t really mind. I’ll leave the details to people much brighter than me.
I also wonder why all commercial buildings and homes do not have solar panel roofs as standard or, failing that, grass coverings? Why do we all not have small wind-turbines to provide additional power? Why aren’t local gyms all plugged directly into the national grid to capture all that excess energy being generated on treadmills? And talking of feet, what happened to the floor panels I saw on TV a few years ago that captured energy generated by everyday footfall? I would also like to see the day when I can put some sludge into a machine which transforms it instantly into a full dinner. I think that was on first-generation Star Trek, so I may have to wait a bit for that. In the meantime, I guess there’s always Pot Noodle.
As you may be able to tell by now, this is being written by a non-scientist. Some of what I would like to see might be impossible or just not invented yet. The immediate barriers to a greener, better future are a combination of scientific and commercial factors. Some of what we need has yet to be invented but some of it has been and has not, apparently, attracted sufficient long-term investment to make them affordable and viable for the mass of humanity. But there are deeper and more systemic drag factors (social, political and economic) that stand between me and my first energy box and Pot Noodle 2.0, not least the world’s shameful inequality problem.
Given that a small number of billionaires have a vast and disproportionate amount of the world’s money, it seems only reasonable that they should take the lead. However, with great wealth and power comes great narcissism and also great fear. Our billionaire class seems more likely to be wasting their money on conspicuous consumption or attempts to secure their “legacy” by reaching and ruining yet another planet. Or they are buying up vast tracts of land to build “panic ranches” to hide away and prep for The End Times that they have helped bring closer. Or they are simply hiding their wealth in tax havens beyond any socially useful purpose.
A more equitable distribution of wealth would certainly help in realising the sort of sustainable, better world we all want. Greater equality would be more conducive to releasing the necessary talent, energy and - above all - pro-social vision and investment to bring about the technical advances we need to see. Maybe the first thing we can all do is to imagine what this better world will look like and keep asking, again and again, why these things cannot be and what is stopping them from existing? As Albert Einstein said “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.”
We should also apply the same logic to our billionaire problem and actively start to imagine - and plan for - a world where they have much less money and the rest of us have a little more.
Co-founder of The Equality Trust
This is a guest blog and the views of the author are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust