Part One: Home
My story begins with an accident of nature—I was cycling, and fell, but even as I was falling I knew this was no ordinary fall. It’s true, I had been recently been rather obsessed with the appalling future that I saw facing us—in particular, the future in the year 2030, which I saw as reasonably close yet distant enough for major changes to occur. But I never expected to find myself, suddenly and without cause, physically present in Vancouver in the year 2030 (or as close to physically as my strange transmigration allowed for). If it was a dream, it was certainly as detailed and robust as the best of dreams.
After I hit the road, I must have blanked out for a while, but I remember my whole body being charged with a series of vibrations I’d never experienced before, so I did have a sense that something very out of the ordinary was happening.
When I came to, there was a crowd of people gathered around me, and a woman who looked particularly concerned offered to take me to her home nearby to recuperate.
Beginning to recover, I followed her as we walked the 20 metres to her home. The first thing to strike me as unusual—apart from the healthy vegetable garden growing in her front yard—was the large circular green sign by her front door, which had “100 percent” written in the middle, surrounded by five green stars. I had no idea I was not still in the year 2008, so I said nothing, until I saw an unusual telescreen immediately inside the door displaying the date “November 20, 2030.” Seeing the year, I did a double take, and assumed it to be a programming error, but the screen intrigued me, so after she had kindly served me a cup of refreshing herbal tea, I asked her about it.
“Oh, that’s our smart meter. Don’t you have one?” she responded with surprise. “I’m Johanna, by the way—happy to meet you!”
I introduced myself, and we shook hands, and then I had to admit that, indeed, I didn’t have a smart meter. I could see that Johanna was a bit shocked.
“It tells us how much energy we’re using in real time and keeps track of any remaining carbon emissions we might have. We’ve been on zero for five years now,” she explained, “so we just use it to keep track of the cost and watch for our son, who’s a heavy I-Beam user, which takes a lot of power.”
“Yes, the holographic side-beam that comes with all computers these days and enables people to talk to their friends in real-time 3-D holographic form. It uses a lot of power because of the bandwidth.” Then she said, “You’re not from these parts, are you?”
I quickly decided to tell a lie. “No, I’m visiting from Iceland, where I’ve been living for the past 30 years. Things have been a bit backward there ever since the financial crash in 2008, when the entire country went bankrupt.”
“So you don’t know about the Carbon Busters and the whole Go Zero initiative?” she asked.
No, I explained, and she started to tell me that starting quite some years ago, every street had been encouraged to form a local Carbon Busters Club, with the goal of eliminating their carbon emissions by 2020. It became a competitive game between neighbours, with people both competing and helping one another, but there was all sorts of support available, and every investment they made was funded with a zero-interest loan, which removed any kind of disincentive.
She told me how most houses had installed air-source or ground-source heat pumps, drilling down into their lawns to install the pipes that bring up the heat, using the system in reverse for air conditioning in the summer. Everyone had also installed a solar hot water system, and as soon as the price of solar electricity hit parity at 10 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh) they had all installed rooftop solar systems, generating most of their summertime power. Their fridges, dishwashers and other appliances were all super-efficient, thanks to the new global standards, and being smart-metered, some were set to operate at off-peak periods when the power cost less.
“Where does the power come from?” I asked.
She told me that here in British Columbia it was mostly hydro, supplemented with wind, tidal, solar and geothermal, adding that B.C. had been a net exporter of green power ever since 2015, thanks to our enormous resources of wind, tidal and geothermal power, which had helped Washington State, Montana and Alberta to close down their coal-fired power plants.
“So you’re telling me your whole household has zero carbon emissions?” I wondered in disbelief.
Yes, she said—for herself, her husband, their three teenage boys and their tenants in their two-storey converted garage.
“But what about your travel and the food you buy and your garbage?” I hadn’t been a climate solutions specialist for nothing, so I knew what to look for.
“Our waste is 100 percent recycled,” she said. “Almost no garbage at all, as of last year.”
Vancouver learned a big lesson from San Francisco, she continued, which had achieved zero waste in 2020 by recycling all their compostables, using “pay as you throw” for the declining amount of garbage, banning non-recyclable wastes from the landfill and requiring companies to take back their packaging and broken goods, just as they’d done in Germany for years, triggering an ecological redesign revolution.
“Our compostables are producing biogas for some of the city’s bus fleet,” she said, “and the recyclables are converted back into new materials.”
I was blown away.
“What about food?” I asked. I knew that food and farming were responsible for up to 30 percent of the cause of global warming and found it hard to believe that they’d solved this one, too.
“Back yard,” she said, leading me to the window. And sure enough, there was food growing everywhere. “For the rest,” she said, “you’ll need to visit a farm. But it’s true, we’ve changed our diet a lot: we’re mostly vegetarian, and what occasional meat we do eat is locally raised on organic pastures. Much healthier, by far. The oil crisis did as much to put an end to industrial farming as the climate imperative.”
I was about to say “Oil crisis?” but I thought better, because if there had been an oil crisis, the folks in Iceland would certainly have known about it, with their entire fishing fleet dependent on oil. So I just nodded and said, “Yes. How was it for you here in B.C.? It certainly hit us hard in Iceland.”
“Just crazy,” she said. “People couldn’t believe what was happening when the price of gas rose to $2, $3 and then $5 a litre at the pump. It was really chaotic for a while because the whole crisis was exaggerated by the speculators, but the government did a really smart thing when they created a carbon tax price floor which stopped the price from falling below a certain level, capturing all the revenue as carbon tax to pay for the zero-interest loans and other carbon reduction programs.”
“So for transport… you’re not using oil any more?”
“No—say, have you got the time?” she said. “If you’re feeling recovered, we could go for a spin around the neighbourhood, let you see for yourself.”
I was in fact feeling quite recovered, thanks to whatever was in that herbal tea, so I happily agreed, and thus started the second of what would be my five adventures in 2030-land, before returning to the carbon-polluting present.
Stay tuned for "Part 2: City," when Guy Dauncey finds himself in a fully functional zero-emission Vancouver! <<< Go back to the main page