Perth 2121 -- Life in A Post-Carbon Age
The Ecotopia 2121 Project details the futures of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all the grave environmental challenges our age and grown to become super Green and super-ecofriendly. This month, we highlight the future of Perth, Australia.
Some cities in the developed world are manicured to within an inch of life. They have precisely cultivated trees lining quiet sidewalks fed by impeccably timed water sprinklers. Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is one such city. It is a suburban utopia of green lawns and clean streets with fresh new cycleways and a light railway to boot. There are plenty of highways and cars and traffic lights in Perth, too, but do not worry: all are well-monitored by a citywide computer system to keep the cars moving around in an energy-efficient and time-saving manner.
The Perth city government also invests resources in educating Perth residents about how to curate their own lawns in an eco-friendly manner, including information regarding the best time of day to water the lawn so that the water isn’t just evaporated by the glaring sunshine and what type of grass is more resilient for residential use. Perth then publicizes to the world how Green it is.
Perth’s well-kept lawns and suburban roads lie in stark contrast to its long-term future.
The Perth climate is getting hotter and drier and the soils thinner and more saline. Heat waves arrive so often that they become the new normal. To fight against climate change—and make huge amounts of money at the same time—the Western Australian government will probably soon approve the opening of uranium mines all across the state. The uranium will then be used, they will argue, to power “climate friendly” nuclear energy stations around the globe.
The scenario depicted here is not so optimistic about Western Australia’s uranium future. It suggests that sometime in the late twenty-first century, one particular uranium mine hundreds of miles away from the city ends up having its huge tailings dam breached, thereby contaminating the rivers that flow through Perth with vast amounts of radioactive sludge. Many people in the city are forced to evacuate or choose to leave for other towns rather than face the high risk of health problems.
Future Perth (circa 2121AD) by Alan Marshall
Alas, despite this uranium push, global climate change is not halted, and the city of Perth is not only contaminated with long-lived radiation but also ravaged by climate change disasters, including extreme drought, devastating wildfires, and disastrous soil loss. When water comes, it arrives in flash floods, which not only sweep away homes and roads but end up washing more contaminated sludge into the city. Any human survivors will have to downscale or de-develop the city, and they will have to learn to live on remaining local resources in order to survive.
In Perth 2121, two reliable resources are Balga grasstrees and mud. The remaining residents build their houses out of mud, sourced from the uncontaminated pockets of nearby earth and mixed with rocks, shells, fish bones, and dried plants. For strength, as well as decorative appeal, the dwellings are biomorphic, being inspired by the skeletons of local sea urchins. Alive, sea urchins are covered with an array of formidable spines. But when desiccated and denuded, the striking radial patterns of the sea urchins are exposed. With warm, contaminated seas lapping at the future Perth coast, there may be plenty of sea urchin skeletons lying around to serve as inspiration for the sturdy structure of the mud huts. However, there are no smart water sprinklers and no lawns, but the front and backyards of the huts are much more diverse and interesting to look at and play within than what preceded them.
The sea urchin mud huts might serve as infrastructure, but the economy in general is based on the cultivation of Balga, a type of grasstree adapted perfectly to dry Australian environs. The Balga can supply the practiced cultivator with all manner of products. The resin, for instance, can be used as an adhesive in toolmaking, the floral nectar provides a sweet drink, and the floral spike can serve as an effective fishing spear. As for transport, the Post-Oil Age in Western Australia will allow the reemergence of a once popular form of Australian desert transport, the camel.
Camels were imported from Arabia to Australia in the nineteenth century for transport and heavy work in the rural areas. But when trucks and trains came along and the camels were no longer needed, several thousand were released into the wild. Currently, there are three-quarters of a million camels eking out a living in the Australian outback. By 2121 AD, after Peak Oil, it will be time to enlist camel power once again for both eco-friendly transport and heavy lifting. Adorned with solar panels to power all manner of simple electronics as well as cooling and heating devices, camel transport will be organic and sustainable but also open to appropriate small-scale technology.
Nowadays, camels are employed in desert regions around the world. In modern-day Africa and Asia, they transport materials and medicines and they are used for security and policing operations, as well as for food distribution. In Perth 2121, caravans and squads of camels will take on these roles and more, acting as mobile libraries, roving schools, ranging health clinics, moving markets, and shifting security. Many will also serve as low-cost taxis, transporting passengers of lesser means to friends and facilities around the noncontaminated areas of Western Australia.