Victoria in 2050

At the end of an Environment Victoria survey I was asked:

“Imagine that you are living in the new Victoria. We made all the right choices in time and we are now living in a truly sustainable society. What is daily life like?”

An offer too good to refuse.

In 2050 Mooroolbark is still my home, and remains, for me at least, as ideal and practical a place as any I have lived in. My roof is now painted with solar cells, connected to a battery in a small box under the eaves. There is no mains connection. Gas has become too expensive, so my only connections are for water and data.

I own an autonomous electric vehicle, the entire body surface, including windows, is covered in solar cells. The vehicle acts much as a chauffeured car would, so most station car parks have been shrunk, and medium to high density housing built on them. There are still a few city car parks, but for places and events there most people either use VR (Virtual Reality), or Park and Ride mass transit. I’m old fashioned, I like to be there in AR (Actual Reality) as the VR tech to organic interface is still bodgy and imprecise.

My own vehicle could be dispensed with, autonomous hire cars work out cheaper than owning your own. But as I am still living (at 99) thanks to manufactured replacement parts, cloud storage of much of my memory, and plug-in cognitive functioning, in the same house with on-site parking, and I keep stuff in the vehicle, I’m still an owner.

Much of my time is spent in a VR, as I have re-invented myself as an Immersive Experience visualiser and scriptwriter, specialising in life, particularly maritime and naval life, during the reign of Queen Anne.

As a devout romantic, I do not go in for virtual sex, except in the course of research for my work. I am in an enduring non-residential relationship with a lady I have known, off and on, for decades. We do sometimes meet in virtual realities, through necessity, but prefer our own AR.

The local climate has changed significantly over the past few decades, it is now drying out and warming after a cold, wet and wild era that came with the failure of the Monsoons and a serious disruption of the ocean currents of the hemisphere. The humanitarian catastrophe that followed, and the final disintegration of the Chinese Empire it precipitated looms large over the nation’s consciousness, and conscience.

Only a fraction of the billions displaced found a home in Australia, and the strain they placed on the social fabric would have led to rapid and total collapse had the secret of fusion power not been, accidentally, uncovered. This enabled water desalination on a titanic scale, and what amounted to the terraforming of the vast deserts of the interior, refilling ancient lakes and bring alive rivers that had been dry for tens of millennia. The full repercussions of this work are still unclear, but millions of lives have been saved by it.

Fusion power has been the game changer. While solar and battery storage has allowed residential housing and light industrial and office premises to go off-grid, fusion has taken over from fossil, solar, wind, and geothermal as the primary industrial supplier. Air pollution, already much improved, is now rapidly declining. Fusion power has yet to be scaled down enough to be used in aircraft, but it is being fitted to new shipping and retrofitted to recent builds, reducing both air and sea pollution. Research into extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is attracting massive funding, as is a UN project to increase the oxygen content to boost crop yields, although scientific opinion is sharply divided on the issue.

The population of Victoria has more than quadrupled since 2016, leaving native English speakers as a small minority. English, however, is the common language, as resources are not available to translate between a dozen or more disparate tongues. This population increase has not led to a decline in standards, as it has been successfully spread across the state. This would not have been possible without fusion power to enable industrial development, plus fast mass transit and freight systems. The extinction of the Chinese economy, unlikely to be revived in the foreseeable future, has had both positive and negative effects for Australia and Victoria, too intricate to examine here. Reforms following the decline of mineral exports in the early century had strengthened the domestic economy and diversified the export market, and forward thinking by both Green and Social Democrat governments stood the nation in good stead when the effects of climate change made the tropics and some other secondarily affected regions virtually uninhabitable.

Through a combination of virtual reality and cheap, fast, comprehensive mass transit, our lives in the outer suburbs of Melbourne are, after a patchy period, richer than they were in 2016. Access to music, theatre, cinema (not as you know it though), and art productions in media I won’t try and describe, is far easier, either via VR or mass transit, which is now a state-wide web, and no longer a radial feeder to the city only. If I want jazz I can as easily go to Bendigo as to St Kilda. We now have wall-sized 3D screens and holographic projectors, though most people don’t have room for the latter at full scale. Holographs work well in the cinema, 3D is better in the domestic lounge.

Food is now more varied and of higher quality than ever, after a really boring period a decade ago, and specialised restaurants are doing good trade. Local culture has been much enriched by this trend, as well as by the live music that often comes with it.

Education is again totally free for anyone who wants it. There are several levels and styles of qualification, ensuring that each is a meaningful indicator of achievement and knowledge. Nobody needs to be employed, as the state pays a living wage to everybody. But you can’t have much fun on that so almost everyone works, if only part time or as a semi-hobby.

Sport is as popular as ever, but more diverse. Cultural activities are all pervasive, choirs, orchestras, bands, dance groups, the influx of exotic influences has had an enlivening an effect on the arts as is has on cuisine. Religion is also thriving, but this has led to a diminution of its political influence as the numbers of adherents to any one faith have fallen dramatically. Some of the imported faiths have changed significantly as a consequence of the circumstances that brought them here. People have recognised that the disasters that befell them were common to all the faiths they now find around them, that styles and degrees of adherence to doctrines have had no effect at all – the laws of physics do not bend to the supernatural. It was initially hoped by some that this would lead to the demise of religion. It has not, instead faith traditions have looked inside themselves to find their philosophic bases, and have largely discarded any claim to temporal power.

We live in a society that generates a kind of amorphous cohesion. This has been the subject of much academic investigation, with, as yet, little result. It has been speculated that it is the net result of a multi-layered culture, in which one person may have many cultural identities and attachments. These may operate like the laminations of a composite material, making it both light and resilient, or like the leaves of a spring. There is a feeling of all being a part of one thing, while maintaining personal individuality and cultural loyalties. This effect was first identified as the Bataclan Generation after the 2015 attacks in Paris. It has persisted and become entrenched, even in the refugee populations.

The future of humanity is on everyone’s horizon these days. Not because humanity is threatened, quite the opposite. Fusion power, self-evolving systems, and analogue quantum ‘computing’ to use an obsolete term, together promise to open up the future, but in ways we cannot predict. My lady and I have signed up for the Upload project, which will free us from our residual organic components, and allow us to interface directly with tech systems and sensors, allowing access to data of a far wider spectrum and vastly finer grain than the organic body can deliver. The project also frees us from the limitations of the fragile and temperamental organic body, an important consideration for what is widely seen as the most significant development in the history of life on this planet – the move off the planet. Some have seen the Upload as a terminal decline into decadent and sybaritic irrelevance. But mostly today it is anticipated as the beginning of an era so unlike any we have known as to be beyond prediction. A Singularity, as Kurzweil put it so long ago.

After having got so much so wrong for so long, are we about to get something right?