On the cusp of extraordinary change

Change is going to happen much quicker than most realise, says Green Party member Dan Ward. As a result, the Green Party must anticipate the potential fallout from this, both positive and negative.

Electric car
Dan Ward

We are at the edge of extraordinary change – the shift towards a zero carbon, all electric, fully sustainable society. This might sound optimistic, but in reality, this is our only viable option.

This change will be driven by technological innovation and disruption, political will, cultural changes, and the economic superiority of zero carbon options. 

We may see these changes happening quicker than expected – technological and environmental changes tend to happen in exponentials, a slow creep morphing into a rapid shift, creating an entirely new status quo.

This change, however, may have impacts that most haven’t considered. The Green Party needs to be aware of this so that it can spearhead this shift, making sure that nobody is left behind. 

In 10 years, we could be living in quite a different world. 

So what might that mean?

We could see a significant move towards zero carbon energy – a process which is already underway. 

The decarbonisation of energy might see major developments in two areas: improvements in the insulation and heat efficiency of housing that would eliminate the need for gas boilers; and the growth of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power and battery storage. Research by RethinkX, a think tank, suggests that solar power will become so cheap that the effective cost will near zero. 

In practice, this could translate into vastly reduced heating, hot water, and electricity bills, and very cheap charging of electric vehicles (EVs). This would have the potential to address fuel poverty and curtail the influence of large energy distribution companies, such as British Gas and SSE.

This, however, would also see the loss of many jobs in the gas industry.

Another area in which we may see rapid and impactful change is the shift to EVs. Forget all new cars being electric by 2030, I’m expecting to see such a change occur as early as 2025 – many car manufacturers are already committed to selling only electric vehicles by that deadline.

With EVs already hitting the same cost as internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, we will see them become even cheaper in the near future.

EVs have a longer lifespan than that of conventional vehicles, potentially capable of running for 1 million miles. They also require much less maintenance. On the ground, this may see business dwindle for repair and maintenance garages, in addition to a fall in demand for spare parts and fuel stations.

Another revolution will likely be seen in the agricultural sector, with animal products such as meat, dairy, and leather being able to be grown in a lab. We might even see lab-grown cotton! 

If this becomes an option, why should we continue to produce animal products through intensive farming methods, which have a significant ethical and environmental impact? 

These products, instead, could be made next to the city where they will be consumed, using a fraction of the energy, water, and land, as well as avoiding the ethical problems of livestock.

But what about those who work in intensive dairy farms, and all the associated supply chain?

Putting these changes together shows the scale of the change that will come as we move to tackle the climate and nature crises. And I haven’t even included climate change effects on weather and sea level rise. The Green Party must embrace these potential changes, as they have overwhelmingly positive effects, but also work to improve the lives of those who may be left behind in the transition. This can be done by anticipating the positive and negative impacts that this shift might bring, and engaging with the communities and industries affected.

Helping these groups understand what will happen, and why, will allow them to adapt and become part of the transition, instead of being left behind.

Dan Ward is a Green Party member and specialises in system and future thinking for sustainable solutions.