Governments need to embrace the change offered by advances in technology - Andy Brown
Yet in spite of all the signs of serious problems confronting us as the climate gets increasingly chaotic, wild spaces and wildlife head for extinction, and waste plastic can be found clogging up even the remotest corners of the planet there are also significant grounds for optimism.
In recent times serious money has gone into researching and developing technologies which are likely to transform our societies for the better. Many of those technologies have now moved to the point where they are very cost effective and entirely affordable. An initial capital investment can now bring significant reductions in running costs and that gives an incentive to embrace change. Everyone that does so helps to drop the price of installing new technology and to create a virtuous circle.
We can now build properties which can generate and store more energy than their occupants use. It has become economically realistic to equip every new school, every hospital, and almost every new home with good enough insulation and enough solar panels, batteries and heat pumps to make them free of fossil fuels and the associated energy bills. Every shift in that direction doesn’t just have a positive impact on the environment and on bills. It could also generate significant improvements to global security. Some very unpleasant nations have extracted a lot of wealth out of sitting on reserves of oil and gas and selling them to energy hungry consumers.
As more and more people are able to generate their own power cheaply at home energy prices will drop and regimes like Putin’s Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia are going to find themselves starved of power and influence.
New technology enables a lot more money to stay local and be put to good use by small businesses that are installing solar panels and by the scientists and technologists who are working on improving the productivity of new devices even further.
Technology often takes a long time to move from a good theoretical concept and become a usable, affordable product. Once it reaches a critical tipping point change can happen very quickly.
It was a brave person who bought an electric car ten years ago and headed out onto the open road with a 100 mile range before it needed a fresh charge from a scarce public charging point. Now a new electric car is an astonishingly efficient choice and can be charged cheaply at home using cut price power drawn down in the middle of the night.
The price of a Tesla car dropped recently by £5,000 overnight because so many are being sold and extra volume has cut costs. We are in reach of an era in which our cities have significantly better air quality, are quieter and are not blighted by a constant outpouring of exhaust fumes.
More importantly society is starting to shift to ways of working that don’t require as many car journeys. During lockdown many of us discovered the ease of working from home and the value of a better balance between working life.
Lifestyle changes are also making an impact on the way we eat and the kind of food we consume. There has been a rapid increase in the number of people who are consuming plant based meals at the same time as an increased focus on the quality of any meat that is consumed and the way those animals are treated. More people are realising the value of what is grown locally and seasonally and the network of small producers creating fabulous choices over what we eat seems to just keep on getting better. All of which gives us plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Accompanied of course with quite a lot of reasons to be rather more realistic.
Whilst all these possibilities for change are building up a head of steam towards a better future one thing does seem to keep getting in the way. The willingness of governments to embrace change and put Britain at the forefront of a more positive future.
It is great that there are moves towards increased incentives for our farmers to produce food whilst improving environmental land management. It is not great that they are facing post Brexit cheap imports made with some very unpleasant intensive production methods.
We need an increased focus on far sighted investment. A shift away from negative business as usual to being at the forefront of constructive change. If we can get our government to do more of that then we really might be able to focus on reasons to be cheerful.
Andy Brown is a Craven District Councillor representing Aire Valley with Lothersdale and the Green Party North Yorkshire Councillor for Aire Valley.