[Paleopsych] Guardian Special: The World in 2020 (fwd)
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Guardian Special: The World in 2020
[Many articles from the past three Saturdays in the (London, formerly
Manchester) Guardian, that is, 2004 Saturday 11, 18, and 25. There may be
more to come. Something for everyone, though not everyone will like every
development! This is very long and may get truncated at some sites, in
case you are reading it there. If that happens, I can simply e-mail the
series (so far at least, that is). Let me know.]
Don't believe what writers and novelists have had to say about the future:
they see only the extremes by David McKie
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian The following correction was printed in the Guardian's
Corrections and Clarifications column, Saturday September 18 2004 In the
article below we stated that the word utopia derived from the Greek words
eu meaning not or non and topia meaning place. The word eu in Greek means
well. The word for not or non is ou. Some readers suggest a kind of pun
was involved in the concept of utopia, suggesting that a place where all
was always well (eu-topia) could not exist (ou-topia).
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth," says St John in the Book of
Revelation. He wasn't the only one. Visionaries of every variety have been
doing much the same thing, from Plato in Republic through to the present
day. Few who imagine the future limit themselves to trying to plot what is
likely to happen. That is left to such science fiction writers as Arthur C
Clarke, who, among other triumphs, accurately foretold the development of
the geosynchronous communication satellite - though even Clarke declines
to be classed as a prophet, saying he merely extrapolates from the
evidence all around us. Much more of this genre, though, is concerned with
dreams. And more often than not, those dreams are nightmares.
Where such dreams are dreams of perfection, we tend to call their products
utopias. But that is not what Thomas More meant when he invented the term
for use in the book of that name, which he published in 1516. Topia comes
from topos, a place; the u before it from eu, the Greek equivalent to the
Latin non. Utopia, in other words, means, strictly speaking, a place that
does not exist and probably never will. The kind of world where the wolf
lies down with the lamb and the leopard with the kid, where the crooked
are made straight and the rough places plain - as envisaged in the
cheerier thoughts of the prophet Isaiah - is not More's business.
Some later "utopian" writers provide such delights in abundance. James
Hilton, for instance, whose 1934 novel Lost Horizon invented a kingdom
lost in the Himalayas, where prevailing philosophies, partly Buddhist
and partly Christian, have created a kind of paradise. He called it
Shangri-la, and its prospects seemed so enticing that when Franklin D
Roosevelt created the presidential holiday retreat now known as Camp
David he named it Shangri-la. But More's purpose in writing Utopia was
to criticise and mock the world he lived in rather than proposing a
In 1932 Aldous Huxley published a book set six centuries in the future
called Brave New World - a classic example of what, by derivation from
"utopia", we nowadays call a "dystopia"; that's to say, a place which is
wretched to live in (the word was invented by John Stuart Mill). By
setting his story so far ahead, Huxley avoided the fate of George
Orwell, who in 1948 pushed the present forward only as far as its
anagram, 1984, thus ensuring that when the real 1984 arrived and wasn't
nearly as ghastly as Orwell's, people who should have known better
alleged that Orwell had got it wrong. But that's to mistake the purpose
of these dystopias. They aren't prophecies; they are warnings. They say:
there are tendencies in our world which, if allowed to persist and
burgeon, could produce these results.
In Huxley's imagined world, what matters is purchasing and consumption.
Pleasure is equated with happiness, and effortlessly sustained on a tide
of appropriate drugs. If the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the
crooked are made straight, that's because we've discovered genetic
engineering. If you don't watch out, it could happen, says Huxley; and
72 years on, in this age of "must have", "to die for", "to kill for", of
drugs such as Prozac and Viagra, and a runaway revolution in genetic
manipulation, you can see all too well what he feared.
But Huxley also created a utopia, in the Shangri-la sense, in a book he
published at the end of his life called Island. A London reporter is
shipwrecked in a far distant spot called Pala, unpenetrated till now by
any western journalist, and discovers a state with echoes of Shangri-la.
All is peace and prosperity, swords have long ago been beaten into
ploughshares, crime is almost unknown, and envy and greed have given way
to equality. This society is the creation of a local ruler and a
Scottish doctor, which means, as in Shangri-la, that the best of
Buddhist and Christian traditions prevail. But the outside world has its
eye on the island: it is ripe for the arrival of progress, which means
exploitation; and in the concluding pages, progress, fuelled by oil
company money, old-time Billy Graham religion and the successful
reawakening of greed and ambition duly, and bloodily, sweeps shangri-la
Huxley's Island is a wistful fantasy. Other utopian writers are aiming
at something more. In 1948, the year of Orwell's dark invention, the
behavioural psychologist BF Skinner published a novel called Walden Two,
set in a community modelled on the Walden of that hammer of
consumptionism Henry David Thoreau. The belief behind this community is
that if the world is to be changed, politics cannot do it: the only way
would be through the successful application of behavioural psychology -
a teaching Skinner had advanced in his works of non-fiction.
Much the same calculation had inspired Edward Bellamy to publish, in the
final years of the 19th century, a novel called Looking Backward, in
which a Bostonian falls asleep in 1887 and awakes in 2000 to find his
city transformed. Peace, honesty and equity prevail; the city is fair to
look upon; crime and war are concepts scarcely now thought of.
Unsurprisingly, the teachings which have brought this about are those
advanced by Bellamy in his earlier philosophical books. Books like these
seem to be saying: if we mended our ways, some, perhaps all, of this
might be possible. But Bellamy's ambitions went further than that. In a
postscript, he boldly asserts not just that all he writes of is
possible, but that it's now very probable, and that signs are appearing
on every side to suggest it might be achieved quite soon.
One doesn't need to visit Boston today to believe that reality falls
wretchedly short of Bellamy's expectations. The heartening thing about
works of this genre is that the pessimists get things wrong. The
disheartening thing is that the optimists are probably even more wrong.
A world at war?
Will Africa be run by visionary female leaders? Are Libya and Kashmir
set to become tourist havens? Our experts give the best, worst and
likely scenarios for the world's political hotspots
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian Central Africa
What's the worst that could happen?
Over recent decades, central Africa has seen a series of bitter and
bloody civil wars and a genocide, with millions dying or uprooted.
Because the roots of these conflicts spill over national boundaries, the
security of the central African nations is interlinked; any dramatic
deterioration in this interlinked security during the next 20 years
could mean the virtual collapse of central governments in the region. If
that happens by 2020, anarchy could have spread through the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic,
Sudan, Uganda and Congo.
The neighbouring countries will then also face deepening insecurity as
refugees pour over their borders. Expect more of the same chilling
stories we have seen in recent years: reports of mass rape, kidnapping,
and forced recruitment drives taking men and boys off the land and into
armed rebel factions.
The DRC would be the centre of this regional political and security
vacuum, but intervention would be impossible. Given the level of
lawlessness, forces under the mandate of the UN, the EU or the African
Union would become targets of ambushes or kidnappings by increasingly
reckless and confident armed groups. As a result central Africa could
become, as parts of eastern DRC and Sudan are now, a no-go area for
outsiders, making it impossible to deliver the humanitarian aid that
would be desperately needed.
A circular process of dedevelopment could engulf the whole region. If
war becomes a permanent state, it will destroy hopes of improved health
and education, and reverse the gains of the post-colonial years of the
late 20th century. If millions are unable to access any sort of modern
healthcare, rampant malaria will run unchecked and could kill tens of
thousands, especially babies and small children. Dengue fever and
sleeping sickness would attack all sectors of the population, while the
failure of inoculation programmes for children would mean epidemics of
measles and the probable re-emergence of diseases such as polio. The
constant war would also have the side effect of causing HIV/Aids to
spread faster than ever: it would be transmitted through the migration
of impoverished people forced into refugee status and through the use of
rape as a weapon of war (this would be a militarised culture in which
powerless women are despised and men live outside any traditional
community except their shifting armed groups). The most productive
section of society would be hardest hit by deaths from Aids, which in
turn would tighten the cycle of poverty. With health disasters piling on
the population one after another, life expectancy could drop as low as
30 to 35, and households headed by children or old men and women would
be the norm. Those kind of family groupings do not have the strength to
cultivate land, and they will be forced into the most marginal
subsistence agriculture, or, in some places in DRC, dangerous artisan
mining of diamonds, gold and coltan. Girls would be compelled to join
the sex trade to survive in the corrupt, swollen mega cities.
After years of warfare, a generation of uneducated youth would know only
the brutalised life of the gun, meaning that the gulf between the
political elite of the countries and the rest of the population would be
wider than ever. The possibility of moving any part of the region
towards democracy might disappear for generations. The civilian brain
drain would worsen, depriving the civic culture and leaving the military
in the ascendant. That would set the stage for new dictatorial regimes
as debased as those of Idi Amin in Uganda, or Mobutu Sese Seko in the
former Zaire. Africa's standing in the rest of the world would be
completely debased, and African writers and artists would no longer be
portraying life in the continent, only life in exile.
Would the US seek to make its presence felt to help guarantee security?
Yes, but only out of self-interest. With regional war on the horizon,
the US would quickly upgrade its warm relations with Uganda and
establish a permanent military base for the region, in order to maintain
access to the oil reserves of southern Sudan. Like other western
governments, however, it will have given up on the people of the region.
What's the best that could happen?
In 2020 central Africa could be a completely different place, where the
warlords and kleptocrats of the present day would be nothing but
historical curiosities, and where new visionary leadership, much of it
female, could lead the continent in transformed relations with the rest
of the world.
Under this leadership, arms sales to Africa would be banned by the newly
invigorated African Union, and the war zones of central Africa would
begin to hold regular competitions for the biggest and longest burning
bonfires of small arms. The spark for this would be a major western
political figure - perhaps Gordon Brown - taking the initiative in the
very near future and persuading the G8 to cancel Africa's debt and
remove all agricultural subsidies in Europe and the US, providing equal
access to EU and US markets. The 2004 annual global figure of $300bn in
subsidies to farmers in the rich nations would be abolished. And if the
European leaders would make the leap to fight terrorism by first
fighting poverty and injustice, that money could be put into the weakest
states in the world - many of them in central Africa.
Massive funding for health and education would then pour into the
continent, especially into central Africa's former war zones. New
HIV/Aids vaccines could prevent a disastrous shift in the demographics
of Africa and successfully arrest the decline of the productive age
group, ensuring the the region would not lose their farmers, teachers
Education funding on an unprecedented scale would be a priority. By
2020 it might at last be recognised that UN and aid agency piecemeal
projects to eliminate illiteracy have failed postwar societies. What
Africa's new generations really need is tertiary education if they are
to create both civil societies and a political class able to make an
impact in the wider world. That could be achieved with a mass of new
initiatives planned in the region and funded from outside. Devices such
as twinning African universities with western universities and increased
use of distance learning for African students could be the fashionable
causes for western academic institutions. The judicious use of targeted
funding could also address the long-standing problem of the brain drain.
The combination of political stability and money could lure back those
who have left and keep those who had planned to leave. If that can be
achieved, by 2020 central Africa would have leaders capable of
transforming the region. With secure, democratic governments free of
corruption, the rule of law could become a priority. Warlords would be
delivered to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for their
war crimes. At home there would be trials for corruption, truth
commissions would be established, and governments would be able to
If Africa, aided by resources from the rich countries, can manage two
decades of building skills, free and open communication, and pluralist
politics, we can hope by 2020 for the growth of a confident political
class unlike any since the first years of independence from colonialism,
when Congo's Patrice Lumumba was the region's hero. The impact of these
leaders on international bodies such as the UN, the World Trade
Organisation, the World Bank and the IMF could help produce by 2020 the
new world order so elusive over the previous half century.
What's likely to happen?
By 2020 central Africa will be divided into two types of country. In
failing states, such as DRC, large areas of the country will be out of
contact and control of the weak central authority. But two decades of
strong and visionary leaders in states such as Rwanda and Tanzania will
lead to huge investment in education and technology in those countries,
which will have emerged as regional leaders. They'll also be recognised
across as the first countries to transcend ethnic politics, which will
be widely considered old-fashioned and destructive.
In these flourishing countries the population will be moving out of
poverty. New computer-based industries will provide work for the
educated, as has already happened in Bangalore and Chennai. Ecotourism
will be a magnet for high-spending foreigners and bring infrastructure
and income to rural areas. The brain drain to the west will be a
forgotten phenomenon, and the universities will be linked to the best
specialised departments across the world.
The west will have long since cancelled Africa's debt, and vastly
increased aid will flow to the continent. And the agricultural subsidies
to western farmers that used to be thought an essential part of European
and American domestic politics will seem a curious piece of old history.
But in places where the leadership is weak and lacks vision, the new
external resources will not have been enough to break the cycle of
Violence will still hold sway, and poor education and poor health -
especially the scourge of HIV/Aids - will still cripple the population.
In these countries, life expectancy will be the lowest in the world.
Ethnic loyalties will still be the determining factor in politics, and a
ready supply of small arms into the region means armed factions will
still control many areas in shifting alliances with each other, leaving
the populations as desperately insecure and poor as they are now. The
rich natural resources of those countries will not enable them to escape
this bleak future. Outsiders will control the rich mining areas of DRC
and the oil wealth of southern Sudan, and the profits will flow out of
Africa as they have for centuries.
Victoria Brittain has worked on Africa since 1975 and lived in several
African countries, some as the Guardian's correspondent
What's the worst that could happen?
The US will blame Iranian interference for the turmoil in Iraq and will
launch military strikes against the Tehran regime. Resistance to the US
will stiffen in Iran and among Shia Muslims across the region: Shia
rebellions could break out in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
Anarchy in Iraq will give Kurds the excuse they need to declare
independence and foment a Kurdish uprising in Syria.
The "war on terror" will destroy al-Qaida as an organisation but it will
not dampen Islamist militancy. Its greatest effect will be to spawn
hundreds of small autonomous groups that prove impossible to monitor.
The Yemeni elections of 2009 will prove to be the last in the Arab world
as governments backtrack on democracy, blaming the deteriorating
security situation. The EU will deal with that same problem by approving
a Middle East stability pact that lifts all restrictions on weapon sales
to regimes that are deemed to be combating terrorism.
The threat of Islamist terror will continue to spread beyond the Arab
world. London will face its gravest threat when an Islamist group
threatens to explode a dirty nuclear device unless Britain stops
supporting "Arab lackeys of Zionism and Crusaderism". There will be no
progress towards peace with Israel, so the Palestinians will abandon
their claim for a separate state and demand equal rights with Israeli
By 2015, the UN will have accepted a plan to divide the whole of
historic Palestine into a series of Jewish and Arab cantons, but it will
not end the conflict. By 2020, Nato forces sent to implement the plan
will still be struggling to impose peace in the face of stiff resistance
from extremists on both sides.
What's the best that could happen?
The Arab-Israeli conflict will end by 2008 with the creation of a viable
Palestinian state, and a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. All the
Arab states, plus Iran, will then recognise Israel and exchange
ambassadors. Talks can begin on ridding the Middle East of nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons, and by 2012 UN inspectors will be able
to declare the region a WMD-free zone.
Peace with Israel would remove one of the main driving forces behind
Islamic militancy in the region, which would in turn lead to a decline
in terrorism. Political reform throughout the region would also follow
peace, since Arab leaders would no longer be able to blame Israel for
their countries' problems.
Iraq will avert civil war and stay in one piece - but only just. Amid
the chaos left by its elected civilian government, the return to
military rule later this decade will be greeted with widespread relief.
By 2020, the Iraqi regime will still be promising elections "next year
or as soon as the situation permits".
Elsewhere, the strategy of gradual but steady reform is largely
successful. By 2020, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will have become
constitutional monarchies, while Yemen, Egypt and Syria will have all
held elections that - for the first time - result in changes of
government. In Africa, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia will be readying
themselves to join the EU, probably by 2030. Libya, which could be the
Mediterranean's fastest-growing tourist destination by 2020, will remain
politically eccentric: all government decisions will be made by citizens
voting on the net.
What's likely to happen?
How will Iraq be faring in 2020? It will be a toss-up between rule by
Saddam Lite (authoritarianism with American blessing) and the
fragmentation of the state. The underlying conflicts over religion and
ethnicity will take years to play out - probably through violence,
unless a strong national leader emerges. Continued instability in Iraq
will harm all its neighbours.
But that does not mean the region will have been dragged into continual
conflict. By 2020 there will be a new generation of Arabs who have known
satellite TV and the internet all their lives; the significance of that
should not be underestimated. So far, globalised media has achieved
three things in the Middle East: it has engaged ordinary Arabs in
international politics in a way that was impossible before; it has given
them a view of western lifestyles that some covet and others reject; and
it has given them a sense of common Muslim/Arab identity that cuts
across borders and the nationalism of individual states.
The belief that Arabs and Muslims are victims of American and Israeli
designs is almost universal in the Middle East, as is the feeling that
the current leaders are powerless to do anything about it. One response
- the dominant one at present - is Islamist militancy, but there are
others, especially among the urban young, who want to be like the rest
of the world. Among religious believers, too, there are many who
privately question the confrontational, backward-looking interpretations
There is a chance that, by 2020, the fundamentalist trend will have
peaked and that new, more progressive interpretations of Islam will have
begun to emerge. The idea that Arab/Muslim societies can survive as
islands of cultural authenticity or religious purity in a globalised
world is nothing but pure fantasy. Today, Saudi censors go through every
imported newspaper, obliterating "undesirable" material while millions
of Saudi citizens are able to watch whatever takes their fancy on
Moves towards a form of Islam that is more compatible with modern life
will also be reflected in social and political changes. The need here is
not for cosmetic democracy but for ideas of tolerance and openness to
take hold, for accountability and transparency in public life, and for
political parties based on policies rather than tribal, ethnic or
It's a tall order, but it will have to happen sometime. The two factors
most likely to hold it back are American policies towards the region and
continued conflict with Israel. It is difficult to imagine that Israeli
voters, at some point before 2020, will not weary of the strategy
pursued by their present government and decide that there has to be a
Whether American voters will reach the same conclusion is more doubtful.
The old, confrontational cold war themes play well with American voters
when reapplied to the Arab and Muslim world, but don't really serve
American interests. The best thing the US can do for the Middle East
over the next 16 years is stop prescribing solutions and ask: "Is there
anything we can do to help?" It should also not be too offended when the
reply is "Yes. Please go away."
Brian Whitaker is the Guardian's Middle East editor
What's the worst that could happen?
India and Pakistan's rivalry over Kashmir could, by 2020, have finally
have erupted into a nuclear exchange that might leave 100 million people
dead and lay waste to half a million square kilometres of rich
agricultural land in Asia. The roots of such a disaster would lie in a
series of political miscalculations and in chronic economic
The main problem will be the two neighbours refusing to make the tough
decisions required for peace. Political misjudgments would see India
failing to realise its potential as an economic powerhouse, with
successive governments introducing policies that favour the rise of a
small urban elite, rather than lifting the fortunes of the rural poor.
This could spark armed insurrection among the poor of northern and
eastern India. The Maoist rebellion in Nepal would exacerbate the
problem, providing ideological coherence from the Himalaya to the plains
Governance will be a thing of the past in many of India's large northern
and eastern states. The country's southern regions, which have their own
distinctive culture and languages, will begin to agitate for a form of
independence. The north will react differently to the political chaos,
electing a hardline Hindu nationalist leadership that would stress
national unity. Its plea would fail. The Indian union will unravel if a
south Indian fiscal union is formed between Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andra
Pradesh and Karnataka. These four wealthy states, with close ties to the
hi-tech US defence industry and burgeoning software industries, might
refuse to subsidise the central government and the north, leading to a
major political crisis.
In Pakistan, the modernisers will lose out to the religious zealots by
2010 after Nato ends all its operations in Afghanistan. The military, in
effect, will become the armed wing of a theocracy - one armed with a
nuclear bomb. This fundamentalist state would begin to neglect education
and would do little to stem the rise of Islamic institutes, preferring
instead to produce an army of willing volunteers for jihad in Kashmir
Religion would not be a strong enough glue for the nation. The simmering
tension between the states of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab would begin
to boil over. The argument will be that Punjab's plains soak up most of
Pakistan's water and its industry consumes most of the country's coal,
depriving other states. Militant groups would declare independence in
Sindh and Balochistan and begin targeting Punjabi officials. Pakistan's
civil war would have begun.
In Kashmir, the issue of water is going to be crucial. The three rivers
that feed Pakistan - the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum - run through Indian
Kashmir. With the water table of Pakistan decreasing and north-west
India facing shortages, the two nations will abrogate their mutual water
treaty by 2015. America might by then have decided that an independent
Kashmir is the answer and arm insurgency groups via China. And by then
Kashmir will have become a killing field, with Indian and
Pakistani-backed fighters engaged in open warfare. This war in Kashmir,
Pakistan's anarchy and political chaos in India will turn the region
into a live bomb: all that would be needed is someone to light the fuse.
Kashmir will be the excuse, not the reason. But by this point apocalypse
will be inevitable; the world will have seen its first case of mutually
What's the best that could happen?
By 2020 no one will believe that almost 20 years before, Pakistan and
India were poised in a nuclear stand-off over the then restive Kashmir,
which will have become the tranquil tourist haven of Kashmir Autonomous
The turning point was the summer of 2002, which marked the end of
history for the region. Not long after, the leaders of the two nations
began to escape from the prison of the past. India and Pakistan made the
commitment to develop friendly relations and leave the settlement of the
Kashmir question to the diplomatic process which began this year.
The factor that will lead to peace is the realisation of the leadership
of both countries that neither can win militarily. That, and the
emergence of a new South Asian Union (SAU) as a single economic area,
which will grease the development of sound bilateral relations. Instead
of Hindu nationalism and Islamic chauvinism, leaders in both countries
would then opt for good governance and development.
The simple fact is that to house, feed and provide jobs for ever-growing
populations, both India and Pakistan need to start working together. By
making social and economic policies the priority for government, rather
than nurturing nationalism, both will lift tens of millions out of
poverty. Trade will be the proving ground of the new relationship. If
the energy-hungry metropolises of the subcontinent can be supplied by
pipelines from Iran and Turkmenistan, then both countries will stand to
benefit. Islamabad will gain wealth from transit fees while India will
be able to buy cheap energy. The two countries will discover that trade
is a game of mutual interests, where both will be able to seek and gain
benefit. Delhi will allow Pakistani goods to travel by road to reach
south-east Asia. In return Islamabad will open transit routes to central
Asia for Indian wares.
The cultural and religious antagonisms between India and Pakistan will
then fade, reducing the need for perpetual war-footing. No longer will
their people consider each other to be in the grip of obscurantist
preachers and zealots. They will be too busy setting up factories,
rediscovering lost relatives and friends on the other side of the
border, as well as taking holidays in hill stations and balmy sunspots.
The signing of a nuclear-arms reduction treaty between India and
Pakistan will also reduce tensions, and China will play a key role,
aware that nuclear war in its backyard will hamper its own peaceful
In Kashmir, under the guidance of an American peace envoy, a ceasefire
will be in place by 2007. The Indian army will finally withdraw from the
Kashmir Valley and Delhi can then address the human rights violations
perpetrated since the insurgency began in 1989. Pakistan, too, will end
its shadowy intelligence operations and close down militant camps in
Kashmir. Home-grown armed separatists can then move towards the use of
the ballot box, not the bullet.
If a settlement is reached, the pace of change could be so fast that the
problem will be not peace, but deciding what follows peace. Kashmir's
complicated geography and the fact its territory is fractured along the
fault lines of national identity and state allegiance mean there would
be no easy answers. There are minorities who would fight for the status
quo as viciously as they would for independence.
To defuse these tensions will require a peace plan that first devolves
power from Islamabad and Delhi to the state capitals of the two halves
of Kashmir. Also elections in Pakistani and Indian Kashmir would allow
representation from all political shades. The border would remain but
crossing it would require no travel documents. By 2020, a single Kashmir
political entity could be a reality, in one of the world's most tense
and bitter rivalries.
What's likely to happen?
The concept of a separate Kashmiri identity is going to disappear over
the next 16 years, as the independence movement is submerged by the
crashing waves of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. Kashmir will be
simply carved into two by both countries, with China being handed the
mountainous portion its army has occupied for decades. India and
Pakistan will accept the deal, and the people of Kashmir will pay the
price. Lacking an inspirational leader, Kashmiris will be unable to tell
the world of their plight.
The likely sop to the Kashmiri people will be a form of travel documents
which both India and Pakistan will pledge to upgrade, eventually, into
passports. Talk of a cross-border Kashmiri parliament will come to
nothing: all that is likely to happen is a regular meeting of Indian and
Pakistani-appointed politicians. Such a Kashmir settlement would not be
accepted by separatists on either side of the border, but they will be
unable to mobilise resistance. A joint Indo-Pakistan covert military
operation will pick off the militant leaders and simply repress all
forms of dissent.
The reason for the diminishing importance of Kashmir in both national
psyches is that both countries simply have more to lose than to gain
over the issue. Pakistan will in time come to realise its primary
advantage over India lies in its geopolitical location, which gives it
access to the huge and growing market across the border. It will be in
both countries' interests to agree a nuclear no-first-use pact, probably
sponsored by the Americans
The two countries will also be brought closer by the movement towards a
south Asian common market. When an agreement to establish a SAU is
finally signed in 2015, the region's legal and economic institutions
will be forced to improve their services and, to some extent, harmonise
their activities. The SAU would have to grant Kashmir special status,
but to tempt investors restrictions on land acquisitions will be lifted,
leading to a buy up by big business. That will mean the arrival of a
migrant workforce for Kashmir's new industrial sector. The distinctive
character of the region will start to fade, just like Tibet since its
annexation by China.
A less confrontational relationship between India and Pakistan will mean
that by 2020 the shadow of conflict will no longer hang over south Asia.
Randeep Ramesh is the Guardian's south Asia correspondent
Chinese walls come down
China will have the world's worst Aids epidemic by 2020. But the spread
of the disease could also hasten political reform. Jonathan Watts
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian By 2020, China will have overtaken Japan as the world's
second biggest economy. It may even have started to rival the US in
terms of the hard power of its military. But if it is to achieve the
government's goal of once again being the world's leading civilisation,
the country will also have to acquire the "soft power" of universally
How can it do that? Paradoxically, the best hope for softening China may
be the same thing that poses its greatest threat: the HIV/Aids epidemic.
China is on course to suffer the biggest epidemic of Aids in the world,
but in the process it may find the illness acts as one of the main
drivers for social change over the coming years.
"By 2020, Aids will have transformed society," says Wan Yanhai, an Aids
activist who was arrested two years ago for disclosing details about
China's HIV problem, which was then deemed a state secret. "Both people
and the virus will be more active in China. It is not something we can
ignore. People have to ask questions about their way of life, they have
to get involved in social politics and get organised. From my personal
experience I'm absolutely certain that this kind of activity will lead
China towards a democracy."
It is already possible to get a glimpse of China in 2020. It is an
impressive sight. Barring a war over Taiwan or an economic crash - both
distinct possibilities - the country will have been transformed by the
greatest spurt of development in world history. Beijing - currently
thick with cranes and noisy with hammers and drills - will have hosted
an Olympics to dwarf all its predecessors in terms of scale and
spectacle. With annual growth of more than 7% per year, Shanghai, the
country's commercial capital, will have overtaken Tokyo, Hong Kong and
Singapore as Asia's leading financial centre. Further south, Guandong
province will be the unrivalled workshop of the world. Its giant
factories on the Pearl River delta will not only be churning out the
labour-intensive goods of old, but also cutting-edge products developed
by China's premier institutes of nanotechnology and cloning.
China will have become a land of superlatives. By 2020, a host of
world-beating projects will be completed: the biggest hydroelectric
project, the Three Gorges Dam in Sichuan Province; the longest bridge
and tunnel, near Shanghai; and the highest railway, which will rise
above 4,000 metres through the Himalayas to connect Tibet with Qinghai.
China will also be leading the world, reluctantly, in HIV/Aids.
According to government estimates, the world's most populous nation had
840,000 cases of the disease in 2003. That amounts to less than
0.01% of the population, far lower than the 35% infection rates in parts
of sub-Saharan Africa. But with the number of new cases rising at
between 20% and 40% per year, the United Nations has warned that China
could have 10 million cases by 2010 - double the number at present in
South Africa, which is currently the world's worst affected nation.
Despite the huge numbers, health officials insist the disease will not
derail China's economy. According to the government's latest HIV/Aids
impact assessment, the epidemic will cost the country no more than
15.9bn renminbi (£1.1bn) by 2010 - equivalent to only 0.03% of GDP. But
that optimistic view was contradicted last year by the former US
president Bill Clinton, who warned that lost working hours and rising
health costs could derail progress.
"China is moving in a positive direction. The headlines are hopeful and
the future looks bright," he told a conference at Tsinghua University
last year. "But the weight of 15 or 30 million people living with
HIV/Aids could blunt a lot of your progress, especially if the burden
falls most heavily on young people."
Officials admit the figures are guesswork. Government cover-ups, social
taboos and a dilapidated healthcare system mean very few cases of
HIV/Aids are reported. Some provinces, led by Yunnan - a major centre
for the drug trade - have been very open about their problem and have
sought international help to establish condom promotion and
needle-exchange programmes that ought to help control the epidemic by
Earlier this year, the government followed that lead, extending Yunnan's
policies across the country, as well as offering free tests and
treatment to sufferers. But not all China's rulers have been so
decisive. Henan province, for example, continues to cover up a
blood-collection scandal - in which villagers sold their blood en masse,
with the result that infected blood became mixed in to the supply - that
produced infection rates of more than 50% in countless villages.
Official figures suggest Henan has 40,000 people who are HIV-positive,
but Aids activists believe the figure is over 1 million and rising
because infected villagers are migrating to work in cities and their
tainted blood is still being used in hospitals. Given that
23 provinces ran blood-selling operations, the problem could be
"I'm still very pessimistic about the control of Aids, especially about
its spread," says Gao Yaojie, a local doctor who received international
plaudits - and official intimidation - for helping to expose the problem
in Henan. "The government has started to act on blood collection, but it
hasn't done anything on the [black market] blood transfusion problem,
which is also very serious. In Henan, Inner Mongolia, Guangdong and
Sichuan, there are many underground clinics which offer cheap - and
probably polluted - blood."
An equally grim picture is painted by Wan Yanhai,who has set up an NGO
called Aizixin in Beijing. "I don't think that infection rates will slow
over the next 10 years," he says. "The government has not invested
enough in intervention and it is still underplaying the scale of the
problem. My guess is that there are already 5 million to 10 million
cases. By 2020, this will rise above 20 million."
The World Health Organisation disputes those claims, saying the
government has done enough to keep the epidemic in check. Dr Zhao
Pengfei, the HIV-Aids coordinator at the WHO's Beijing office, believes
that by 2020 the target should be to keep the number of cases below 5
million. "Even in the worst case scenario, I don't think there will be
10 million cases by 2020," he says.
But he warned China must brace itself for the disease spreading from the
current high-risk groups of blood-sellers and drug users - who are
mostly concentrated in inland rural communities - to sex workers and the
general population in urban areas on the eastern seaboard. Zhao's
biggest concern is that gay men could pass on the disease to their wives
and children. "Because of social pressures in China, most of the gay
population is married and lead bisexual lives, so they could act as a
bridge for HIV to cross into the general population," he says. "But
social stigma has constrained the government from developing a policy to
reach out to this group, even though measures are now in place for sex
workers and drug users."
The fact that these things can be discussed openly represents a
significant break with the past. That - and the influx of international
funds to deal with the crisis - explains why so many of China's sharpest
minds are drawn to working in the fight against Aids, which is now
attracting the sort of idealists who would have been campaigning for
democracy 15 years ago.
The slaughter of students and civilians in and around Tiananmen Square
in 1989 has taught subsequent generations that engaging in direct
political confrontation is dangerous and futile. Graduates of the
country's top universities are now more likely to concentrate on making
money - either through business or the Communist party. But for those
still driven to change the world, HIV is an opportunity. Whether they
work as healthcare professionals, journalists or NGO volunteers, they
can not only help the sick, but highlight the growing threat of the
disease as a means to indirectly shape China's values.
This reform by stealth is working. As the Sars crisis demonstrated last
year, health is a vulnerable spot for a communist government that has
presided over a growing income gap between rich and poor and a steady
deterioration in the quality of rural hospitals. It has also become an
opportunity for the new leadership of the Communist party to prove its
compassion. Last December, in a marked break with his predecessors,
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited an Aids hospital, where he told a
patient: "We need care and love, equality and opposition to prejudice."
Many NGOs and health workers see the more compassionate approach to Aids
as a sign that the government has shifted from a single-minded pursuit
of economic growth to a more holistic policy of balanced
development."HIV is already making a huge impact on society," says Lily
Liquing of Marie Stopes International, one of an increasing number of
foreign NGOs that have been allowed to operate in China. "It is helping
to nurture a civil society and greater internationalism because the
authorities and NGOs are working with their counterparts overseas in
ways that wouldn't have been imaginable before. Homosexuals are getting
organised for the first time, schools are working harder on sex
education, and women are more conscious of family planning issues. HIV
is bringing some very positive social changes. It has brought problems
out into the open. We are seeing less taboos in China now."
While the disease has made life a misery for countless Chinese, it also
appears to have given others strength. Ren Guoliang, a
23-year-old Aids activist, had to give up his job in the army and he now
conducts lectures, works with an Aids hotline and appears on television
to talk about the disease. Although he does not expect misunderstanding
and discrimination to disappear for many years, his life has been made
easier by the government's increased openness and the provision of free
"In 2020, I believe China will have more democracy, that there will be
better policies for care and treatment of Aids. Civil society will have
matured and we'll be more open about the disease, which will help to
control its spread."
But he also fears another bleaker version of the future. "If the
government fails to keep up the recent good momentum, Aids will spread
out of control. It will be a disaster threatening millions of lives.
China will be the next Africa."
Jonathan Watts is the Guardian's China correspondent
The east is ready
By 2020 China will be on the verge of superseding the US as the world's
leading economic power. Time for the US to wake up and smell the soy
sauce, reckons by Mark Leonard
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian China's rise through America's eyes: "When a speeding
freight train is heading towards you, you either get on board or you get
out of the way. We want to get on board." The locomotive is China, whose
economy is forecast to become the second largest in the world by 2016
and to have overtaken America by 2041. "We" are the people of South
Carolina, the southern US state whose textile-based economy is under
increasing threat from cheap labour in the People's Republic. And
getting on board means trying to get the Chinese to invest in the state
rather than trying to keep them out by erecting protective trade
The speaker is Mark Sanford, South Carolina's Republican governor, who
has travelled to Beijing to attract Chinese investment to revive its
beleaguered economy. He is speaking at a private dinner in a club so
exclusive that it doesn't have a name, just an unmarked red door in a
windowless wall. The late Deng Xiaoping used to come here to relax, but
today the mix of privacy and transparency has become an irresistible
magnet to China's nouveau riche.
In his Southern drawl, Sanford speaks elegiacally of a knitwear factory
that closed in his neighbouring state of North Carolina. This closure,
and others like it, have led to a heated debate about attempts to
restrict "off-shoring". Sanford explains that his goal is to attract
investment from Chinese companies such as Haier, which built a fridge
factory in South Carolina in 2000, completing an integrated system of
production and sales with its design centre in Los Angeles and trade
centre in New York. He speaks about turning his state into a
"poster-boy" for globalisation, a Chinese gateway into America,
reversing the sense of an inexorable flow of jobs and business from the
US to China, and creating a "win-win" scenario. The Chinese roar with
approval at his speech: they like this new face of America, as
supplicant rather than bully.
But Sanford is a lonely voice in preaching the need to woo China,
despite the overwhelming force of the statistics: China has a population
of more than a billion, an economy that is growing year-on-year by more
than 8%, and had a trade surplus with the US of $124bn in 2003; Chinese
imports into the US are outpacing American exports to China by more than
five to one. More typical, perhaps, are the words of Roger W Robinson
Jr, the former chairman of the US-China Economic and Security Review
Commission, the official body charged with assessing the security
implications of the trade between the US and China. "The US-China
economic relationship is heavily imbalanced and undermining our
long-term economic health," he said at the launch of the commission's
last report. John Edwards, the vice-presidential nominee who represents
the neighbouring state of North Carolina in the Senate, has taken a much
tougher line than Sanford: he promises to review US trade agreements and
investigate workers' rights abuses in China.
China's growing economic power is doing much more than harming America's
trade figures. Its development needs huge quantities of oil, forcing up
prices on the world market. That is another big campaign issue in the
world's most oil-hungry nation. According to the International Energy
Agency, China will generate one-third of global incremental demand for
oil between 2002 and 2004. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times has
argued: "As Asian growth continues, the global balance between demand
and supply will continue to be tight, unless
(or until) a vast increase in investment takes place. With such tight
markets, relatively modest disruptions could lead to explosive jumps in
oil prices, as happened twice in the 1970s."
If the US Democrats are exercised by China's economic threat, the
Republicans have focused on its military one. President George Bush's
first intelligence briefing from the CIA listed China as one of three
strategic threats, along with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
The thin red mist descends and China becomes, in the neo-con
imagination, a Soviet Union of the east, intent on establishing puppet
regimes, governed by a modern mandate from heaven. Though not all would
go as far as denouncing Deng Xiaoping as a "chain smoking communist
dwarf", as the rightwing firebrand Pat Buchanan did, there is a segment
of the US political class that recoils at reports of double-digit
increases in Chinese military spending, an intense focus on military
modernisation and the simmering tensions over Taiwan.
Back in 1997, Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-conservative flag-carrier who is
now deputy defence secretary, wrote an article in the journal Foreign
Affairs that compared the rise of China at the dawn of the 21st century
to the rise of Germany a century earlier. He characterised China as "a
country that felt it had been denied its place in the sun", that
believed it had been mistreated by the other powers, and that was
determined to achieve its rightful place by nationalistic assertiveness.
He warned there may be another world war. But rather than a hot war, the
two have engaged in a competition for influence in the Asian region.
The establishment of US bases in central Asia, America's tightening
defence ties with Japan and Australia, and its growing relationship with
India are all seen by China's elite as part of Washington's design to
keep them in check. China's response has been to bend over backwards to
prove it is no threat either to the US or its neighbours. Li Junru, the
vice president of the Central Party School, one of the Communist part
institutions, has said the policy of heping jueqi (literally "merging
precipitously in a peaceful way") means other nations need not fear.
"China's rise will not damage the interests of other Asian countries,"
he told the Beijing Review. "That is because as China rises, it provides
a huge market for its neighbours. At the same time, the achievements of
China's development will allow it to support the progress of others in
the region." He talks of the Chinese developing free trade areas and
security organisations for the region on the model of the European Union
and Nato. As part of this strategy, Beijing has resolved virtually all
its land border disputes with its neighbours: it has signed a
non-aggression pact with the Association of South East Asian Nations
(Asean); it is working to help resolve the North Korean nuclear issue;
it is signing a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Asean which
includes free trade agreements and economic aid; and it is conducting
joint military exercises with Russia, Kyrgyzstan, India and Pakistan.
The American analyst Robert W Radtke, writing in the Christian Science
Monitor, argued that China's soft sell appeals to America's allies in
Asia: "China's peaceful rise was introduced to Asia by Chinese President
Hu Jintao on his tour of south-east Asia in October - on the heels of
President Bush's visit to the region that month. The contrast in tone
between the two leaders couldn't have been more striking. In short,
China's message was, 'We're here to help,' while the US message was
'You're either with us or against us' in the war on terror. It's not
hard to imagine which was the more effective diplomatic strategy."
But the Chinese will not push this competition too far: their biggest
fear is that the neo-cons in Washington will encourage Bush to ratchet
up the pressure over Taiwan, whose government has been making noises
about declaring independence from the mainland, to the displeasure of
the Beijing administration. Since the spat early in Bush's term when a
US spy-plane crashed into a Chinese fighter, relations between the
world's two leading powers have thawed. Beijing has provided Washington
with useful intelligence and, like Russia, used the war on terror as an
excuse to damn its own separatist movements. Even over Iraq, the Chinese
supported the first UN resolution and kept a low profile over the
second. During Kosovo, by contrast, Chinese spokesmen were on a 24-hour
rota condemning Nato's illegal action. This time the risk of causing a
rift with the Americans was judged too great.
American policy towards China is trapped between an imperative for
engagement and a preference for containment. Earlier this year US
policymakers welcomed a Chinese trade delegation for a multi-billion
dollar buying and spending spree, during which the Chinese were to look
at making investments. Within days of the delegation's departure,
however, the US threatened sanctions that would make the purchases
impossible. And in the security sphere the US is seeking the People's
Republic's help on the proliferation of WMD in North Korea at the same
time as pushing a missile defence shield that could launch a new arms
race between the two nations.
What is becoming clear is that the Chinese are no longer easily
manipulated. China's welfare is so intimately woven into the
international order that its welfare affects the hope and dreams of
others across the world. China is already on its way to becoming
America's chief banker: the $400bn of foreign reserves it has
accumulated allows the US to sustain its astronomical budget deficit. If
Beijing stopped buying dollars, the US currency would collapse. The
security analyst François Heisbourg has even compared the Chinese hold
on the dollar to a nuclear weapon: "Breaking the dollar would be the
functional equivalent of using a nuclear weapon," he wrote in 2003. "The
possession of such a capability cannot be ignored by the weaker party."
Because of this mutual dependence it is unlikely that Wolfowitz's
predictions of world war will come true. But as China rises, the balance
of power will continue to shift to the east and more and more Americans
will follow Sanford's example: approaching China with a begging bowl
rather than a stick. China itself will face intense pressures over the
coming years - unemployment, labour unrest, environmental problems and
financial problems - but any problems in the People's Republic will also
threaten American interests.
Maybe the neocons have got it wrong. Perhaps the only thing worse for
the US than a China that is too strong in 2020 will be one that is too
Mark Leonard is director of the Foreign Policy Centre (fpc.org.uk)
How China is wooing the world
In my local curry house I was greeted like a long-lost friend. A huddle
of young waiters gesticulated excitedly towards me. Eventually I
realised they were pointing at my bag, picked up during a recent trip to
China, and emblazoned with the Chinese script for Shanghai. "You've been
to China," they said, "China have just put a man in space - they're
taking over from America."
These young Bengalis are not just motivated by regional passions.
Everywhere in the developing world people are sitting up and taking
notice of the Chinese juggernaut. As a model for development it is a
source of inspiration, its giddy growth rates of over 8% a year lifting
millions of people out of poverty.
But even more exciting is the prospect of a new superpower that might
challenge US hegemony and the American way of doing things. In a paper
for the Foreign Policy Centre, Joshua Ramo, a former foreign editor at
Time who is based in China, laid out the elements of a new "Beijing
consensus", which he sees as a direct challenge to the "Washington
consensus" that defined attitudes towards the development debate in the
1990s. Beijing is "driven not by a desire to make bankers happy, but by
the more fundamental urge for equitable, high-quality growth", he wrote.
China treats the ideas of privatisation and free trade with caution
rather than pursuing them with zeal; the country is defined by its
ruthless willingness to innovate and experiment and has created a series
of "special economic zones" to test out new ideas. Its foreign policy is
driven by a lively defence of national borders and interests
(see its attitude towards Taiwan) and an increasing commitment to
multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, which it hopes
will pin the US down. Together these policies have allowed China to grow
without surrendering its independence to such financial institutions as
the World Bank and IMF, global companies, or the Bush administration.
This recipe for success is so intoxicating that, on visits to countries
as diverse as Iran and South Africa, I have been drawn into discussions
about the "Chinese model of development". China's model is seducing
leaders in countries as different as Vietnam (which is taking business
tips from the thoughts of the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin),
Brazil (which is sending study teams to Beijing), and India
(Ramgopal Agarwala, an eminent sociologist, observed: "China's
experiment should be the most admired in human history. China has its
Few in the west have picked up on this excitement, because they have
looked at China's power simply by measuring the size of its economy or
the technology of its army. But by focusing on Chinese hard power (its
ability to use military force or economic might to get its way) people
are missing the extraordinary rise of the country's "soft power" - the
ability of its ideas and values to shape the world. It is an unwritten
rule in the minds of the west that though China might become wealthy, it
is western values and culture that will continue to define the rules of
That is already changing. For the first time there is an emerging pole
that is strong enough to change the way things are done on the global
stage. Japan was too small and inward-looking; India is too
protectionist; Russia too weak. As China emerges as a superpower, it is
desperately trying to present itself as a force for good in the world.
The past few years have seen a successful Olympic bid, the creation of
an English language international TV channel, a series of high-level
visits by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to key
countries, and a concerted attempt to befriend not just China's
neighbours but other countries as far afield as Africa and Latin
America. Two centuries ago Napoleon warned China was a "sleeping giant"
that "once awake would astonish the world". That prediction looks like
it is about to be fulfilled.
Rise of the east
The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, laid down a marker for the world in
April when he outlined China's ambitions in a speech to the Boao Forum
for Asia. "We will quadruple the 2,000 GDP to $4 trillion with a per
capita GDP of $3,000, and further develop the economy, improve
democracy, advance science and education, enrich culture, foster greater
social harmony and upgrade the texture of life for the people," he said.
Some in America responded positively to the remarks - former president
George Bush Sr said China's peaceful rise was "very reassuring and very,
very important to the Asian horizon and Asia's landscape" - but there
are many in America who are disquieted by China's rise. Its military
expenditure is rising, though it will still not compete with US defence
spending and it has become increasingly bullish over Taiwan. In July,
Jiang Zemin - the former president who heads China's armed forces - said
China would have recovered the island by 2020.
His remarks coincided with military exercises involving 18,000 troops,
designed to demonstrate China's air superiority in the Taiwan Strait. It
is also seeking to compete in space: Luan Enjie, the head of the
national space programme, said last November that China intends to land
a man on the moon by 2020.
One motor of China's growth is its increasing population but with such
rapid expansion come problems. Some relate to China's programme of
population planning. The one-child policy has created a shortage of
female babies, and the government has admitted that by 2020 China might
have as many as 40 million single men, which could pose a threat to
Water, water everywhere
The world is not drying up, says Tony Allan. All we need to ensure the
whole world has clean, safe water is some political backbone
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian It won't be as bad as you think. There is no need for the
2020 to be one in which nation fights nation over the contents of a
drying river bed. There is no need for the world's poorest people to be
dying for want of clean water, nor for droughts to cause mass starvation
as whole regions see their food supplies wither away in waterless heat.
That might happen, but if we can summon the political and economic will,
we can avert it.
In fact, we can address the most crucial area of water scarcity -
finding enough water to feed the world - without ever getting our hands
wet, thanks to the concept of "virtual water", which has nothing to do
with computers. We will be helped in getting water to the world by
social trends that are already underway, such as the flight from the
country to the cities. And the rich - that's us - will probably not be
as selfish with water as one might fear. We are likely to continue to
adapt our usage of the water we are endowed with, and we are likely to
be putting water back into the environment - by using less fresh water
in farming, for example.
Water shortages don't pose serious problems to gardeners in Hampshire or
to Californian homeowners with pools to fill. The rich can find a way
through. Their water suppliers can build a desalination plant; they can
use their water more carefully; they can sometimes even get farmers to
stop using water for a while.
The people who suffer when water is in short supply are the poor. About
one in six of the world's 6.5 billion people do not have a safe and
secure water supply, and most poor families are short of water for the
daily needs we take for granted. But the water-saving measures open to
the rich are not open to them. If you get your water from a well you
cannot stick a brick in the toilet cistern to use less water when you
flush. Farmers in poor countries cannot stop farming. If they did, their
families would die. And because poor communities cannot change the way
they manage water, they are the ones who will suffer if water is scarce
The key to avoiding catastrophic water shortages is bringing people out
of poverty, and the world is getting richer. At the moment there are
between 1 billion and 1.5 billion rich people in the world; by
2020 there could be 2 billion to 2.5 billion. That would not have the
desired effect if the world's population was expanding at the rate the
"scary science" of the 1970s postulated. Fortunately, it is not. In
1994, demographers at the UN population conference in Cairo argued that
the world's population would level off in the second half of the
21st century at around 50% higher than the current level. While this
increase might sound like a great deal, it is within our capabilities to
make sure the world has the water it needs. Food production accounts for
90% of water consumption, but there is sufficient water in the global
system to meet the food needs of a world population at that level, and
farmers have shown over the past century they can mobilise the world's
natural resources - including water and energy - to meet huge increases
in demand for food.
Energy, in fact, is likely to be a far more crucial factor than water in
slowing down production, even in agriculture. Water will not be such a
problem because we will have achieved major economies in water use,
which will mean more production per drop. Production in regions that
currently can manage only low yields is likely to improve by between 50%
Why, then, do headline writers insist on the notion of water as source
of crisis and conflict? In part, because it is easier to see water as a
geographic feature, a seemingly static resource: we think of water as
being lakes and rivers. In fact, water is everywhere, in many forms. In
the past half-century, for example, we have discovered that the
industrialised economies in temperate regions, such as Europe and North
America, have surplus soil water resources. Soil water is the effective
rainfall used to produce a wide range of rainfed crops, and especially
the staple grains that are needed to meet the world's food needs. Though
it rarely comes up in discussions of water crises, soil water is what
makes possible well over half the world's crop production. Water is
present in the food we produce, as well: not as an ingredient, but as an
element in its production (remember, 90% of water consumption takes
place during food production).
To understand the full implications of that, take the case of the desert
regions of the Middle East and North Africa. Those areas entered a
period of dangerous strategic water deficits in the early 1970s. If ever
there was a good time to suffer a severe water shortage, that was it.
The early 1970s saw the farmers of North America and Europe putting
staple grains on the world market at half their production cost. They
are still doing that, aided by production and export subsidies that will
be difficult to unpick within the next 20 years. It takes so much water
to produce those vast mountains of grain that when they are exported
they amount, in effect, to a global trade in water. That process can
spectacularly fix water shortages. It takes 1,000 tonnes of water to
produce a tonne of grain, so by importing grain, water-scarce economies
can avoid the stress of trying to develop their own water sources for
food production. And because 20% of the world's agricultural production
is traded internationally, farmers and traders can move this "virtual
water" in volumes and over distances beyond the wildest imaginings of
The trade in virtual water addresses the biggest water challenge for
both individuals and nations facing water scarcity: how to use water to
produce enough food. Virtual water also eases the pressure that
irrigated agriculture places on water in the environment. It is true
that large-scale irrigation is an inefficient use of water, but the
trade in virtual water means those regions where irrigation is crucial
can put water back into the environment.
What of the 10% of water used for activities other than agriculture?
Come 2020, domestic water will still be in short supply for the very
poor, who will have neither the resources nor the quality of government
to address their problems. But the issue is not that there is too little
water, rather that too little effort has been expended on finding
economic solutions to the problem. If strong, diverse economies can be
established in the poor countries, that will enable investment to ensure
the necessary supplies of fresh water for non-agricultural use. And
virtual water will account for the volumes needed for food production.
Technology will also help the world make water available for domestic
and commercial use. Desalination costs, for example, have fallen over
the past five years, and the process can provide affordable water for
the 70% of the world's population that lives close to major bodies of
water. At a cost of around 30p per cubic metre, desalinated water is
well within the price range of those living in industrialised economies.
At present, the poor can pay nearly £2 per cubic metre for water that is
not even safe to drink.
The problem with desalination is that it depends on a secure energy
supply, and energy futures are much more uncertain than water futures.
The water future could be constrained by the availability of affordable
energy. So although we can project that by 2025, and certainly by 2050,
a significant proportion of the world's population will be augmenting
their freshwater supplies using desalination technology, the possible
brake on the process is that energy prices will rise as the economies of
east and south Asia expand in the next two decades, exerting new demands
on the global energy supply. It is impossible at this point to guess how
high a priority of water manufacture will be in an energy-short world.
As an optimist, I believe the manufacture of fresh water is such a huge
imperative that the world's leaders will have to address it. I do not
believe the politics of allocating energy to water creation will be a
problem. And desalination is not the only option. Each drop of London
tap water has been through several people; there is no reason why
domestic water cannot be reused in the developing world, where economies
facing water scarcity are increasingly treating waste water. Some
countries gain 20% of their supply from reuse.
Only 10% of water is for non-agricultural use: we could, in theory, get
70% of that back by treating waste water (although there are social
problems with water recycling - some people will not drink water that
has already been drunk by someone else). So there is no need for a
global water shortage. And there is no need for conflict over water. But
still we find it difficult to understand the issues surrounding water
scarcity, and because we do not understand them we find it difficult to
address them all. We do not include soil water in our reckonings, even
though it is the major source of water for rural economies. We forget
the equalising role of virtual water, which moves commodities that
require huge amounts of water to produce from the water-rich to the
water-scarce economies. And there is too little understanding of the
role of socio-economic development in giving the water-short access to
The problem is that what we need to do to supply water to all runs
counter to one of the most deeply rooted human needs: the desire for
familiarity and security. Most people - western consumers of expensive
foreign bottled waters and imported delicacies aside - feel intuitively
insecure if they cannot drink local water and eat locally produced food.
Across the world, the hundreds of millions who comprise the rural poor
do not have the levels of consumer and economic sophistication that are
second nature to people in the industrialised world. As a result they
are uneasy about accepting any dependence on what they regard as a
complex and unfathomable economic system.
But surely it is easy to inform people they have nothing to fear and
everything to gain? Sadly, no. The politicians responsible for more than
half the world's rural population do not have the resources or political
capital, nor the economic policy options, to confront the beliefs of the
rural poor. For those people, new ways of thinking and new approaches to
water are not an option. There are no other jobs. Once again, however,
there is a bright side. It has been estimated that by 2025 two-thirds of
the world's population will live in cities, where life is more water
efficient. The policeman in Nairobi, the call-centre worker in Mumbai
and the teacher in Mexico City will use negligible volumes of water each
day but can be far better paid than their counterparts in the fields.
A building occupying a site of a hectare could accommodate 1,000
workers. Those people could generate an annual turnover of £30m, but
would use only 10,000 cubic meters of water each year. If that hectare
were to be used as a wheat field, it might use the same amount of water,
but would generate a turnover of less than £2,000 per year and would
only support one tenth of one job. So the key to efficient use of water,
through the deployment of virtual water, is job creation and removing
people from poverty.
The challenge facing the world between now and 2020 is making sure poor
people have access to small volumes of safe water - the 10% needed to
keep families healthy and employable. And the best way to do that is to
develop diverse economies. That is the powerful invisible process that
will enable the water rich to improve the lives of the millions of
people living in economic and water poverty.
Tony Allan is professor of geography at SOAS in London. He convenes the
Water Issues Group there and has written many books about water
The drowned world
Icecaps will be melting, sea levels will be rising ... If you don't like
today's weather, says Tim Radford, then wait for the horrors we could
face by 2020
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian "Good morning. Here is the shipping forecast for midday,
June 21 2020. Seas will be calm, and visibility will range from good to
excellent for the next 24 hours. The sea lanes from Bergen to Tokyo via
the north-east passage will largely be free of ice, but occasional small
floes may drift near the Siberian coast. The north-west passage from
Europe to Fairbanks, Alaska, and Vancouver will also be clear, although
iceberg hazards cannot be ruled out between Greenland and Ellesmere
Island. The Bering Strait was, for the fourth time in the past decade,
free of ice for the entire winter and will remain open for the rest of
That's just the Arctic. By the summer of 2020, global warming will have
had such devastating effect on the northern icecap that European ships
may routinely cross the high latitudes to take the short routes to Asia
and the Pacific. The Arctic Ocean, once frozen solid all winter and
choked with hazardous floes for most of the summer, could be one of the
friendlier seas. The perilous shortcuts that defied the heroic attempts
of the Englishman Martin Frobisher and the Dutchman Willem Barents more
than 400 years ago may soon become not just plain sailing, but the
standard summer sea route from Europe to the Pacific.
Cruise tourists and shipping magnates might wish to thank global
warming. But the chances are they will not. That is because one of the
Arctic's great spectacles, the polar bear, will have taken a dive: they
need the sea ice to survive. For them, the ice is the way to a diet of
seals, walruses and small whales. When the floes go, ursus maritimus
will be on the road to extinction.
The polar bear's base of operations has been shrinking inexorably as the
planet warms. Over the past 40 years, the sheath of ice that covered the
Arctic Ocean has thinned by 40%. The area covered by ice has also shrunk
by more than 25%. Although much climate science is necessarily based on
indirect evidence, the state of the Arctic Ocean has been monitored
directly by people whose lives depend on the accuracy of their
measurements. US, Russian and British nuclear submarines began charting
the thickness of Arctic ice at the height of the cold war, and satellite
cameras have been recording seasonal changes in ice cover for more than
three decades. The conclusions are beyond dispute and the process is
unstoppable. By 2020, according to the US Office of Naval Research, the
north-east and north-west passages should be navigable. By 2050,
according to the UK Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction, the Arctic
Ocean could be free of ice in summer.
That will happen because although the planet as a whole is warming
perceptibly, the Arctic is warming eight times faster - largely because
of a phenomenon called the albedo effect.
Put simply, white reflects light, but dark absorbs it. So the sunlight
crashing on to the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, the Alpine and
tropical glaciers, and the snows of the great mountain chains bounces
back into space. In effect, ice is its own insulator: glaciers tend to
keep themselves glacial even in the summer.
But once ice starts to melt, dark ocean or rock is exposed. That absorbs
the heat, and begins to accelerate the melting process. As long as the
average temperatures stay low, there is a natural brake: in high summer,
snow evaporates but falls again in winter, to replace the melting ice
and to keep conditions more or less stable. The problem is that things
have begun to change. Glaciers in Alaska and the mountains of tropical
Africa are in retreat, and climate scientists have predicted that by
2020 the snows of Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya will have vanished.
In Europe, Alpine economies built on skiing and other mountain sports
will have begun to fail. In south Asia, for at least part of the year,
snow melt is the only source of water for millions of farmers.
Adventure tourists will lose their holidays. Others stand to lose rather
more. On the Indian subcontinent, half a billion people depend on the
Indus and Ganges rivers, whose sources lie among melting snows of the
the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the western Himalaya. But these great
snowfields, too, are disappearing.
All this is on the basis of an annual global average temperature rise of
0.1C a decade up to now. But it wouldn't take much to make things change
faster, and those changes would be irreversible. If global average
temperatures rise by more than 2.7C, according to calculations published
in Nature in April, then the great sheet of ice that covers Greenland
will start to melt faster than it can be replaced. The Geological Survey
of Greenland and Denmark warned this summer that the ice sheet, which
covers 772,000 square miles and is up to two miles thick, is melting 10
times quicker than previously thought. The sheet is thinning at 10
metres per year, not one metre. It could take 1,000 years for the sheet
to completely disappear, but as it does so, sea levels will begin to
rise by about 7mm a year. Once all the ice has gone, the world's oceans
will have risen by around seven metres.
This will happen, because global temperatures seem likely to rise by far
more than 2.7C. Ten years ago, the UN's Intercontinental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) set up to study global warming proposed a maximum
temperature rise of about 3C by 2100. Three years ago, IPCC revised that
prediction. The maximum temperature rise during the present century is
set at almost 6C. And the predicted maximum temperature rise for
Greenland is put at up to 8C.
That is not the only danger posed by the thawing of the world's cold
places. The Arctic regions are rimmed by permafrost: regions of tundra
that enjoy an urgent spring, a brief, brilliant summer and then a long,
hostile winter. These landscapes hold stores of ancient carbon and
methane in the form of decaying vegetation imprisoned for 10,000 years
or more. Once the permafrost starts to melt, awesome quantities of
carbon dioxide and methane - two potent greenhouse gases - will be
released from thawing peat bogs to accelerate the warming process yet
further. This climate phenomenon is known as "positive feedback".
By 2020, then, the Arctic will have begun to change for ever. The
adventure tales of the past will be distant history: stories of
explorers fighting their way by sled across the perilous frozen seas
will be science fiction to young readers and nostalgic yearnings for a
lost world to their parents.
"Here is the long-term weather forecast for the tropical and temperate
zones at midday, June 21 2020. After a series of increasingly wet
winters, northern Europe could once again be at risk of a lethal heat
wave. Forest fires are raging in the Iberian Peninsula, southern France
and the Balkans. Water rationing has once again been imposed in
California. Relief agencies have warned that late rains raise the
spectre of widespread hunger in the Sahel and southern Africa.
Bangladesh, however, is once more preparing for catastrophic floods."
It's a matter of simple physics: a warmer world means a rising sea
level. Warm water is less dense than cold, so some of the sea level rise
will happen just because the water already in the oceans has begun to
expand. But sea levels have begun to rise still further with the melting
of continental ice and the retreat of the glaciers. The effects of the
rise will only slowly become apparent - even the most pessimistic
predictions suggest that by 2100 the sea level will only be a metre
higher - but even at that slow rate many millions of people will be
imperilled. Sea level rise is a threat to anybody who lives at or a
fraction above sea level, and especially to citizens of those countries
classed as developing. That, of course, means poor.
For such people, the future looks very bleak. There are 54 members of
the Commonwealth. Only six of these are classed as developed nations.
Around 93% of the Commonwealth lives in the other 48. Some of these
countries may have no future at all. "If the scientific forecasts prove
correct, then by the end of the century membership of the Commonwealth
will have declined because two or three nations will have disappeared,"
warned Clive Hamilton, director of the Australian Institute, in
September 2003. Two Commonwealth states - the Maldives and Tuvalu - are
at risk of complete submersion by 2080. Two other groups of islands -
Kiribati and the Bahamas - will be in a bad way, because almost all
their territories lie below the four-metre mark.
Each of those states will already be facing periodic devastation and
permanent crisis by 2020. The bedrock of many of the islands is coral
limestone. Coral is a living thing, so if sea levels were to rise slowly
enough - over 1,000 rather than 100 years - then coral could grow to
keep up with the water levels. But coral is extremely sensitive to
rising temperatures: the corals that make up most reefs and atolls are
already at the limits of their temperature tolerance. Those reefs near
human settlements are choked by man-made pollutants, and their ecologies
have been permanently altered by intensive fishing.
Any increase in ocean temperatures means death by bleaching - the corals
turn white and die. This has happened a number of times in the
Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef near Australia,
with cyclical rises in water temperatures. Those rises have been
followed by cyclical falls, so the corals have had the chance to
recover. But global warming means permanent heating, and the living
corals that support life - both human and non-human - in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans are expected to perish on a massive scale.
The coral won't be the only thing to suffer. The oceans will seep into
the bedrock, polluting the subterranean fresh water. Agriculture will
become impossible, supplies of drinking water will be minimal and as the
waters rise the islands will start to drown in seawater.
Island dwellers, of course, will not be the only ones at risk. Hundreds
of millions of people in densely populated countries with low-lying
coastal plains or vast estuaries will come under threat from rising sea
levels. According to Sir John Houghton, a former director of the UK Met
Office and author of Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, a sea level
rise of half a metre could sweep away or make uninhabitable about 10% of
the habitable land of Bangladesh. That land is currently home to at
least six million people. Sea levels will not need to rise by half a
metre worldwide to make this happen: the delta region of Bangladesh is
subsiding, partly because groundwater is being abstracted for
agriculture to feed the nation's 140 million citizens.
By 2050, waters could have risen by a metre, claiming 20% of Bangladesh
and displacing 15 million people. By 2100, the ocean may have encroached
up the rivers almost as far as Dhaka, one of the world's fastest growing
cities, and across the Indian border to the edge of Calcutta.
A glance around the world shows the same pattern being repeated again
and again. In Egypt, a metre rise in the Mediterranean will mean the
fertile lands of the Nile delta will disappear beneath the sea, claiming
12% of the country's arable land and displacing seven million people. A
sea level rise of half a metre would also cause havoc in the Netherlands
and in the Mississippi delta. But the difference between those two
regions and those in the developing world is that the Dutch and the
Americans already spend money on sea defences and can afford more. In
China, a half-metre rise in the sea level could inundate the alluvial
plains of the eastern coast, covering an area of land the size of the
Netherlands, leaving 30 million homeless.
And if the sea doesn't get you, the storms will. Hurricanes and cyclones
are freak events whose existence is controlled by sea temperatures. If
the surface temperature of the ocean is below 26.5C, typhoons, tropical
cyclones and hurricanes hardly happen. But with each rise of the mercury
beyond that point they become more frequent and more ferocious. Savage
storms, and the sea surges they bring, will pose huge threats to small
island states and could scour low-lying land completely clear.
Twenty years ago, climate scientists warned that in a greenhouse world,
the kind of fierce storms that had been once-a-century occurrences would
come around every decade. The fatal combination of very high tide and
tropical cyclone has hit Bangladesh and the Bengal coast of India many
times. In 1991, one such storm surge claimed an estimated 139,000 lives.
In 1970, another killed 300,000 people. UN researchers warned in June
that an estimated one billion people live in the path of the kind of
flood that used to occur every 100 years: by 2050, the number of
potential victims could reach two billion.
If two billion people are at risk of dramatic inundation in 2020, around
2.3 billion others living in the world's water-poor nations could face
an even more wretched future. They will see increasingly parched
landscapes, empty wells, polluted lakes and rivers that run dry. UN
experts calculated that in 2000, people in 30 nations faced water
shortages. By 2020, they predict, that number will have risen to
As temperatures rise, more water will evaporate, but rainfall will
remain capricious. Countries in the monsoon belt will face more severe
droughts in the dry season but could also have to deal with more
catastrophic flooding. Other regions - the southern Mediterranean, north
Africa, southern Africa and the Sahel - could become even more arid,
with olive groves succumbing to desertification. The great plains of
North America, the breadbasket for the planet, could turn again into a
dustbowl, delivering less and less grain to a world that acquires an
extra 240,000 mouths to feed every single day.
The pattern of falling crop yields will be seen all over the planet.
They are expected to decline by at least 10% in most African
Commonwealth countries, and by even more in Mozambique, Tanzania,
Botswana and Namibia. There could also be dramatic falls in food
production in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, although harvests could
increase by 10% in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Papua New Guinea.
Canada and New Zealand could also see dramatic increases in crop yields
but Australia, already largely arid, will be one of the economic losers.
And forget the glib remarks about the one good side-effect of global
warming being decent summers. In 2003, more than 20,000 people died in
northern Europe because of a heat wave that saw Germany roasting in its
hottest temperatures for 450 years. Climate scientists believe that if
atmospheric warming continues unchecked, such heat waves can be expected
every 20 years or so - so expect summer 2020 to be every bit as
oppressive as last year.
"The summer of 2003 was a summer of the future," said Gerhard Berz, head
of natural risks research at Munich Re, one of the insurance giants that
has to calculate hazard and pick up the bill for floods, heat waves, ice
storms, hurricanes, forest fires and droughts.
Global warming is expected to bring good news for some. But right now it
looks like it will be delivering bad news to most people by 2020. The
IPCC, the international consortium of climate scientists that has
delivered increasingly urgent warnings since it was established in
1988, is that rare thing: a group of scientists who would love to be
proved wrong. Their predictions have been made in the hope that
governments will take action, and in doing so direct the planet towards
a less fearful future. There is evidence that governments have been
Action, however, has been slow. Acting now would be too late to avert
the challenges of 2020. We are starting to see the effects of carbon
emissions of a few decades ago: your fuel-efficient small car is an
investment in the future, because we're currently paying for that great
gas guzzler your family was driving in the 70s. Every cook who knows a
bit about science understands a concept called thermal inertia: the gas
is on full, but the kettle takes a few minutes to boil, and though the
gas is off, it takes a while to cool down. We're still waiting for the
earth to start simmering, but by 2020 the bubbles will be appearing,
whatever we do today.
Tim Radford is the Guardian's science editor
Can we predict the weather?
As Sam Goldwyn said, prediction is always difficult, especially of the
future. There are huge uncertainties in climate forecasting. The planet
is a complicated place: its climate is influenced by the interplay of
sunlight, atmosphere, dust, ocean currents and rainfall; by the
temperature gradient between the tropics and the poles; by the
topography of continents; by the balance of forests, wetlands, deserts,
savannahs and oceans, as well as by the chemistry and biochemistry of
To grasp the patterns of the future, climate scientists have to know the
pattern of climate change in the past. That means they have to examine
the indirect evidence provided by ice cores, tree rings, coral growths,
and mud samples from oceans and lakes in order to estimate greenhouse
gas levels and average temperatures in the distant past. Then they must
monitor the oceans, the upper and lower atmosphere, and weather patterns
around the whole planet to understand the mechanics of climate now. Only
then can they start composing computer models of what might happen the
day after tomorrow. So when politicians - and, sometimes, other
scientists - make accusations of uncertainty, speculation and possible
error, they have a point. There is no doubt the planet is warming, but
how much of that is caused by some natural cycle nobody yet understands?
And how much is the result of human interference? And what will humans
do in the future that might make conditions better or worse?
Atmospheric chemists say they understand the principal greenhouse gas,
carbon dioxide, quite well. But methane, though shorter-lived, is an
even more potent greenhouse gas: what role could it play in the future?
Water vapour, too, is a greenhouse gas: a warmer world means more water
vapour in the atmosphere. Will it make the world an even hotter place?
Or will it mean greater cloud cover, which might then act as a brake on
global warming by cutting out more sunlight? Those questions are
unanswered and the debate goes on.
Through 15 years of intensive climate study, however, the broad message
from the scientists has remained much the same. They are now convinced
that indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels is steadily increasing the
global average atmospheric temperature. And the only way to halt or at
least slow global warming would be to make dramatic cuts in carbon
emissions. Which leads to the other great unanswered question: can we
meet that challenge? TR
Earth blows hot and cold
Earth's climate has always been subject to ups and downs, and there is
nothing novel about a warm Arctic. Ninety million years ago, during the
Cretaceous era, deciduous forests stretched into the Arctic circle, and
carnivorous dinosaurs roamed Antarctica. Five years ago,
palaeontologists uncovered the bones of an eight-foot champosaur, a
reptile with a crocodile-like snout and razor-sharp teeth, under the
Alaskan snows. Such a creature could only have survived in a warmer
world, and experts calculate that the average annual temperature in
Alaska must have been 14C. That is, it may never have frozen, even in
the coldest winters.
The globe can blow both hot and cold: much earlier, glaciers reached
almost to the equator. Some climate scientists have hypothesised a
"snowball Earth" - a completely frozen world - for at least four spells
between 750m years ago and 580m years ago, before things warmed up
Human civilisation is generally adapted to a cooler world. Around
21,000 years ago, during the height of the last ice age, sea levels were
135 metres lower than they are today, and the continents were covered by
an extra 52 million cubic kilometres of ice. The interglacial thaw that
took place 11,000 years ago gave agriculture, metalwork and urban
civilisation its kickstart.
For a while back in the 1970s some climate scientists wondered about the
possibility of an imminent return of the ice age. And earlier this year,
European scientists drilling in the Antarctic settled an answer to that
question. The evidence from the ice cores suggests that, even if carbon
dioxide levels were normal, there could still be another
15,000 years before the glaciers return to southern England.
But carbon dioxide levels are not normal. They're rising and they're
rising fast. The evidence from the same ice cores confirms that both
temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at any time
in the last 400,000 years. The evidence from fossil plankton drilled
from the seabed tells an even more ominous story: carbon dioxide levels
are higher than at any time in the last 20m years. And they are expected
to double in the coming century. That means higher temperatures, for
longer - and it means that any existing forecasts of a new ice age are
likely to be way off course. TR
The balance of power
We can still have all the electricity we want in 2020, says Paul Brown.
But we need to learn to love renewables
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian What will happen when the gas runs out, when the deepest
oil well of the Arabian peninsula finally runs dry, when the giant
drills of the offshore platforms reach nothing but dry rock? Will we
face a future of blackouts and electricity rationing, or will we find a
way to avert the doomiest scenarios and continue living lives in which
energy consumption is crucial to everything we do.
Think of the electricity you use in a day. You are woken by the clock
radio buzzing into life, and you turn the bathroom light on as you climb
into your power shower. After dressing you head downstairs, where you
turn on another radio, put some bread into the toaster and turn on the
kettle, getting the milk from your fridge to put in your tea. After
breakfast you head to work, where the lights are burning - and on go the
computer and desktop fan.
Those are just the most obvious of personal uses and the day has barely
even begun. How can we possibly sustain such a level of usage? In short:
renewable energy sources.
There is no longer any doubt that renewable energies will play a large
part in the future of mankind. If politicians show sufficient will and
intelligence, and invest in a raft of new technologies, then we should
be able to maintain our electricity supply and, as a beneficial
side-effect, avert the disaster of rapid global warming.
But as with the debate about nuclear power in the 1980s, it will not be
environmental arguments that win the day, but economics.
Nuclear power lost out not because of the vexed question of radioactive
waste but because the truth finally emerged that it was a very expensive
way to keep the lights on.
When oil and natural gas begin to run out - and, more importantly, when
demand exceeds supply - their prices will escalate and the cost of using
them to generate electricity will become prohibitive. Continuing to use
coal or, worse, increasing the quantity we burn will be more and more
unacceptable, because it will add to the excessive quantities of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere. Those factors make both renewables and
nuclear more and more competitive.
The renewables revolution has begun already, because researchers are
anticipating the moment when renewables become economic. Although there
are a range of renewables already in use, the contribution to world
energy production - hydropower aside - remains relatively minor, at less
than 1%. But there is a large selection of new renewables under research
Hydropower is already one of the largest and most established forms of
renewable energy, providing 19% of the world's electricity. Of the
others, geothermal is a long established and growing energy resource,
and wind power is already a mainstream technology. A variety of other
smaller technologies are also already economic, the best of which
involves using methane from landfill sites. Across the world a mixture
of other fuels from specially grown trees, forest offcuts, pig slurry,
straw and even chicken litter are generating power. And there are others
that are, as yet, underexploited but with great potential: solar is
growing fast, and tidal, ocean currents and wave power are also
undergoing rapid development. Further ahead, though not before
2020, lots of other possibilities exist - the prospect of the hydrogen
economy and completely clean energy production has led to much excited
In Europe, money is being poured into wave and tidal power. Undersea
turbines, working on much the same principle as wind turbines, are
already in operation in the UK and Norway. Their potential is huge,
particularly because all along the Atlantic coast with its large tides,
and many inlets and islands, there are countless sites for exploiting
the power of the sea. And unlike the winds, tides are completely
Wave power has great potential in exactly the same areas, and although
the technical difficulties already encountered in its development means
it has been expensive, there are many companies confident they can make
There is a race among developed countries to become leaders in these new
technologies because of their vast potential to create jobs and exports.
Geothermal technology is increasing in regional importance, particularly
in countries that do not have a wind, tidal or wave resource. This heat
is as inexhaustible and renewable as solar energy and comes from hot
rocks near the earth's surface. Water is pumped into the hot ground and
used on its return to the surface to create electricity and for district
heating. The main geothermal areas of this type are located in New
Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, the western coastal Americas,
the central and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, Iceland, the Azores
and eastern Africa.
But while all that sounds very exciting, leading environmental groups
and engineers to take on the challenges of developing energy technology,
mainstream organisations such as the World Energy Council still see
fossil fuels dominating the agenda in 2020. That is mainly because the
worldwide demand for electricity is escalating so fast they cannot see
renewables catching up with the demand. The council is first to admit it
could be wrong. It all depends on how quickly the oil and gas begin to
And then there is the nuclear question. It is not only the renewable
industry that sees opportunities in the coming energy crisis and in our
fears about the devastating effects of global warming. The nuclear
industry rightly claims it provides a reliable source of energy that
does not produce the carbon dioxide that fossil fuels do. But nuclear
power is still dogged by the old, familiar problems: it takes a long
time to take a nuclear power station from the drawing board to
production; nor has anyone yet come up with a satisfactory method of
disposing of nuclear waste. Neither of those disadvantages are attached
to the new renewables.
Currently there are 444 nuclear reactors worldwide, producing 16% of the
world's electricity. Some countries rely on nuclear power for most of
their electricity. France is the top of the list, generating 75% of its
electricity in nuclear power stations. But most of the countries that
have a lot of reactors - particularly in North America and Europe, with
Japan also on the list - have stopped building new ones or have
curtailed their programmes. As a result the closure programme is
exceeding the rate of new building.
But that does not mean there will be no nuclear revival. The nuclear
industry is looking to expand into the growing economies of Asia,
particularly in China, South Korea and India. China has just ordered
four new stations and may confirm another four before Christmas. There
are said to be plans to build two a year but even that expansion would
only account for a tiny part of the massive need for power in that vast
and fast-growing economy. Even the fourfold increase in the rate of
Chinese nuclear expansion which the industry hopes to see by 2020 would
provide less than 20% of the country's power. Other solutions are
The nuclear industry's other hope for a big push is the United States,
not only because it is the world's largest economy but also because it
is the one most dependent on oil and gas, and the one that wastes most
of both. The energy crisis, when it comes, is going to hit first, and
worst, the US. It is from there that the political push to make the
world change course may come.
The current administration does not give the world many reasons to hope.
President George Bush was the man who repudiated the Kyoto protocol,
which was designed to reduce greenhouse gases. Kyoto was one of the
drivers of the renewable revolution and the fact that it has stalled
because of the objections of the US and indecision of Russia has slowed
progress towards their greater use.
Despite his links to the oil industry, Dick Cheney, the vice president,
pushed hard at the start of Bush's four-year term for a revival of the
nuclear dream. So far nothing has happened, partly because of continued
public resistance in the US and partly because of the lack of private
investment. But the main barrier still remains the large capital cost of
building a new nuclear power station. If you forget the costs of the
pollution caused by fossil fuels (which is what the US does in its
energy planning) then new coal or gas stations are far cheaper.
But part of America's charm is its diversity of view. In August,
California announced a plan to subsidise solar power for one million
homes by surcharging consumers about 15 pence a month. The state aims to
rival Japan and Germany in being a world leader in solar power.
This debate about whether nuclear power is a viable energy source for
the future has also started to grip Europe. Despite the heat being
generated in the debate, expansion does not seem a viable option, mainly
because of public resistance. Instead, many of the countries of western
Europe have invested heavily in wind power, particularly Portugal,
Spain, France, Denmark and Germany.
In the UK, where nuclear stations are closing on a regular basis as they
reach the end of their lives, about 20% of electricity still comes from
reactors. However, there would be serious obstacles to building a new
station, as a minority demands. It is estimated it would be 2020 before
a new station could be finished, even if planning began now. By that
time wind power will be producing about 15% of the UK's power, replacing
the lost nuclear production.
The opponents of the nuclear option say the future lies in the new breed
of renewables, the potential of which is only now being fully
understood. Although there is still room for more hydropower, it is the
new technologies that hold out most hope.
The new generation of energy, then, is likely to lie with forces as old
as the earth itself: the elemental powers of the wind, waves and sun.
The very things that have shaped so much of our past will also, with the
application of the human factor of technology, help shape our future.
Paul Brown is the Guardian's environment correspondent
Oil and troubled water
Nobody expects the world's oil reserves to last forever. The question
is, when will they run out, and how serious will the knock-on effects
be? by Paul Brown
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian The oil jitters we saw this summer are likely to become
commonplace as this decade progresses. This year, oil prices became news
when the price of a barrel approached the $50 barrier. The knock-on
effects were huge. For motorists, the prospect of the price of a litre
of petrol rising towards a pound edged closer. For the stock markets,
however, rising oil prices spelled panic.
Energy prices affect the world economy more than any other single
factor. A stable economic future depends on the oil supply always
keeping pace with worldwide demand. But an increasing number of experts
believe that stability will soon disappear. This is known as the
tip-over point, the moment at which demand exceeds supply and prices
begin to rocket. The result, apart from the possibility of a worldwide
recession, will be to spur investment in alternative energies. But will
they be sufficiently developed to take the strain?
The problem is who to believe. Oil is still being discovered, but
consumption is rising at around 3% a year and oil wells elsewhere are
running dry. Oil production is well past its peak in the US, and is
running out in the North Sea - just 30 years after it was first
exploited. Most of the world's reserves remain in the Middle East. The
amount Iraq and Saudi Arabia pump into the world economy over the next
10 years will make a decisive difference to whether the tip-over point
Some experts believe it will be reached by 2007. Dr Colin Campbell, a
founder of the Association of Peak Oil, says the number of new oil
discoveries has been declining since 1964. Given the need for
continually increasing production, he believes oil supplies won't be
able to keep pace with demand within three years.
Traditionally inclined experts, including the World Energy Council,
expect discoveries to continue, and shortfalls to be made up by new
extraction technologies that will allow oil to be taken from shale
deposits. But these predictions rest on a lot of assumptions.
What is clear is that everyone is guessing, even if everyone claims
their guess is better informed than anyone else's. One point they all
agree on is that the oil and gas will run out: the arguments are about
when, and how soon demand will exceed supply. But for now, the world
carries on as if oil was going to last for ever. Everyone must accept
that the more oil we use, the quicker tip-over point will be reached.
At the present rate that could be well before 2020, which will not be
good news for the global economy.
No city limits
You might hate them, but the world's expanding cities are a way out of
poverty for millions, says John Reader
Saturday September 11, 2004
The Guardian Rubbishing cities is a popular sport. Not simply because of
the garbage, graffiti, pollution, congestion and crowds people complain
about - there is something about the very essence of cities and their
inhabitants that offends. too. When Brighton and Hove succeeded in its
bid to become a Millennial city, for instance, Julie Burchill declared
that wanting to be a city was "about as sensible and life-affirming as
wanting to be a wart".
Surveys have shown that, while around three-quarters of Britain's town-
and country-dwellers are satisfied with their quality of life, only
about 10% of urbanites are happy. According to Burchill, that's why you
see so many of them on the Brighton seafront every weekend - "thousands
of Londoners set free for the day, blinking and smiling with surprise at
all this light and space, poor mole-people above ground at last."
But whatever people say about cities, their behaviour tells a different
story. More people live in cities now than ever before. In the 1700s
less than 10% of the world's population were city-dwellers. By 1900 the
proportion had reached 25%; today it stands at around 50% and the trend
is set to continue. Soon, two out of every three people on Earth will be
living in a city. Will they all be complaining, or will the city have
become a better place?
At the very least, life in cities should offer more variety and be more
fulfilling than a life spent scratching a bare living direct from the
soil; it might even be more fun. But as cities have severed the ties
that once bound people firmly to the land, so the links between urban
and rural environments have become more important than ever. The
inhabitants of today's cities are more utterly dependent on the services
of nature than at any previous time in history. We tend to forget that,
while London, Paris, Venice, New York and numerous other cities sustain
and entertain millions of us, cities are monstrous parasites, consuming
the resources of regions vastly larger than themselves and giving very
little back. In fact, though cities today occupy only 2% of Earth's land
surface, they consume more than 75% of its resources. The implications
of that are powerfully illustrated by a concept environmental scientists
developed during the 1990s: the ecological footprint.
Question: "What is 120 times the size of London?" Answer: "The land area
required to supply London's needs." Having analysed the workings of
London as though the city were a giant machine, consuming resources and
spewing out wastes, researchers found that although the city itself
occupies an area of only about 1,500 square kilometres, London actually
requires roughly 20 million square kilometres of territory for its
supplies and waste disposal. This is London's ecological footprint.
Though the city is home to just 12% of Britain's population, it uses the
equivalent of all Britain's productive land. In reality, of course, the
horizons that supply London extend beyond the British Isles to the wheat
prairies of Kansas, the soybean fields of the Mato Grosso, the forests
of Scandinavia - and thousands of other locations.
The ecological footprints of many cities have been assessed in this way,
and the results are uniformly alarming. Vancouver, for instance, though
rated highly in terms of the quality of life its half a million
residents enjoy, has an ecological footprint more than 200 times the
size of the city. The 29 largest cities of the Baltic Sea drainage
system appropriate the resources of an area 565 times larger than the
land they occupy.
Furthermore, the assessment of ecological footprints puts a measure on
the enormous disparities in resource appropriation that have opened up
between the world's developed and developing regions. For example: each
of North America's 300 million inhabitants consumes the resources of
about 4.7 hectares (11.75 acres) per year on average - the equivalent of
almost 10 soccer pitches. That is a huge, disproportionate chunk of
Earth's surface, especially when compared with the average of just 0.4
hectare (about half the size of the centre court at Wimbledon) that each
of India's one billion inhabitants manages on. And consider this: 80% of
North Americans live in cities - many without even a windowbox, never
mind a productive garden the size of 10 soccer pitches. In India only
30% of people live in cities; the remainder are sustained entirely by
their notional half a tennis court.
Meanwhile, of course, global resources have remained finite. Ominously,
as the human population has risen above 6 billion, and cities have grown
to accommodate an ever larger proportion of them, the ecologically
productive land "available" to each person has decreased, from about 5.6
hectares per person in 1900 to three hectares in 1950, and down to no
more than 1.5 hectares now. That means that the ecological footprint of
the average North American (4.7 hectares) is more than three times his
or her share of Earth's resources. So, if living standards everywhere
were raised to levels that the average North American enjoys, we would
need three planets to provide for them all. That's not an option, but
redressing the balance between urban and rural environments could help.
Given the success of the evolutionary trajectory humanity pursued for
the first few million years - no other species has achieved such total
dominance of the global environment - cities are a complete
contradiction. It is biology that drives evolution and, from a
biological point of view, cities are a seriously bad idea. The dangers
of disease multiply when people are crowded together, and our aversion
to squalor and unpleasant odours is a measure of the depth at which an
innate acknowledgement of those dangers is set in our evolutionary
history. We are social animals, true enough, but there are limits, and
our hunting and gathering ancestors probably had the numbers about
right. They were nomadic, moving around in groups of up to 40 or so, and
never staying long enough in one place for pathogens to build up to
potentially deadly levels. But cities have been - quite literally - the
breeding grounds of disease.
Bacterial and viral diseases are the price humanity has paid to live in
large and densely populated cities. Virtually all the familiar
infectious diseases have evolved only since the advent of agriculture,
permanent settlement and the growth of cities. Most were transferred to
humans from animals - especially domestic animals. Measles, for
instance, is akin to rinderpest in cattle; influenza came from pigs;
smallpox is related to cowpox. Humans share 296 diseases with domestic
Thus, until comparatively recent times, cities had a well-earned
reputation for being unhealthy places. In the early 19th century half
the children born in Manchester died before they were five years old; in
London half died before the age of three, and conditions were even worse
in Vienna and Stockholm, where half died before they were two. No wonder
demographers and historians write of the "urban graveyard effect".
Deaths exceeded births in all great cities. The amazing thing is that
cities continued to grow. Despite their deathly reputation, more and
more people wanted to live in them.
Between 1551 and 1801, for instance, the population of London grew more
than tenfold, from 80,000 to 865,000, even though deaths consistently
exceeded births throughout those 250 years. Left to its own reproductive
capacity, London would have died out. It survived and grew by attracting
thousands of migrants from the countryside, where death rates were
generally 50% lower than in the cities, and birth rates 13% higher.
Clearly, living conditions were healthier in the countryside. But, as
agriculture and cottage industries such as spinning and weaving were
mechanised, redundant labour had no choice but to seek employment
elsewhere - and the industrial cities beckoned.
In the 30 years to 1910, Vienna's population trebled to more than 2
million in this way; the population of Paris soared from 2.25 million to
4.8 million during roughly the same period, and London gained 3.5
million new residents. New York grew from a city of 1.9 million in
1875 to become the home of nearly 8 million people by 1925, making it
the world's largest city. New York was still leading in 1950, with
12.3 million inhabitants; and again in 1960, with 14.2 million; but by
1970 the greatest growth had moved around the globe. Japan's postwar
economic achievements had pushed Tokyo into first place, with 16.5
million inhabitants, a position it still holds. At the time of writing,
second place is taken by Mexico City, an ascendancy indicating that
economic vitality is no longer a primary determinant of city growth.
Huge cities have been appearing in all parts of the world - in poor
countries as well as in the regions of greatest wealth. In 1970 only
three cities - Tokyo, New York and Shanghai - had
10 million or more inhabitants; 30 years later there were 19 of them,
14 in the developing world. And the trend is set to continue: by 2020 at
least 23 cities will have passed the 10 million mark, all but four in
developing countries. By then, several cities in the developing world
are likely to have populations of more than 20 million. In all, nearly
600 cities will have a million or more inhabitants by 2020. Of those,
more than 400 will be in developing countries.
The quality of life for many in the cities of the developing world is
desperately low, with squatter or slum housing being the norm rather
than the exception. But, contrary to the idealised western view of the
countryside as a haven to which city-dwellers yearn to escape,
conditions are far worse in the rural areas. The cities may be poor, but
the countryside is poorer still.
The brutal fact is that, while one-third or more of city-dwellers in the
developing world live on or below the poverty line, only about one-third
of the rural population lives above it. A typical study of urbanisation
in the developing world concludes that despite appalling housing
conditions, lack of fresh water and services, minimal health care and
few chances of finding a job, the urban poor are on average "better off
than their rural cousins, on almost every indicator of social and
Better off? Well-being? Don't ask how the lives of these impoverished
city-dwellers compare with those of the 90% of British urbanites who are
dissatisfied with their quality of life. Only note that, for many
millions of people, cities are the solution, not the problem.
John Reader is the author of Cities (William Heinemann, £20)
Will we have solved the big political questions - education, transport,
the economy and immigration - by 2020?
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian Education
This year lies halfway between 2020 and 1988, when Kenneth Baker, the
then education secretary, delivered a package of measures that continue
to define the modern educational era. In schools alone, the Education
Reform Act introduced the national curriculum and testing at seven, 11
and 14; handed control of budgets to headteachers; and invented
grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, the precursors of
specialist schools and city academies.
Sixteen years on, some of the act's roughest edges have been smoothed,
but the educational landscape is more than merely Baker-lite. Since
1988 Whitehall has meddled virtually at will in the content of the
curriculum, prescribing huge chunks of the daily school timetables of
children across the country. On the other hand, headteachers have become
the most influential lobby group in education, as successive Tory and
Labour governments pass ever greater power - and responsibility -
towards them and away from local councils. And specialist schools have
become this government's preferred model for
(it believes) raising standards and (it hopes) persuading into the state
fold some of the stubborn 7% of parents who continue to send their
children to private schools.
Maybe somebody - perhaps Gordon Brown if he changes his address by one
digit - will abandon specialist schools and the perverse logic of
expecting big rural comprehensives to focus on a particular area.
But how wide will the changes in education really be by 2020? Heads will
still hold the purse strings and local education authorities will
probably not even exist. The best guess is that something called, and
reminiscent of, the national curriculum will still be in place. Possibly
this will be confined to five- to 14-year-olds, especially if trends to
greater specialisation and differentiation from 14 on continue. If the
government can get a positive consensus on the proposals in Mike
Tomlinson's final report, in October, on reform of education of 14- to
19-year-olds, that will become more likely.
Fourteen will have replaced 16 as the watershed moment in secondary
education, with many more students taking vocational courses. There will
be new qualifications to replace GCSEs and A-levels, the exams hardly
anyone fails. But students will also take fewer exams: the generation at
university now have had the worst of that. But there are almost bound to
be complaints in 2020 about the failure to deliver "parity of esteem"
between work-related and academic learning. There is nothing to suggest
industry will deliver the input and enthusiasm to really turn that
Taking a wider view, it is likely that many children will be taught in
classes of 50 or more, with teachers working in teams, with other
teachers or groups of classroom assistants. No counter-revolution will
be able to obliterate that trend. The status of the teaching profession
will still be diminished and the government will not have been able to
convince jobseekers that the classroom is the place for them. Most of
the best graduates will continue to turn their backs on teaching, to the
constant complaints of the (by then) single classroom teachers' union.
Will Woodward is the Guardian's education editor
As they power along eight-lane motorways in their Asian-built electric
cars - set to cruise control, naturally - drivers in 2020 will have
plenty of time to think about how they will pay their next road-charge
bill. A monthly envelope totting up the cost of each car journey will be
routine by the end of the next decade if the government's long-term
transport plans are anything to go by.
Satellite tracking technology will enable the authorities to monitor
every car journey - how long it took, how far it was, how fast it was -
to calculate a journey charge of up to £1.30 a mile. Driving in many of
Britain's cities will require a congestion charge; many motorway
journeys will be punctuated by toll booths.
The transport secretary, Alistair Darling, wants to begin levying a
price for road space. The Conservatives support the idea in principle.
But without such a radical change, the future for motorists will be
Wages, wanderlust and globalisation are fuelling a desire to travel.
Professor Marcial Echenique of Cambridge University reckons that, by
2021, we will all clock up an extra 1,000 miles a year by road or rail -
raising the prospect of rush hours lasting from 5am until midday. "The
congestion will extend, so there will be no period without congestion,"
Prof Echenique warned in a study published earlier this year.
Maverick motoring groups who blow up speed cameras will have more to get
militant by 2020. A government-funded initiative on trial at Leeds
University is examining the possibility of cars having "intelligent"
accelerators that resist when drivers try to break the speed limit.
Traditional speed humps are likely to go in favour of advanced models,
which will sink for slower vehicles but stiffen to impede speeders. Many
commuter routes will have high-occupancy vehicle lanes for cars with at
least two people on board. To help pay their five-figure annual tuition
fees, students will be hiring themselves out as passengers.
The alternatives to motoring are likely to suffer from familiar
problems. Network Rail reckons that by 2015 it can bring punctuality on
the railways up from 81% to 91.7%. Says Tony Travers, of the London
School of Economics: "There are some eternal verities about transport
policy. One is the maladministration of the railways and the fact that
they're forever teetering on the brink of some form of Beeching's axe."
On the bright side, both east and west coast mainlines ought to have
been upgraded by 2020, with superior signalling allowing twice as many
trains between London, the north of England and Scotland. But while
tilting technology will be commonplace, there is little indication the
money will be forthcoming to push speeds beyond the present maximum of
Commuters in the south-east will benefit from an upgrade to Thameslink
and from high-speed local trains through Kent on the Channel tunnel rail
link. The East London Line will be extended and joined to other suburban
tracks to create an "inner rail ring road" around the capital. But only
the most devoted optimists can confidently predict that Crossrail, the
£10bn east-west link across London, will be built by 2020.
Britain's Victorian railway network will never be likely to match its
German or Japanese rivals in speed and reliability for long-distance
journeys. The disastrous £7.5bn, decade-long struggle to model the
west-coast mainline is likely to cast a shadow over rail policy for
decades, deterring ambitious state schemes.
Aviation could play a much bigger part in domestic transport. In a white
paper on aviation last year, the government backed new runways at
Stansted, Heathrow, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Government figures say the
number of passengers using Britain's airports will leap from
189m to 460m by 2020.
Heathrow will no longer be the world's busiest international airport,
losing out through lack of space to Paris and Amsterdam. But journeys
from Bournemouth to Newcastle or between London and Plymouth could well
be on fast, cheap aircraft.
Whether a Labour, Conservative or UK Independence party government is in
power in 2020, the job of secretary of state for transport will still be
a hiding to nothing. The challenges of congestion and pollution will
persist. Travellers are likely to have more choice in how they get from
A to B and their journeys will probably be safer. But whether moving
around will be quicker, cheaper or more reliable than today is deeply
Andrew Clark is the Guardian's transport correspondent
Immigration will feature ever more strongly in daily politics as the
21st century unfolds. In Britain immigration will be seen as an
essential component of economic growth and a prerequisite for a healthy
economy. But this will not happen in the same way as in the US and
Australia in the 19th and 20th centuries, when they built multicultural
societies on a positive historical legacy of integrating waves of
migrants through the common goal of citizenship.
Instead, by 2020 British immigration policy will be founded on the fact
of our ageing society. Britain will have fewer people of working age
trying to support a growing number of retired people. Britain is likely
to encourage immigration on a scale that current levels only hint at,
but in the process there is a danger we will develop a two-tier
workforce that has more in common with the gastarbeiter economy of the
old West Germany than on any American melting pot example.
The basis for that prediction lies in the United Nations report
Replacement Migration, published in 2000. It estimated that Britain
needs to attract a million people a year between now and 2050 to
maintain the balance between the workforce and the retired population.
That might be regarded as unduly pessimistic, but even the most recent
figures from the government actuary suggest that by 2020 there will be
20% more older people than younger adults.
The majority of people in their 60s and 70s will be healthy and active;
they will demand ever more consumer items and the personal services that
go with increased leisure time. There will also be a growing welfare
sector to care for the ageing population. The retirement homes of
Bournemouth and Eastbourne will become key models for economic
regeneration projects across the country. Home Office studies predict
this will mean an increase in low-paid, low-skilled jobs that may be
difficult to fill from the existing labour force.
The pattern is already beginning to emerge in the hospitality and
catering industries, where low-wage jobs with little security are
increasingly being filled by migrants. The government's role is to
ensure they can come here legally and get paid the minimum wage. But for
this strategy to succeed longer-term, British governments will have to
have come to terms with the flourishing hidden economy of illegal
migrants. Otherwise the two-tier workforce will be even more likely.
That means that a way to "regularise" the position of illegal migrants
already in Britain will have to be found. By 2020 it could become a
regular feature of British life, with amnesties granted to illegal
immigrants before each general election. And if you think that could not
happen, look to the US. Earlier this year, President George Bush thought
it politic to give three-year work permits and possible citizenship to
up to eight million "undocumented" workers living mainly in New Mexico
and Arizona. His "compassionate conservative" move was, of course,
really an attempt to capture the increasingly powerful Hispanic vote.
Migrants here could soon hold equivalent political power.
Alan Travis is the Guardian's home affairs editor
Forecasting the economy is a mug's game. Who in the aftermath of the
three-day week in 1974 would have predicted that by 1990 Britain would
be down to a handful of pits and that the National Union of Mineworkers
would be shrivelled and beaten? Who in 1984 would have bet that the
early brick-like mobile phones would become the fastest-spreading
technology in history?
On the big assumption that current trends continue, we should expect the
UK to become even more dominated by the service sector, the City and the
south-east. Europe's wealth is concentrated in a so-called golden banana
that runs from northern Italy, through western Germany, eastern France
and the Benelux countries and on across the Channel. While Europe's
centre of gravity has moved eastward with enlargement, the plains of
Lombardy, Bavaria, the Seine basin and the London diaspora will be the
continent's unchallenged economic powerhouse for the next two decades at
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the big story will be the
continued emergence of the three big developing countries - China,
Brazil and India. In sheer size, rather than per capita incomes, these
countries may soon rank behind only the US. Europe's demographics and
its sluggish growth rate mean it will stay rich but be in relative
That's the easy bit. In reality, things will probably work out
differently. The optimistic scenario is that the new wave of inventions
over the past couple of decades has pushed the global economy to the
cusp of a new golden age. All previous long upswings were based on
technological change, and in this view the internet, the mapping of the
human genome and robotics are to the coming boom what the car, the plane
and the cinema were to the postwar golden age.
The pessimistic view is that the future of the global economy is
jeopardised by two big threats - one financial, the other environmental.
Over the past decade, there has been a rise both in the number of
financial crises and in the damage they have caused. With the US awash
with personal debt, and running massive trade and budget deficits, the
danger is that the next crisis will not be in a developing country like
Argentina but at the very heart of the global economy.
The other danger is that nobody has worked out what to do if and when
the oil runs out. This is an issue that has been ducked by policy makers
since the Yom Kippur war in 1973 brought to an end the long postwar
So there you have it. You can be an optimist and you can be a pessimist.
Or, like me, you can be an optimistic pessimist: things look good in the
long term, but there's plenty of choppy water to navigate first.
Larry Elliott is the Guardian's economics editor
Losing our religion
Will the church evolve to cope with modern beliefs, asks Stephen Bates
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian Predictions of the imminent demise of God - and His
churches - have been around for a very long time but have never quite
come to pass. Michael Ramsey - a famously saintly Archbishop of
Canterbury in the
1960s - once startled an audience of journalists when asked whether he
thought the church would survive into the 21st century by replying:
"Well, you know, that is not certain, not certain, not certain at all.
Not certain. It might easily, easily, it might easily, quite easily,
just fall away after 20 years or so. Just fall away."
Those remarks brought incredulity in a more church-attending and maybe
more complacent age 40 years ago, as Ramsey perhaps intended. But his
prediction has not been borne out, even though church-going has indeed
fallen away sharply in recent years. Periodically, statisticians draw up
projections showing that in 40 years no one will be attending church at
all, but that does not seem very likely either.
One prediction that is quite certain is that by 2020 - for believers -
God will still be in His heaven and still of crucial importance for
those who follow Him, of whatever faith. What is less clear is how many
of those followers there will be, which religious services they will be
attending and where and how central faith will still be to the life of
the nation. If the past few years have made anything clear, it is that
religious belief still matters to many people. It still divides
worshippers fundamentally and can still rouse a few of them to levels of
fanaticism at odds with what their faith purports to teach them -
especially when it is fuelled by grievances that have other roots and
which give them a sense of identity that belief alone cannot furnish.
Ecumenism still has a very long way to go.
Christians cling to several straws of hope for the future. They draw
comfort from the knowledge that, in a country where fewer than 7% of the
population attend church most weeks, two-thirds of the population
consistently tell researchers that they have a sense of spirituality, or
longing. That is sometimes ill-expressed - along the lines of David
Beckham telling an interviewer that he and Posh wanted their son
Brooklyn to be christened but weren't yet sure into what religion - but
is there to be tapped.
The Church of England has not been able to take advantage of that desire
for a spiritual side to life terribly well, despite its self-proclaimed
"decade of evangelism" in the 1990s, which ended with fewer people
attending church at the end than at the start. Nevertheless, the
established church is proud to maintain its presence in every parish in
the country, from the inner cities to the villages, from the great
cathedrals to the most modest, smallest parish churches.
The CofE is likely to remain the established church, too, despite its
declining attendances. Although its senior bishops may eventually lose
their privileged places in the House of Lords, no prime minister is
likely to relish giving up the powers of patronage that come from
appointing those bishops and a raft of other placements each year. That
is the real nature of establishment power nowadays.
However, the church is going to have to adapt to changing times if it
wants to keep its position at the heart of the state. The marital
relationship of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, who will inherit
the title of defender of the faith and receive an Anglican coronation,
will doubtless be finessed. When or if he chooses to marry Camilla
Parker Bowles, the Church of England will doubtless accommodate him,
even though she does not fulfil the conditions by which the church
agrees to remarry divorced people (she was instrumental in the break-up
of her former marriage). Someone will be prepared to conduct the
And if Prince William eventually falls for a Catholic girl, expect the
1701 Act of Settlement, which ensures that the throne is only occupied
by a Protestant, to be repealed in an afternoon. Otherwise, however, the
tangle of ancient laws and statutes cementing the church's established
status in place will probably remain, being too complicated, arcane and
time-consuming to unravel. Governments these days, even with enormous
majorities, have difficulty abolishing fox hunting, so establishing who
owns a cathedral or even who controls rights of access to granny's grave
will probably be beyond them.
It is always possible that the Church of England will unravel of its own
accord without secular political assistance, of course. Its divisions
over sex, particularly homosexuality, are deep and precarious, with an
intransigent conservative evangelical faction refusing to allow any
compromises in its view of Biblical injunctions on a matter that
directly affects a minority of the population. Many have been preparing
for an impending split over that issue with unseemly relish for a number
of years; the normal Anglican methods of dealing with division - fudge
and procrastination - are incapable of assuaging their anger.
Even if the gay issue were to be resolved, however, the church still
faces a further problem with the ordination of female bishops.
Irreconcilables, who never accepted that women could be ordained as
priests in the first place, will almost certainly demand their own
privileged, semi-autonomous status with their own bishops and hierarchy,
a church within a church. Women bishops seem inevitable sooner or later,
now women clergy fill one in seven of all paid ordained posts and nearly
half of those that are unpaid, but a few will not accept it.
The Church of England, then, is likely to be very different in 2020:
more fissiparous, with problems of internal authority and probably, as a
consequence, congregations in still further decline. "We have a special
relationship with the cultural life of our country and we must not fall
out of step with this if we are not to become absurd and incredible,"
contends the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. This may have a
hollow ring if the established church becomes increasingly divorced from
the attitudes of the society around it, to which it is supposed to
Britain's Catholics are likely to have similar problems. The current
crisis of falling numbers of ordinations - just 18 new priests this year
in England and Wales, compared with 230 in 1964 - may be exacerbated
further if the hierarchy is unable to surmount the authority and esteem
gap that has opened up across the western world in the wake of the
priestly child abuse scandal. The Vatican has seemed unable or unwilling
to address this catastrophic decline in trust.
Parishes are being amalgamated and, where once priests were recruited
from Ireland to fill the gaps, now they are coming from the developing
world, and sometimes have a poor command of English or an inadequate
understanding of British society. By 2020 there will, presumably, be a
new Pope but will the church have changed? Will its injunctions still be
being followed more in the breach than the observance by the Catholics
of the western world? If Rome has not allowed the ordination of women
priests by 2020, will the Catholic church have resolved its recruitment
crisis by at least permitting married male ones?
One faith that will almost certainly still be growing in 2020 is Islam,
if only because of the demographics of its adherents. Already Muslim
worshippers each week almost certainly outnumber Christian ones. The
great unanswered social question is, will second and third generation
Muslims shed their faith, as previous immigrant groups have done in the
process of assimilation, or will their faith reinforce and strengthen
their sense of social and cultural identity and isolation within an
alien, secular, nation? No question is more vital for British society.
Religion is far from dead.
Stephen Bates is the Guardian's religious affairs correspondent
The back page
How does it feel to live in a village that may not even exist by the
time 2020 rolls around?
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian The haze of mid-July hangs over Happisburgh. A great fug of
warmth smothers the tourists and motor cars flowing as sluggishly as
treacle towards the coast in search of some brisk maritime air. They
find it where wind whips off the North Sea, through the dunes, up Beach
Road, and over the cricket field to dance among the branches in the
Happisburgh is a village of some 850 people, sitting on the Norfolk
coast, 40 miles north-east of Norwich. There is a pub, a post office, a
primary school, and tentative claims to have housed Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle and Charles Dickens. There is even a resident ghost, who goes by
the rather gruesome moniker of the Happisburgh Torso. Rising up out of
the cluster of houses are St Mary's Church and, a little way out, a
red-and-white-striped lighthouse, each gazing staunchly out over the
sea: God and man levelling an ever watchful eye over the waves.
In the case of Happisburgh that watch is increasingly necessary. For
centuries the coast here has been steadily, silently eroding; the
sedimentary rock that formed 12,000 years ago is proving no match for
the might of the North Sea. In the past few years, the erosion has
gathered pace and it is now moving six times faster than the experts had
predicted - in just 15 years, 25 seafront homes have been lost and many
more teeter on the edge. A 2001 report claimed the parish church might
be likely to disappear within 20 years. By 2020, Happisburgh as we know
it may very well not exist. The government has already written it off.
It is a most forlorn tale, one exacerbated by bureaucracy, politics and
the lack of hard cash. In 1958 wooden revetments were built along the
beach in an effort to damp the force of the waves, reducing the rate of
erosion to a mere couple of inches a year. When the revetments were worn
away in the early 1990s, after 35 years of faithful service, the
district council removed them and began to speak of a concrete sea wall.
Funds, however, were not forthcoming. Since then, there have been no
replacement revetments, and the council has grown quiet on the subject
of the sea wall. Meanwhile the sea has continued to lick slowly but
steadily away at the coast, like a child with an enormous lollipop.
"It is a little worrying for a village which holds the backdoor key to
the Norfolk Broads," says Malcolm Kirby, a retired company director who
moved to Happisburgh five and a half years ago and now runs the Coastal
Concern Action Group. He says there are a number of reasons for
Happisburgh's terrible problems with erosion: an offshore granite reef
system, for one; the hulking great concrete sea walls further up the
coast, for another; and the aggregate dredging off Great Yarmouth,
where, in the 11 years between 1992 and 2002, over 114 million tonnes
were dredged from the area, making a hole in the coastline's natural
defence system. "There's nothing natural about this 3km gap where
Happisburgh sits," Kirby says. "Man has interrupted the natural
situation, so he has no choice but to continue that defence."
Meanwhile, the sea rises stealthily, tip-toeing up the coast when our
backs are turned, each year adding to the weight of water that is
sweeping away the rocks upon which Happisburgh stands. Global warming
brings the sea level up 3mm every 12 months, and the shifting of
tectonic plates adds a further 2mm, to make a net rise of 5mm a year.
"It doesn't sound very much," says Kirby. "But when you look at the
North Sea, the vastness of it, you can't imagine how much water is
contained in that 5mm rise. It's mind-bogglingly huge."
The next homes to succumb to the waves will be the stately Edwardian
houses on Beach Road. "And they can't be insured for landslip or heave,"
Kirby sighs. As the sea sneaks closer, the houses will be demolished and
the residents offered council accommodation, but there will be no
government compensation. The village suffers in other ways, too: should
the erosion continue at its current pace, tourism will inevitably
decline, and "those eight weeks of summer to put enough meat round the
bone" - as Kirby puts it - will grow thinner.
It is a strange truth that as our metropolises grow ever more corpulent,
our island's very seams seem to be fraying. Happisburgh's passing will
not only be the death of a village, but the loss of a sweet kernel of
British life. It is how we all like to think of the British seaside, a
Betjeman poem writ large: it is doors left unlocked, ice cream wafers on
the front and the soft, slow swish of the sea against the shore. This is
how we remember it, and this is how we wish it preserved, as in aspic.
But the cold truth is that when we go back, it may not be there.
If one wished to speculate on the future of Happisburgh, one need only
gaze out to sea, where the remains of most of the village of Eccles lie
beneath the waves. Legend holds that the village was swallowed up by the
sea during the 17th century: one storm saw the loss of more than 70
houses, and with them, 300 lives. Skeletons from the Eccles churchyard
still wash up on the shore.
In the cool, quiet north-eastern end of St Mary's churchyard, away from
the chatter and whooping of the tourists on the front, lies a mound,
said to be where 119 men from the first HMS Invincible are buried. The
ship set out from Yarmouth in 1801 as part of the Copenhagen fleet, but
floundered offshore, with the loss of 400 of the ship's 552 members of
crew. One hundred and nineteen were washed up on the coast at
Happisburgh. "Those 119 sailors are now many metres closer to the coast
than when they were buried," muses Kirby. "Are we going to let the sea
have them back?"
Who will be who
Ever wondered who will be holding down Britain's top jobs - from Labour
leader to Queen Vic licensee - in 2020? We canvassed expert opinion to
bring you the definitive list. Just don't hold us to it ... Interviews
by Adrian Butler
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian James Bond
Who Ioan Gruffudd Current job Actor, best known as Horatio Hornblower
for ITV Age now 30
Nominated by Nick James, editor of Sight & Sound magazine
Ioan Gruffudd made the leap from TV heartthrob to blockbuster star this
summer when he appeared as Lancelot in King Arthur. He's already shown
the versatility to go far, and Nick James believes he could become the
second Welsh James Bond, following in the footsteps of Timothy Dalton.
"He's got the right kind of mysterious look about him," says Dalton.
"What kind of Bond he will be depends on how he would play it, but he'll
be 46 by then, and will have more physical presence. I think he could be
Vice-chancellor, University of Cambridge
Who? Martha Lane Fox Current job Non-executive director,
Lastminute.com Age now 31
Nominated by Lee Elliot Major of the Times Higher Education Supplement
"In 2020, the Cambridge vice-chancellor - or rather chief executive -
will be preoccupied with marketing its global brand in an increasingly
cut-throat marketplace," says Edward Luce. "With dwindling state
funding, the challenge will be to maximise revenues from fee-paying
students - sorry, customers - star professors, spin-off companies,
alumni contributions and business sponsorship deals. Forget scholarly
credentials; what will be needed is a name and a brain that can
spearhead marketing campaigns - with an entrepreneurial zeal to match."
Who? Queen Elizabeth II Current job Monarch Age now 78
Nominated by James Whittaker, royal correspondent for the Daily Mirror
Prince Charles will still be waiting for his day on the throne come
2020, reckons James Whittaker, although the Prince of Wales will be 71
by the time the year arrives. Nor will Prince William, with middle age
approaching, be donning the crown. Instead, the Queen will have reached
her 94th year and be entering her 68th year as monarch. "I would think
it's unlikely that Prince Phillip will still be around then, but the
Queen will still be going strong," Whittaker says. "I hope she will,
anyway. She'll be a merry widow."
England football manager
Who? Leroy Rosenior Current job Torquay United manager Age now 40
Nominated by Hugh Sleight, editor of FourFourTwo magazine
Torquay United isn't famed as a breeding ground for football legends,
but the Gulls' current manager is tipped for the country's top football
job. "He could be the first black England manager," says Hugh Sleight.
"There are very very few black managers anywhere in English football,
and he's part of a new wave." Football culture will need to change for
that to happen, however, because black people still face discrimination
in non-playing roles. "You simply have to work a lot harder," Rosenior
said earlier this year. "It is a challenge. You have to change people's
Leader of the Labour party
Who? Hilary Benn Current job Secretary of state for international
development Age now 50
Nominated by Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune magazine
Hilary Benn will have only have been a cabinet minister for a year next
month. Since entering parliament in 1999, Tony's boy - the third of
successive generations of his family to reach cabinet level - has made a
rapid rise through the ranks of government and has attracted a number of
admirers. "His political dynasty, track record as a minister, and regard
in which the Labour party holds him would all make him a good choice,"
says Mark Seddon. "But he will have to reinvent himself, as by then the
Labour party will have moved to the left."
BBC director general
Who? Helen Boaden Current job Head of news, BBC Age now 48
Nominated by Conor Dignam, editor of Broadcast magazine
Helen Boaden took over from Richard Sambrook as head of BBC News in
July, charged with steering the corporation's news output back on course
after the trials of the post-Hutton period. She had previously been the
controller of Radio 4, which last year enjoyed a record-breaking
audience of 10 million - and which Boaden claimed had "reconnected with
the rock'n'roll generation". The DG in 2020 is "likely to be one of the
younger, high-profile women in the BBC's management", says Conor Dignam,
"and she's the most likely choice".
Who? Mark Ford Current job Poet, senior lecturer in English at
University College London Age now 44
Nominated by John Sutherland, professor of modern English literature at
University College London
"There's no question that the most promising poet of the age is Mark
Ford - he's the man of the moment," says the Guardian columnist John
Sutherland of his UCL colleague Mark Ford, who has authored two
acclaimed collections , Landlocked and Soft Sift, as well as a study of
the French writer Raymond Roussel. "He's come out of the New York
school, and is the British Ron Silliman. John Ashbery and Helen Vendler,
who is the kingmaker of British poets, have both anointed him."
Archbishop of Canterbury
Who? Canon Dr Judith Maltby Current job Chaplain of Corpus Christi
College, Oxford Age now 46
Nominated by Rev Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney, writer and lecturer in
philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford
An awful lot would have to change in the Church of England before Judith
Maltby could be enthroned in Canterbury: the church doesn't currently
allow women to be ordained as bishops. She would also be the first
American to head the worldwide Anglican communion. She has denied any
interest in becoming a bishop, but her admirers would be keen for her to
change her mind. "She's clever, she has a strong sense of social
justice, and we need women in positions of power in the CofE," says
Licensee of the Queen Vic, EastEnders
Who? Chloe Jackson Current job Infant Age now Three
Nominated by Kevin O'Sullivan, Daily Mirror features editor and soap fan
When Sonia Jackson gave birth to her daughter Chloe in October 2000, it
came as a huge shock to the residents of Albert Square - Sonia didn't
even know she was pregnant. Although Sonia and Martin Fowler, Chloe's
father, had her adopted, the laws of soap demand she return to the show.
"If I was an EastEnders scriptwriter I'd bring her back into the show
when she is grownup and put her behind the bar," says Kevin O'Sullivan.
He fears, though, that Peggy Mitchell, played by Barbara Windsor, might
well cling on to the licence at the Vic - "and by then she'll have had
about 400 facelifts".
Leader of the Conservative party
Who? David Cameron Current job Chief policy coordinator for the
Conservative party Age now 37
Nominated by Quentin Letts, Daily Mail parliamentary sketchwriter
David Cameron is at the centre of the "Notting Hill set", the group of
young Tories close to Michael Howard's heart, and is charged with
masterminding the party's election strategy. The old Etonian became an
MP in 2001, having previously been head of corporate affairs for
Carlton. "By 2020 he will be greying nicely around the temples, and will
look a bit like Richard Gere," says Quentin Letts. "His raffish good
looks will help, as Tory leaders always used to be good-looking -
Anthony Eden and Edward Heath were both pin-ups in their day."
Chief excecutive of Marks & Spencer
Who? Karan Bilimoria Current job chief executive of Cobra Beer Age now
Nominated by Adrian Chiles, presenter of BBC2's daily business
programme, Working Lunch
Recently it has been tricky predicting the top people at M&S from one
week to the next. But Karan Bilimoria could be a good bet for the
longer-term future. He is one of the UK's most successful businessmen,
and this year returns to his alma mater in the unlikely sounding post of
visiting entrepreneur at Cambridge University. "He took Cobra Beer from
nothing into one of the big beer brands," says Adrian Chiles. "He may
not be as passionate about the M&S brand, as it's not his own, but
having spent some time with him, he's my man."
Director of Tate
Who? A current student on the MA course in Curating Contemporary Art at
the Royal College of Art Age now Mid-20s
Nominated by Brian Sewell, art critic for the London Evening Standard
It will be little surprise that Brian Sewell, the scourge of so many
artistic institutions, is not wholly optimistic about the future of the
Tate, and believes it will be a long job to make it great. "My
inclination is to say the director would be somebody who comes out of
the curating course at the RCA. They would be about 25 at the moment; by
then they'd be about 40 or so," he says. "But anybody with half an ounce
of sense would clear out all the present reconstruction of the Tate
Modern building and do something sensible with it."
Governor of the Bank of England
Who? Shriti Vadera Current job Economic adviser to Gordon Brown Age now
She's not saying
Nominated by Evan Davis, BBC economics editor
Shriti Vadera, a publicity-shy former banker, is one of the key figures
behind the scenes in the Treasury, where she has been central to the
development of public-private partnerships. She's the main point of
contact between the Treasury and the City, and has impressed those she
has dealt with. "She combines financial expertise and political common
sense," says Evan Davis. "Her appointment would be greeted with gushing
enthusiasm everywhere, from City wine bars to high-street charity shops
- she is on Oxfam's council of trustees."
Archbishop of Westminster
Who? Right Rev Declan Lang Current job Bishop of Clifton Age now 54
Nominated by Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Tablet
Declan Lang was ordained as a priest in 1975 and has become a rising
star in Britain's Roman Catholic church. He was ordained a bishop in
2001 and has taken an active role in promoting Catholicism. He was one
of the leading figures in the recent launch of a new agency to promote
evangelisation. "The people of Bristol have found him to be an
imaginative, effective bishop," says Catherine Pepinster. "Being a
successful cardinal requires all kinds of skills - being a good
communicator, able administrator and inspiring pastoral leader. Lang has
shown he has these abilities."
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian One of the biggest challenges facing us is how to feed the
world. It can be done by 2020, but it means the rich world changing its
diet. Britons need to say goodbye to burgers and meat pies, because the
over-emphasis on meat in the western diet is one of the things that
stifles sustainable food production. Put simply, growing food for
animals to eat is a vastly inefficient way to use the land. Instead, we
should use more of the land to grow more food for human consumption and
eat less meat. If we give over more land to growing food and increase
yields, we can produce enough food even for the increased populations of
In 1999 the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency produced a
sustainable diet (see below). It looked at the implications of reducing
the environmental impact of the farming and food production system, and
produced a diet that, if implemented, would reduce energy consumption in
food production by 30%, reduce artificial fertiliser use by between 20%
and 40%, and reduce the acreage needed to produce food.
A weekly diet that would mean enough food for the whole planet
Dried legumes 350g Root vegetables 700g Cereals 315g Potatoes 1,890g
Bread 1,400g Vegetables 1,360g Fruit 1,225g Fish 210g
Margarine/butter/oil 350g Milk products 2,100g Snacks/sweets 980g Soft
drinks 560g Cheese 140g Eggs 70g Meat/poultry 245g
Wireless living will have transformed our lives by 2020, says David Adam
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian Some people look to the future and see the rise of the
machines. Others wonder how their machines will ever make them rich. In
1943, for example, the founder of IBM, Thomas Watson, was asked how he
viewed the future of technology. His response, it is said, was that
there would one day be a worldwide market "for maybe five computers". It
is not clear whether Watson actually made such a rash statement - and if
he did, his apparent lack of vision clearly did his emerging business no
harm - but even if the story is untrue, he would surely be astonished at
our reliance on his electronic tabulating machines.
HG Wells, by contrast, would probably be a little surprised by how
backward we are when it comes to getting around. In 1901 he envisaged
public transport taking the form of a series of parallel moving
walkways, each a little faster than the previous one. Commuters would
step from walkway to walkway in order to reach their destinations.
Predictions of technological advance have always emphasised the
headline-grabbing pipedreams - robot housemaids to lift us out of
domestic drudgery, for example - and we still boast of the potential of
new developments before we know how to unlock it. Stem cell technology
and quantum computers, for example, remain no more than an alluring
promise. We can predict everything, after all, except the future.
The sticking point in technological development is often not the
technical wherewithal but the financial will. "People can have a base on
the moon now if they are willing to pay for it," says Jim Lewis,
director of technology policy at the US Centre for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. "It's not clear to me
that people want to, but we could do it."
As Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in California,
puts it: "What defines each decade is not a technology's invention, but
rather a dramatic shift in price and performance that triggers a sudden
burst in diffusion from lab to marketplace." Lunar accommodation is
still at the pricey end of the market - and that is unlikely to change
So what will change? The answer lies in the way information technology
will transform our day-to-day lives. "The big trends that are going to
change things are the availability of cheap sensors that provide digital
data, cheap computing power and ubiquitous connectivity - the ability to
connect to networks," Lewis says. "Then part of what I think people will
do over the next decade is start to look for things they can automate,
so you won't have to do them any more." In other words, by 2020
everything large enough to carry a microchip probably will, and from
there the possibilities are endless.
We could have fridges that can read the use-by date on the milk carton
and order another litre before the current one goes off. We could be
sent gas bills that include an electronic reminder to pay them. We could
do our laundry in washing machines that contact service engineers when
their bearings wear down, and that automatically arrange a visit after
finding a window in your electronic organiser. "You won't have to worry
about whether you took your medicine," says Lewis. "The medicine jar
will know when it was last opened and how much its weight went down."
Even low-value items such as household bricks could be fitted with
individual electronic identifiers, allowing an architect or surveyor to
walk round a half-finished school or hospital and see an image of the
building skeleton pop up instantly on their ultra-thin laptop.
The driver of this revolution will be the dreaded radio frequency
identification (RFID) chip, the use of which to guard easily pocketed
items such as razor blades against shoplifters has already attracted the
attention of privacy groups in the UK. The chips, which can be as small
as a grain of dust, communicate with detectors several metres away and
transmit information, ranging from unique serial numbers to more complex
product details. There are concerns they could be used as covert
surveillance devices. Anyone with a detector could read any active chip
in their vicinity, raising the possibility that embedded tags in
clothing could be used to trigger customised adverts on nearby
billboards, or that people could be tracked as they move.
"There is a loss of privacy that is going to be very difficult for
people and we haven't figured out how to deal with that," Lewis says.
"But if you explain what is does, how much information it provides and
where it goes - and that the trade-off is that you don't have to wait as
long in line at the supermarket - then people will take the trade-off.
With the right rules and regulations this sort of stuff should be more
Some of the trade-offs do seem appealing. How about RFID chips in your
clothes that automatically programme your phone to different settings,
depending on whether you are in your work or casual clothing? No more
work calls in the pub, and no more football text messages in the middle
of business meetings.
By 2020, it is even possible that such devices will be able to
communicate in ways vastly more sophisticated than the clumsy radio
signals of today's wireless devices: in June this year the computer
giant Microsoft was awarded a patent to transmit data by exploiting the
electrical conductivity of human skin. Microsoft envisages using skin's
conductive properties to link a host of electronic devices around the
body, from pagers and personal data assistants (PDAs) to mobile phones
and microphones. According to the patent, the technology could usher in
a new class of portable and wearable electronic devices, such as
earrings that deliver sounds sent from a phone worn on the belt, or
special spectacles with screens that flash up images and video footage.
Linking electronic devices raises other possibilities. Gadget lovers
could use a single keypad to operate their phone, PDA and MP3 music
player, or combine the output of their watch, pager and radio into a
single speaker - assuming watches, pagers and radios still exist in
their current form.
It is certain that by 2020 a whole range of technologies will be on
stream to make our daily lives simpler. One of the first could be a
handheld "electronic paper" device, on to which books and the ultimate
compact newspapers could be downloaded. Sony unveiled the latest and
best prototype earlier this year in Japan, and as the price tag falls
(it currently costs £220), so demand will rise. Others are working on
electronic paper that, just like the real thing, can be rolled up and
stuffed into a pocket. But as everyone who still prints their emails -
to the dismay of acolytes of the paperless office - will swear, paper is
a hard thing to make redundant.
Other electronic boxes of tricks will be able to monitor our health. By
2020, we could have earrings able to read our pulse rates and bracelet
monitors that analyse the composition of your sweat. Medical information
would be sent through the skin to a central chip, which would be able to
transmit all the necessary information to your doctor, back through the
skin, when you shake hands with them at your appointment. Your updated
medical history could be on the doctor's computer before you had even
The rise and rise of RFID chips raises a new environmental problem: data
pollution. "When you walk down the street with your PDA, cellphone and
laptop they will be bombarded with information. There will be all this
noise out there and controlling this noise will be one of the problems
we haven't thought about," Lewis says.
Another will be the computing power needed to handle the deluge of
information streaming from every angle. "Hopefully one of the things
that will change over the next 15 years is that we'll have much better
software that will be much easier to use, much more transparent and will
fail less often," he adds.
One of the first areas of our lives likely to be affected by the coming
information saturation will be transport, specifically the car. As the
number of cars on the roads continues to rise, many believe the current
system - in which each individual vehicle effectively goes where it
pleases - is simply unsustainable.
"One reason why we have these enormous pile-ups and bumper-to-bumper
gridlocks is because everybody is expressing their free will to go where
they want, when they want to," says Stephen Millet, the "thought leader"
and manager of technology forecasts at Battelle, a US company that
publishes regular reviews of developing strategic technologies. "I think
what we're moving towards is every time we leave our garage we're going
to file a driving plan to some central system, which will send back a
message saying go ahead or don't go that way, it's all jammed up."
Intelligent highways could pass back information on driving conditions,
traffic density and roadworks to the master system, which would reduce
speed limits or set up diversions accordingly. Speeding could even be
made impossible - trials of "smart" GPS tracking satellite systems that
prevent the car going over the limit for a particular stretch of road
are already under way.
"I think if we had better information and better coordination then we
could really go a long way to relieving gridlock," Millet says. What
free driving we do should get easier - nobody was surprised when GPS
navigation technology filtered down from luxury models to production
cars; expect the same to happen with everything from smart cruise
control, which uses radar to match the speed of the car in front, to
infrared night-vision displays on windscreens.
"The big problem we'll run into is that as we put more computers and
more electronics in the cars then where is the electricity going to come
from?" Millet says. "I think we'll see fuel cells come on board to
generate electricity because the alternator cannot bear the demand we'll
be putting on it."
Fuel cells - hi-tech batteries that draw power from a simple chemical
reaction between fuel and air - could replace the current electric
batteries found inside the increasingly popular hybrid cars. However,
barring an extraordinary rise in oil prices, it's unlikely that anything
will arrive by 2020 to seriously challenge the dominance of the internal
Ignition keys could be consigned to a museum, however, and there is good
news for the generation that grew up watching Knight Rider.
"Voice-pattern recognition is coming," Millet says. "It's been slower
than we thought but this business of being able to talk to your computer
is definitely possible within 20 years. People are just going to have to
be careful about what they say." And although expensive prototypes
capable of crossing water and even taking to the skies have already been
developed, the future of the automobile is undoubtedly a little more
down to earth.
Just don't expect technology to have delivered that sight beloved of
science fiction movies: cars flying down the street, hovering in the air
next to aerial doors. "We've looked at flying cars and I'm very
sceptical," Millet says. "Having helicopters or flying cars is an
enormous control problem and we have so much further we can go to
improve land transportation. I think that will remain the preferred
And what of robots? Will the current crop of hi-tech vacuum cleaners,
expensive electronic pets and clumsy humanoids evolve into anything you
would actually want to have around the house for more than novelty
"Do we really want that?" says Paul Newman, a robotics expert at Oxford
University. "If I built a robot to do the dishes and it got it right 98%
of the time then I'd be pretty pleased with it because it's way beyond
what we can do now. But if it broke two out of 100 dishes then you would
throw it out after a month."
We are still a long way from developing robots that can interact with
humans on any meaningful level, because their artificial intelligence
brains simply cannot cope with change and unpredictable events - or
anything they are not programmed to respond to. "That's why robots do so
well in car factories because you can engineer a situation to be
absolutely predictable," explains Newman.
Where robots will definitely make strides by 2020 is in places where
sending a person would be hazardous, costly or impossible: there is
already talk of sending a robot to fix the Hubble space telescope later
this decade; by 2020 fleets of underwater robots could patrol the
oceans, surfacing regularly to beam back environmental data on
temperature, acidity and salinity. "Then if we had a machine that was
only 70% successful that's a whole lot better because previously we
couldn't do it in the first place," Newman says.
But to go beyond the performance of repetitive data-gathering or
maintenance tasks, robots must be able to answer the simple question:
where am I? "Fundamentally it's just very difficult to get a robot to
tell the difference between a picture of a tree and real tree," Newman
Still, great advances in artificial intelligence by 2020 cannot be ruled
out - although they would be dependent on the kinds of things we cannot
predict. "You're talking about the Isaac Newton of AI coming along,"
Newman says. "It could happen next month - someone could produce
something and we all say, 'Of course, why didn't we think of that?'"
The same is true in other fields, too. "If we could find different ways
to create energy or lift things off the ground, that would be really
helpful," says Lewis at the CSIS. "That's the kind of breakthrough that
doesn't appear to be on the horizon, but if someone locks on to
something then someday we might see something very different emerge.
That's what I would look for."
As speculative peeks into the future go, that's the closest you will get
to a hot tip. Just remember that even HG Wells got the future wrong.
Building a new Briton
By 2020 our national identity will have been reconfigured, says Tom
Bentley, and Britishness will have a new meaning
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian Baked beans. Big Ben. The blitz. Bobby Moore. Bannockburn.
Some symbols of our identity appear as fixed cultural points in a
changing landscape. Others crystallise particular moments, helping us
define exactly who we are and how we are seen.
The current British self-image largely rests on images of expansionism
and ingenuity. The idea of "overcoming the odds" runs deeply through our
histories of ourselves. But like our faces as we age, our cultural
identity can change imperceptibly. Suddenly, a reflection seen from a
new angle shows an accumulation of tiny changes that significantly
alters the overall appearance.
Such reinterpretations of national identity are often triggered by an
unexpected event: the abdication crisis of 1936; the blitz; Suez; the
intervention of the International Monetary Fund in 1976; the 1984
miners' strike; the death of Diana - all had an impact on our national
sense of self. So who might we be in 2020? Which of the myriad small
changes currently taking place will define us? Which activities and
institutions will dominate our sense of ourselves?
One way to gauge the nature of the changes the nation is likely to
undergo by 2020 is to look back the same distance in time. In 1988
EastEnders was Britain's most popular soap opera and Thatcherism was in
its high summer. The major privatisations were behind us, but the poll
tax was only just beginning to glimmer. House prices were booming but
the stock market had crashed. Mobile phones were a novelty item and the
second summer of love was in full swing in Manchester's clubland.
Rumours about Charles and Diana's marriage troubles were beginning to
spread. Nobody had uttered the words "New Labour" in public and
conventional wisdom saw race riots as a thing of the past. The Berlin
Wall stood intact.
Much of that seems reassuringly familiar, but there have also been
abrupt changes. The television programme that prompts office
conversation is a real-life soap opera, with people locked in a house
for three months. A CND supporter of the 80s is prime minister - and led
us to war. The poll tax is a distant memory and that the nature of the
monarchy has changed is beyond doubt, despite the leadership of the Firm
remaining in place. The utterly unexpected can therefore materialise
alongside the easily predictable. This will remain true as we go forward
We make sense of change partly by falling back on shared national or
cultural characteristics: a psychological dependence on a successful
past; confidence in one's own tolerance and sense of fair play; the
maintenance of a particular family or religious tradition; a belief in
one's own formative beliefs and values as radical, even once the
comfortable trappings of middle age have been bought and paid for. But
all these types of self-image will be tested by the way our society
changes over the next generation. The question is whether we can respond
in ways which strengthen or diminish them.
The traditional analysis holds that the story of Britain over the past
half-century is one of decline. Despite rising wealth, social freedoms
and political projects dedicated to national renewal, we have struggled
to overcome the pervasive decay. Our grand institutions - the trade
unions, the church, the monarchy - are all in retreat. Britons'
willingness to make an emotional or political investment in those
external institutions has fallen dramatically. The number of people
prepared to say they have great confidence in the legal system, the
church, the civil service or parliament has more than halved since the
early 1980s, from a healthy majority to a creaking minority. But asked
who they trust to tell the truth, the British are more likely than 20
years ago to identify teachers, doctors, professors and newsreaders, and
overall levels of trust appear not to have declined catastrophically,
apart from trust in politicians.
Although the erosion of traditional social organisations has not
diminished our sociability, the onward march of individualism - either
through choice or fate - is still probably the major force shaping our
society. British society in 2020 will be significantly older than today,
which will further that process of individualisation. Those over 65 will
be a third as many again as those of working age, as opposed to a
quarter as many again today. The combination of the postwar baby boom,
increased life expectancy and declining fertility rates will mean a
million more people over 65 than under 16. As a result we will spend
twice as much money on health and long-term care.
Intertwined with ageing is the shrinking size of our households, so that
by 2020 about a third of us will be living alone, and as many as
2 million older people may have no regular contact with friends or
family. These new household structures will also drive suburbanisation,
as more people spill into the space between the inner-city
neighbourhoods and the rural villages.
How we communicate will help determine who we are - a transformation
that has already begun with the mobile phone culture. Mobiles were
barely a feature of life in 1988, but a recent survey found that 46% of
young British adults described the loss of their phone as akin to
bereavement. Phones are just one way we tell the world about ourselves.
We can already construct historical and family narratives from the
internet, create newsgroups and meet strangers with shared interests.
We design our bodies in gyms and tattoo studios; by 2020 we could be
doing so in the genetics lab and the prosthetic workshop. The use of
diet and drugs to enhance performance will spread from elite sport and
start a new mass debate about how to boost intelligence and educational
achievement. So the cultural pressure to define and design ourselves
will only grow between now and 2020. We cannot know how we will respond
to those choices, but their very existence will make discussion of human
nature and identity central to our self-perception.
The changes in society will pit personal identity against the more
traditional markers of collective belonging - the belief systems and
rituals underpinning everything from politics and the church to
television viewing and football supporting. People will still care about
these activities, but they will be much less likely to organize their
own lives around fixed institutional routines.
Television over the past 50 years has reinforced our common identity and
culture by amplifying shared social events. We would remember key TV
moments, such as Gazza crying or Angela Rippon on Morecambe and Wise,
and talk about them the next day. But the same forces that are
fragmenting our cultural loyalties are at work on television, too.
Already, about 60% of households have multichannel TV and the internet,
and by 2020 the model of terrestrial broadcasting most of us grew up
with will be a dusty memory.
Given all this, the central question is: will the slow collapse of
institutions that have been vehicles for our shared identity mean the
collapse of the identity itself? The answer is that we should not be too
afraid, for our essential cultural characteristic as Britons is,
arguably, not the way we cling to past verities but the way we change
with the cultural tides. A mixture of pragmatism and self-preservation
has blended British culture and politics into new forms many times over
the centuries. It is why Chaucer's 14th-century English would be
unrecognisable to today's English speaker, and probably why English is
now the global business language.
This quality of pragmatism is experienced as tradition by many Britons,
but as arrogance and ingenuity in equal measure by much of the rest of
the world. It has enabled us to reinvent ourselves by stealth while
maintaining a pose of continuity. In working out how this pattern might
unfold over the next 16 years, three features of the landscape are
The first is hybrid culture, which is the art of mixing different
elements to create a coherent whole - that is the logic by which ours
was identified as a "mongrel nation" in Philip Dodd's 1995 Demos essay
The Battle Over Britain. The second area is the rise of the city-region
as a source of economic dynamism and a vehicle for identity. While
regional government may continue to stutter, regional identities are
strengthening. Third comes Britain's cultural relationship with the rest
of the world; as power and wealth swing east towards Asia, this will
develop into a form of reverse colonialism.
This year's film of King Arthur self-consciously relocated the familiar
legend to a different period - the end of the Roman occupation of
Britain. If you forget the acting, the film is a masterclass in the art
of myth-making through breeding hybrids. It purports to document the
birth of a Greater Britain and the rise of its English icon, Arthur. The
plot races through imperial withdrawal, Saxon invasion, Celtic
resistance, the compassionate defence of women and children, an
embryonic theory of equality through free will, military triumph against
the odds, and romance, climaxing in intermarriage and the birth of a new
British dynasty. Not bad for two hours, especially given the number of
battles the film-makers had to slot in. King Arthur both portrays and
typifies the art of cultural mixing that has made up the British
identity. Our sense of what it means to be British has evolved from
successive waves of settlement, conquest, intermingling, trade and
exchange. One way in which we have done this is to construct
institutions - the monarchy, armed forces, the civil service, the
British Museum, the BBC - that have all enabled successful mixing by
establishing shared symbols and traditions. Throughout the waves of
change, however, those institutions - with their own distinct culture -
have maintained a serene view that Britain exports civilisation through
commonsense values and organisational methods.
Helpful though it has been, that view does not match the reality. From
baked beans to gin and tonic, from Birmingham balti to tea with milk,
our trademark foods are the result of combining foreign cultural
practices with local tastes. My great-grandfather entered family history
in the 1940s on visiting a Chinese restaurant, inspecting the menu and
declaring, "I can't deal with any of this foreign nonsense; bring me a
cup of tea." Hybridity has always been part of our lives, whether we
realised it or not.
Hybrid culture will have a special claim on the next generation,
precisely because it holds the greatest cultural dynamism and energy. As
tradition declines, we are left to form our identities while
increasingly exposed, by global communications, travel and trade, to a
much wider range of cultural influences and pressures. Amid an ageing
population, for example, the fastest-growing ethnic category in Britain
is "black - mixed race". Half the people in this group are under 16,
while just 8% are over 45. The number of people from ethnic minorities
grew by half during the 1990s, from less than 5% to almost
8% of the population.
Film, television and literature are increasingly fascinated by what
happens when cultures connect, collide and combine. From East is East
and Goodness Gracious Me to Massive Attack and Mike Skinner, from Monica
Ali to Ms Dynamite, Salman Rushdie to Irvine Welsh, our most potent
pieces of culture emerge from the ability to meld the disparate elements
at work in Britain into a coherent but edgy whole. This will spread from
the arts into the wider culture. The brokers of our society will
increasingly be those who can interpret and navigate such differences.
Just as our culture evolves new hybrids, so will our politics.
Politicians are increasingly absorbed in trying to handle the conflicts
generated by cultural collision, from the US-EU split over Iraq to
community division in Bradford and Burnley. However, despite the
accelerating demographic trends, by 2020 it is unlikely that more than
15% of the whole British population will come from ethnic minority
backgrounds. Race should not be the dominant issue of our political
debate, but it will still be a trigger for wider debates about shared
culture, as it is now.
Perhaps most intriguing are the newly blended national cultures of
Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland, the long wait for a
constitutional settlement has been immediately followed by a wave of
anti-political disillusionment. A recent survey found that only 2-3% of
voters considered the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to have
serious influence over their lives. One of Scotland's main newspapers
refused to endorse any party in the most recent Scottish parliamentary
elections, an extraordinary event for so new a system. Yet as a current
Demos project on Scotland in 2020 has found, there is strong commitment
to creating a distinctive, creative and optimistic Scottish political
identity that can circumvent dependence on political institutions.
New, flexible governing arrangements will offer scaffolding to hybrid
identities. It is no coincidence that this is happening at sub-national
level. In Northern Ireland, the political rules are actually designed to
allow two opposing nationalist cultures to coexist peacefully. In
England the renaissance of city-regions is obscured by London's impact
as a city-state and its tendency to suck in skills and wealth from
surrounding areas. But, partly driven by economics, the cultural
character and influence of major British cities are changing.
The shape of these cities, from housing to neighbourhoods to transport
links, was formed around the industries that provided most jobs: steel
in Sheffield, the Liverpool docks, shipbuilding in Glasgow,
chocolate-making in Birmingham and so on. Now they are being transformed
by new patterns of wealth arising from other kinds of work: law,
finance, media, software, science. Cultural activities, symbols and
buildings play a newly important part in the shaping of city centres.
"Doughnut" structures of wealth and travel - whereby money concentrates
in city centres by day and travels into outer suburbs, new towns and
commuter villages by night - are entrenching poverty at the neglected
edges of cities. But the city-regions offer new symbols and forms of
In the wider world, the global shift of economic, cultural and
technological power eastwards will have a profound influence. China's
rise will challenge the assumptions underpinning layers of our identity
- from western interpretations of democracy to philosophies of class and
well-being. But the economic dynamism of Asian nations will create a new
need for us to compete for their attention, and to succeed in supplying
services and know-how to them, rather than simply competing against them
for jobs and investment. In a generation's time our wealth will be
drawn, as it was in past eras, from our place within global networks of
In navigating this new world, Britain has a great opportunity. Our
colonial legacy ought to prompt mutual understanding and empathy with
other cultures and nations, not just resentment at decline of our power
or the injustices of past British rule. Much of the most important
cultural production in English now arises from the cultures of the
commonwealth, from places that were dominated and then abandoned by
British institutions and have generated their own hybrid identities. By
2020 we will need to have turned our past to our advantage and engaged
with our former empire again - this time as collaborator, rather than
But doing this requires us to overcome our equally strong tendency
towards insularity, to engage more confidently with the unfamiliar, and
to understand cultural difference better. Too often, a British
(and especially English) attitude to the world has rested on the
aggressive assertion of "common sense" - a tactic still used by Britons
of all classes.
In turn, our ability to engage properly with the world may rest on our
success in finding new, popular vehicles for shared identity within
Britain. Our capacity for creating hybrid identities from disparate
ingredients is beyond dispute. But our success in doing so again by
2020 is not assured. It is perfectly plausible to see the splintering of
identity and allegiance into many different cultural tribes; some
socially conservative, insular and resentful, some hedonistically
self-absorbed, some cosmopolitan but detached from the everyday life of
most others. The diminishing influence of our institutions could leave
no one with the power to mediate successfully between these mutually
So it would be too easy to conclude that we can all become naturally
confident cosmopolitans. In a survey last year 77% of those polled said
different cultures in Britain coexist rather than connect with each
other. At the same time, however, 80% of the same survey thought we
could not build a new British society without interacting with different
Learning to live in a new society - especially one reflecting cultures
profoundly different from the one you were born into - is a painful
process, and for many people the incentives to make the effort are weak.
But there are some grounds for hope. A study last year by Richard
Florida, the prophet of the "creative class" in North America, found
that tolerance and respect for difference in Britain are comparatively
high in Britain compared to other European societies. There is clear
evidence that people's interest in political issues and social fairness
remains strong, even though they are less likely to engage through
Who, then, will the new Briton be in 2020? Imagine a millennium baby,
born in 2000, approaching 20 years old. She will have a life expectancy
of 90 and will be trying to imagine a working life of at least 50 years.
Her job prospects will depend heavily on her educational credentials,
and she will expect at least five more years of formal training.
Specialist skills, particularly ones that can be used creatively, will
determine her earning power. She is already likely to be accumulating
big debts in order to finance her pathway towards this specialist skill.
Our young woman's network of friends and family will be crucially
important to her; more so than her ethnic or national identity. That
will continue a trend already in process: a study in the mid-90s found
that most people saw their own values, principles and friends as being
more important to their own identity than being a Briton; in the 2001
census, only 46% of people described themselves as British. This woman's
informal network, though she may not yet know it, will have a profound
influence on her future opportunities and life chances, and may play the
most direct role in how far she travels in later life.
The likelihood is that her social values will be more liberal even than
today's typical young people, and that economic liberalism will largely
look like common sense. Some specific "ethical" issue - maybe climate
change or human rights or stem cell research - will dominate her
political sense, but if she has joined a political party she will be
among a tiny minority.
Her knowledge of the detail of British history and sense of allegiance
to a "national" culture will be significantly weaker than it might be
today, but her critical abilities - communication, and the ability to
access and investigate different forms of culture - are likely to be
much sharper. She will customise her use of the dizzying array of media
services with a degree of discrimination and fluency we would find
That sense of discernment might apply equally to her sense of identity,
which will be moulded from family, neighbourhood and city. She might be
a devout Christian, though she would be slightly more likely to be a
practising Muslim. Either way, if it is a strong and explicit part of
her identity, she may well have discovered a faith for herself and opted
to join a specific community rather than simply inheriting a general
By 2020 it is unlikely that our young adults will be "citizens of the
world" in any full-blooded sense that really banishes British identity.
Although a global outlook is increasingly common, it is hard to see how
anyone could find forms of identity strong enough to channel allegiance
in any meaningful way. But the attachments we form to particular
organisations, causes or routines are the institutional expression of
our values. If we take the globally connected outlook our millennium
child will have, we can see that exclusively national institutions will
have begun to overlap and blur with other layers of identity: time spent
studying at European universities, working with American NGOs or living
in cities to which she feels especially drawn.
The strongest desire among younger generations in western societies is
to shape their lives in accordance with their own values. That is not
mindless hedonism or historical amnesia, but in 2020 we will still need
strong institutional attachments. A healthy, durable collective identity
will not flourish without them. But the most successful institutions of
2020 could be anything: colleges or campuses, new kinds of cooperative,
online communities, sports clubs, issue-based campaigns or neighbourhood
associations. They could thrive in a world where the Church of England,
the civil service, the broadsheet newspaper or the BBC have ceased to
exist. But whatever form they take, and whatever myths and symbols they
project, theirs will be the task of negotiating the mix of foreign and
familiar on which Britain has always been based.
Tom Bentley is the director of the Demos thinktank (
A foreign country
By 2020, Britain's green and pleasant land will also be one of palm
trees and pomegranates. But watch out for the mosquitoes, warns Alok Jha
Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian Very soon, you will be able to buy British figs in your
supermarket. Lines of palm trees will sway on the south coast. Devon and
Cornwall will begin to resemble the Azores, with blankets of ferns and
evergreen trees crowding the countryside. Migrating birds will stay in
the country for longer. And the seasons will become even more blurred.
Unfortunately, pests will also be on the increase. The mosquitoes so
common in the sticky climes of southern Europe will start to invade
Britain, too; rats and cockroaches will proliferate as we become
increasingly urban and temperatures rise enough for them to survive the
relatively mild winters.
Environmental futurology is an inexact science. But it is certain our
climate is changing. The effects of this change over the next 16 years
will be subtle. If the predictions are correct (and the Gulf Stream
stays where it is), the trend towards wetter winters and hotter, drier
summers will continue. Summer droughts will become more commonplace and
some of the southern parts of England (particularly Essex) will be
subject to frequent flooding. Indeed, some parts of the county at the
mouth of the Thames will probably become uninhabitable - because the
homes there will be uninsurable.
While the physical landscape of Britain undergoes these changes, the
country's flora and fauna will see a much more subtle, often
unnoticeable, alteration. Look out of your window and you will probably
see leaves turning red and golden well before the supposed start of
autumn. Frogspawn, usually an indicator of the start of spring, has been
spotted in ponds on the south coast of England before Christmas. And
some flowers - snowdrops, for example - have started to bloom at the
height of winter.
Tim Sparks, an environmental scientist at the Centre for Ecology and
Hydrology at Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire, says his studies in phenology
- an intricate science that involves recording the exact times during a
year that things happen in the natural world - show that the blurring
between the beginnings and ends of the seasons will only get worse. "We
have some records going back to the 18th century - there's been a lot of
phenological change, particularly in the last 20 to 30 years," he says.
"As a rough rule of thumb, we've seen spring events advance by some
three weeks over the last 50 years. Between now and 2020, we may well
see a similar advance in phenology if the country warms as predicted."
The occasional sightings of snowdrops and frogspawn before the end of
the year will become much more common.
There is also evidence that trees are starting to break bud much
earlier. Dr Simon Leather, an ecologist at Imperial College London,
studies trees. "I've seen big changes in timing of bud burst - when the
leaves start to come out," he says. "And that's a temperature effect."
Sycamore and bird cherry trees are classic examples.
These changes in the seasons are not just a scientific curiosity. Many
animals rely on their sources of food - plants, for example - being
ready to eat exactly when they are needed. At the start of spring when
there are plenty of young around, for example.
"We're probably already going to see some evidence of a mismatch between
different bits of the natural world working together," says Julian
Hughes, the head of species conservation at the RSPB. "You can imagine
that if spring [bird] migrants start arriving from Africa earlier than
they do at the moment, they would therefore arrive before quite a lot of
the food does, in terms of emerging insects. Even for common things like
blue tits and great tits, if the caterpillar hatches emerge at a
different time from when the broods are hatching, then clearly it's
going to have a problem. We might also be starting to see some evidence
The fractionally warmer weather will also ensure that new types of plant
will thrive in Britain. "You have to recognise that this is a country of
gardeners, and what is more and more in fashion now is that we have
exotic plants in the gardens," says Dr Johannes Vogel, the keeper of
botany at the Natural History Museum. "And more and more are going to
escape and establish in the wild."
Plants such as laurel - certainly not hardy enough to be a native of
these shores - have already been identified as having established
themselves from a gardener's seeds in the south-west of England. The
last time laurel grew in Britain was literally in another age - well
before the last ice age, in fact.
"We will get more and more of these non-hardy plants, the ones which
hard winters would normally knock back," says Vogel.
Rhododendron is growing wild in north Wales - one of many plants for
which the conditions just keep getting better. "There's undoubtedly
going to be other species which are not quite in their optimal climate
at the moment, but if you raise it by a few degrees in the summer and
make the winters milder, then they might be and they may take off," says
Sparks. Palm trees already manage to survive on the south coast of
England and it is only a matter of time before they, too, are thriving
The warm weather will not just affect the "exotic" plants introduced by
gardeners. "At the moment about 31% of people cut their grass in the
winter in the south-west of Britain and 8% in Scotland. The numbers in
both are likely to increase - many more people are likely to be cutting
the grass in winter because it will continue to grow," says Sparks.
If climate change will have the biggest effect on our changing wildlife,
what we do with the land will also have an impact. Plans to build
thousands of houses, for example, are sure to change the shape of the
countryside. "We're going to see a lot more concrete and asphalt in the
south, which is going to have major impacts on a lot of wildlife," says
Leather. And increased urbanisation will mean cities exert a stronger
"heat island" effect. London is a few degrees warmer than its
surroundings, for example, and the bigger it grows, the greater the
effect of the heat island. In some German cities, warmer conditions have
led to the establishment of termite colonies. Devon has already had
these unwelcome visitors and it could be London next. Anyone in
buildings with structural timbers should watch out.
More houses also means more household waste. "We're going to get more
flies around," says Leather. "We're going to get the sorts of things
that are associated with sticky climates - we have mosquitoes but what
we may get are some of the mosquitoes that can transmit some of the
nasty things." In short, that could mean malaria (see panel).
But there is good news. The increased flooding due in the south of
England thanks to climate change has the potential to cause the birth of
new wetlands and marshlands. The government is currently scratching its
head on what to do about people living in the flood plains (the options
include moving them out or installing flood barriers). If it decides to
allow the waters to run and move the people out, wildlife will benefit.
Then, says Vogel, we will once more have extensive river ecosystems. "If
you let the rivers meander and don't stem them and don't try to protect
houses from flooding, you will get superb wildlife areas."
Historically, farming has been one of the great drivers of countryside
change, and that will continue. "The focus of agriculture since the war
has been to maximise productivity," says Dr Matthew Thomas, an
agricultural ecologist at Imperial College. "One of the changes that's
happening in farming at the moment is an increased awareness of managing
the landscape, not just for goals of productivity but to see how one can
balance productivity with benefits for wider society and the
One big contributor to that process currently is reform of the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP). "What this means is that farmers won't get
subsidised for production per se - subsidies will be on the basis of
production based on market forces," says Professor Richard Ellis, the
head of the school of agricultural policy and development at Reading
"You could see changes in the incentives to grow certain crops," adds
Thomas. "You could see a shift to new energy crops, for instance, or
fibre crops or pharmaceutical crops. Very large, uniformly managed
environments or landscapes can be maintained relatively profitably.
Smaller, individual farmers might find it more difficult to respond to
some of these changes." Some land will simply drop out of production.
The hills of Wales, the Pennines and Scotland, for example, are already
difficult to eke a living from. After CAP reform the farmers who work
them may be forced to give up.
And how will the changes in farming affect our wildlife? "The extent to
which those are going to impact on individual species is, in many cases,
rather unclear," says Thomas. "Many species of invertebrate have scope
and capacity to shift their ranges and shift with the changing landscape
and changes in land use." How we perceive our countryside will also
affect how we allow it to change. "There could be considerable pressure
to maintain the classic patchwork landscape of hedgerows and fields and
a few cows or sheep dotted around, because that's what society wants
from the landscape and that's what it perceives as a healthy and vibrant
landscape," says Thomas.
But what people want from an aesthetic point of view may go against what
is actually best for conservation. "Coppice woodland is better on a
rotational basis for biodiversity than a wood that's dying and hasn't
been cut back for 70 to 80 years," says Ellis. "But often mature
woodland looks extremely attractive to people, even though it's dying."
Will we have to adapt to a new idea of the British green and pleasant
land, then? That really depends on how you define "British". "Our
perception of what flora and fauna we perceive as being British will
change," concludes Vogel. "Also, it will become much more difficult for
'experts' to recognise what is actually British." By experts, he means
not only botanists and zoologists toiling in the country's universities
and museums, but also the armies of amateur naturalists who spend their
evenings and weekends scouring the country in search of rare birds,
plants and insects.
The country will still be populated by species of animal and plant. They
may not be the species we want to protect; in fact, they are more likely
to be the ones capable of adapting to more extreme conditions. The
species we are already trying to save are liable to be more susceptible
to the changes ahead. Summer droughts may have an adverse effect on some
of the rarer butterflies, for example. Conversely, the milder winters
may increase the number of pest species we get - rats would thrive
simply because their winter survival rate will be better. "There are
always species that will succeed in any environment, but they will
change and we may not necessarily like the ones we end up with," says
"If you want to say that there is a need for us to protect what is
British, then of course we are going to lose," cautions Vogel. "If you
want to say we want to maximise diversity, then we are on to a winner."
Ellis points out that change is a natural part of the life of the
British countryside. "It's worth remembering that the landscape has gone
through quite a lot of changes in the last 70 to 80 years," he says.
"Often when people are looking back, they're looking back to a small
snapshot in history which is the one that they want - maybe the
1930s, when things were difficult for agriculture, whereas many
non-farmers think of it as a golden time."
The difference now, though, is the pace of the change. "I don't think
that we've ever seen changes at the sort of speed that we are
experiencing and that we are predicted to experience in the next 20 to
50 years," adds Hughes.
Here we get into politics. We can be fairly sure what will happen to our
climate - and hence to our countryside - in the next 20 years because we
know about the carbon that is already in the atmosphere. What happens
after that is less certain and depends on what the governments of the
world do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That matters because we
can't know if we are making the right preparations for change if we do
not know what changes are likely to happen. "You can overspeculate and
there is a risk that we make a whole load of decisions to change things
now that actually prove to be the wrong thing," says Hughes.
We are also hampered by our lack of knowledge about the present: we have
records for only a fifth or so of the flora and fauna on these islands.
"There's still great uncertainty," says Sparks. "While we probably know
more about our wildlife than anywhere else in the world, we're still
conscious of the lack of knowledge in some areas." That ignorance is
unlikely improve in the immediate future.
Vogel says getting to know more about the country's flora and fauna and
creating a comprehensive inventory of wildlife is a major objective for
scientists. "For politicians, it might be more opportune to remain
ignorant and say, 'Well, we didn't know.'" A little bit of knowledge, he
adds, might actually be a dangerous thing for politicians, because they
would then be forced to address some of the concerns for the future that
understanding the present would bring.
Nevertheless, says Vogel, we need to know exactly what lives on these
shores, and on this earth. "For the long-term survival of humans with
the creatures that share this planet, it is of very great importance."
Sick to our stomachs
Is there any way to stop the impending obesity epidemic? Sarah Boseley
reports on the state of our health in 2020
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian We live, literally, off the fat of the land. We've never
had it so good. Life has never been so easy. And it's killing us. We
used to die of disease. In 2020 we will die of life - or more
specifically, of the way we live. Modern life is storing up trouble for
us. Our health is paying for our convenience.
Do you want to know how bad it could be? "Should the gloomier scenarios
relating to obesity turn out to be true, the sight of amputees will
become much more familiar in the streets of Britain. There will be many
more blind people. There will be huge demand for kidney dialysis. The
positive trends of recent decades in combating heart disease, partly the
consequence of the decline in smoking, will be reversed. Indeed, this
will be the first generation where children die before their parents as
a consequence of childhood obesity."
That comes not from the Daily Mail, but from the House of Commons'
health select committee, which issued its report on obesity in May.
It all seemed to be going so well in the late 20th century. Life
expectancy has been steadily increasing. Medicine has conquered diseases
such as pneumonia, typhus and cholera, which used to kill young as well
as old. But the truth is that many of us will not enjoy healthy, long
life. We will be burdened for years by chronic, debilitating illnesses
brought on by our lifestyle, which will also be cause our death. Men
born in 2001, who will be 19 in 2020, can expect to live to 76, but will
be healthy only until 67. Women will live to
81, but healthy life expectancy is 69 years. That gap between the end of
good health and the end of life is increasing.
How do we live in 2004? We live fast. Our food is fast. Our
communications are fast, by phone and internet, allowing us to work fast
without leaving our desks. Our supermarkets allow us a one-stop fast
shop, which we load into our car and drive home quickly. Most of the
effort we make and will continue to make involves pressing keys and
pushing buttons, not digging, hewing or heaving as we did just a few
Today's children are the NHS chronic disease patients of the future
because of the way we live: the boy who goes into a burger bar for
breakfast before school, the girl who is driven from door to door
because her parents are afraid she will be knocked down by a car while
crossing the road. They eat crisps at break and a chocolate bar at
lunch. She sneaks a cigarette with friends behind the bike shed. They go
home after school and play on the computer for two hours or watch
cartoons while snacking on biscuits and more crisps. Dinner is a
This big-food, little-effort lifestyle is a recipe for obesity, with its
attendant risks of heart disease and diabetes. Obesity links directly
into diabetes - a chronic condition that takes two forms. Type one can
set in young for genetic reasons and require lifelong insulin, while
type two can develop later in life, usually because of weight problems.
There can be distressing complications, involving blindness, kidney
problems and foot amputation. Our lifestyles also put us at risk of
stroke and cancers, a risk exacerbated if we smoke, as girls and young
women are doing in increasing numbers. Heart disease and strokes are the
leading causes of death in the UK today, accounting for 39% of
fatalities, followed by cancers at 26% and respiratory disease at 13%,
according to the Office for National Statistics.
In all regions of the world except Africa, where HIV is wreaking such
devastation, these chronic non-communicable diseases are the biggest
killers, says Robert Beaglehole, the director of chronic diseases
prevention and health promotion at the World Health Organisation. "The
situation in 2020 will remain the same, even if we get serious," he
We know what to do to fight the problem, he says, but we're not doing
enough of it. "Obesity is one risk factor for these conditions. The most
important and the most preventable one is tobacco smoking. We have known
about the deleterious effects for 50 years."
We have made an effort with tobacco control in the UK and smoking rates
are going down. Lung disease and the cancers and heart disease and
strokes associated with cigarettes should also decline, but the
improvements are much more marked among the best educated, most affluent
groups in the country, who find it easiest to quit. "For a single mother
living under terrible conditions on benefit, smoking might be her only
succour," says Beaglehole.
And so with diet. Obesity is more prevalent in poorer parts of the
country. Junk food is cheap and filling. "The availability of fruit and
vegetables is socially patterned," says Beaglehole. "If you go to a
poorer neighbourhood, the supermarkets will have a different approach to
what they are flogging. There might even be some price differentials.
Hence the important role of governments in setting the environment. The
government has a fundamental obligation to protect the health of its
population. You can call it a nanny state if you like. I would say it is
setting the conditions which allow individuals to make healthy choices."
But first recognise your enemy. In 2004, it appears that obesity has
crept up on us almost without our noticing. Our lives have been
transformed over just a few decades - an extraordinary pace in
evolutionary terms - and the consequences have taken until now to be
realised. But according to Weight Concern, a charity that is trialling
programmes to help overweight families, the perceptions of many of us
have also altered so we do not recognise obesity when we see it, because
in some parts of the UK it is all-pervasive. Jude Cohen, the charity's
executive director, says it has had angry calls from parents or
grandparents who have calculated a child's body mass index (BMI - a
formula based on height and weight) on the website and refused to
believe there is a problem. "They are really upset. They say, 'According
to your website my grandson is obese but he's not - he's just chunky.'
It is more likely the child goes to a school where so many children are
obese or overweight that they are beginning to think that what their
child looks like is normal."
Jane Wardle, a professor of psychology who works in the Cancer Research
UK health behaviour unit at University College London, and who also
works with Weight Concern, thinks the prognosis for 2020 is bleak.
"Nothing yet suggests this inexorable rise is going to plateau, because
we're running a few years behind the US," she says. The situation across
the Atlantic is even worse. Will obesity-related diseases increase in
the UK as well? "I'd say that will happen and they will be coming on
progressively earlier in people's lives."
We can try to modify our culture, she says. "There's quite a strong
political will to do this, motivated by the potential health costs, but
not a very strong public will at the moment except in relation to
The problem is that the changes we would have to make would unpick the
advances of the convenience society. Do we want to have to walk further
than the fridge, take hours instead of minutes preparing food, eat less
and cut out the high-fat tastes we have come to like? "I think it is
going to be quite difficult to make changes in the world because the
things that have caused obesity are more convenient homes and
workplaces. We have designed physical activity out of modern life and it
is difficult to design routine physical activity back in. We have
designed convenience into our food supply," she said.
The alternative, she suggests, is to help people to take deliberate
physical exercise and limit themselves in the face of food temptation,
so they say: "I'd like this but I won't have it; I'd like more but I
won't have it; I'd like it now but I'll have it this evening."
But that route depends on a cultural shift. She notes the numbers of
young girls in cropped tops, showing off rolls of fat around their
middles in a way that used to be unusual. She wonders whether a concern
about anorexia has gone too far the other way. Parents, and she includes
herself, she says, have become worried about suggesting to their
daughters any other relationship to food than a free-for-all. "A spectre
has hung over us and while we weren't looking, the world changed," she
Professor Sir Charles George, the medical director of the British Heart
Foundation, is not so pessimistic as the MPs of the health select
committee. Although overeating and lack of exercise will push heart
disease rates up, he thinks we can stave off the worst of the problems
with medical interventions, such as widespread use of the class of drugs
called statins, even if we face an uphill struggle convincing people to
change their lifestyles. "We will have more and more people over the age
of 65 and a still greater proportion over the age of 75. But we're going
to see postponement of coronary heart disease events by quite a long
period. There's going to be a still further decline in death rates in
the under-65s and some deferment of those aged 65-74 into a later age,"
he says. Prevention is key, though, he says, whether by better diet and
more exercise or through preventive drug treatment.
Other chronic diseases that will become more prevalent for the
foreseeable future are harder to prevent. Asthma, for instance, has a
whole panoply of possible underlying causes and triggers. But it is
undoubtedly a disease of our times and our lifestyle: it is possibly
associated with diet, possibly with modern hygiene and possibly with the
quality of the air we breathe. Nothing looks likely to derail the upward
trend in the incidence of asthma.
Cancers, too, are linked to our lifestyle in complex ways that are not
fully understood. The numbers of cancer cases will continue to rise,
although the mortality rates will probably also continue to fall with
ever better treatment, as has been the pattern for some years now.
Breast cancer is linked to the decline in breast-feeding, as we have
fewer children, later in life, and hurry to wean them, but diet may also
play a part, as it does in many cancers. Some chemicals in general use
are known carcinogens.
We can do something to improve our environment and our lifestyle, but we
can't do anything about the genes we inherit, and these can play a big
part in our health expectancy. However, by 2020 we may choose to stop
ourselves passing them on. Fertility clinics can already test and select
embryos, created in the laboratory, that carry certain genes, such as
the gene for early-onset Alzheimer's disease and for some cancers. These
could be replaced in the womb with disease-free embryos. Only a few of
the "problem" genes can be identified as yet, but within 16 years we may
well all have the option to choose our future child's health and "breed
out" certain genetically determined conditions.
But even genetically perfect babies, free of all the disease genes we
can identify, can become couch potatoes doomed to a life of medication
and chronic disease clinics. We will undoubtedly have a longer life
expectancy in 2020, but how good a life may depend on how much we are
willing to scrutinise our lifestyle and reform it in the years to come.
It may be that life will have to become just that little bit less easy
if we are to enjoy it to the full.
Sarah Boseley is the Guardian's health editor
Tear down the barriers
If we can draw in rather than exclude the dispossessed, we could build
ourselves a better society by 2020
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian The bus goes downhill all the way, a metaphorical as well
as a physical journey from the pleasant heights on which I live, to the
centre of the city where I work. We leave behind the houses of bankers,
therapists and writers, pass the huge hospital, and then pick up and set
down among inner-city housing estates, Victorian terraces, canals,
railway stations and, finally, offices.
The day before writing this I was at the back of the bus when two
immense women got on. The first must have weighed nearly 20 stone, was
wearing a singlet and short skirt and carrying a teddy bear. The second,
whom she called "Muuuuuuum!", had dyed blonde hair and clung to a red
and white checked handbag with the words "fuck you" written on it. They
occupied four seats between them and began a loud conversation.
A week earlier on the same bus, coming the other way in the late
afternoon, a girl of about 14, with bleary eyes and smelling of alcohol,
had taken a call on her mobile. For several minutes this girl maintained
a unilateral shouting match with her unseen companion, throwing in every
swearword she knew. After a particularly blue patch I suggested, very
gently, that she might swear less. It didn't work.
A fortnight before that - once again on the bus - I had watched as a
woman with small daughter, outraged by some infraction I didn't see,
whacked the tiny girl round the side of her head. The kid never shed a
tear, but an elderly middle-class man behind them leaned over and said,
"You shouldn't hit her like that."
"Mind your own business!" replied the woman.
"It is my business," he said.
It didn't have to be his business. And maybe in the future it won't be.
If we hadn't been on the bus we would not have seen the child being
struck, or heard the drunk child cursing, or been disconcerted and
vaguely threatened by the "fuck you" handbag. Perhaps we would have
viewed these things from the window of the car as we drove past. What
had all this dysfunction and difficulty to do with us, after all? There
are a thousand ways of escaping it if you have the money; you need never
feel threatened or uncomfortable again.
There is plenty - as we are always being reminded - to feel
uncomfortable about. The so-called feral children, allowed to run wild
and neglected by mothers and fathers who, having fulfilled their
biological role, have nothing left to offer their wild offspring. The
moronic gangs of Game Boy-maddened adolescents who congregate on the
pavement outside your house and engage in mass urination. The swearing
drunks, predatory addicts, pit-bull owners, beggars, buggers and
lunatics. The alienated and unintelligible huddled masses from other
lands, cast up on the concrete beaches of our inner cities.
Would you want your child to attend a school where they have to employ a
machine to detect flick knives, and where the teachers are assaulted by
the pupils or by parents? If you will not even court the possibility of
that happening then you can go private, or move to an area where you
think the schools aren't like that. You can sequester yourself away from
the worst of the otherness. Or, if your resources don't stretch to a
place in a leafy paradise, you can sequester the worst of it away from
you - do the exiling rather than becoming the exile.
The former is, apparently, well under way in America. In this most
mobile and rootless of societies, there is a huge demand to recreate
that idealised community of the 50s, the small town of It's A Wonderful
World. It was estimated recently that 7m households, or 6% of the total,
had "forted up", by going to live in gated communities, protected by
fences and security guards, permitted access on the production of key
cards or entry codes. Affluent black people were less likely to live in
gated communities than their wealthy white or Hispanic counterparts,
perhaps because of their own very recent experience of exclusion.
Where would all this lead? Margaret Atwood, in her dystopic novel Oryx
and Crake, takes this a step or two further and creates a world in which
gated communities have become the Compounds, where the knowledge and
scientific workers for biotech corporations live and work, guarded by
armed security men. Outside, visible from the trains and toll-ways that
link the Compounds, are the Pleeblands, where people toil, consume and
exist in a state of under-educated chronic insecurity. As the hero's
father explains to him, it is like a throwback to the days of castles
and moated manor houses. Or (as he does not say) to Edgar Allan Poe's
Masque of the Red Death, where the denizens of a high-walled fortress
imagine themselves to be immune to the plague raging in the countryside
The British have not given themselves over to "forting up", except
insofar as some people imagine we can prevent immigration to these
islands by treating asylum seekers badly. Instead we have "white
flight", in which thousands of middle-class families move to the
countryside or semi-rural areas, and spend the rest of their lives
transporting their children from place to place in people-carriers, or
writing columns about adultery in Warminster and buying bantams in
But there are other ways to create space between you and the unwanted
others. If you cannot get out of the areas with bad people in them,
maybe you can throw the bad people out of the areas. You can make entry
to prisons easier and exit from them harder, you can make admission to
schools more conditional on anticipated behaviour, and expulsion from
them - when that anticipation is disappointed - more common. You can
expand the use of antisocial behaviour orders, lowering the annoyance
threshold and covering a greater range of antisocial actions. You can
throw out your human refuse and wonder where all that anger and despair
will eventually fetch up.
Small acts of exclusion are certainly preferable to the alternative of
social apartheid. If they are used rarely, and as part of a strategy to
rejuvenate or restore threatened neighbourhoods or schools, then they
can help to prevent the exodus of those who are mobile enough to get
out. But if they are your weapons of first and only resort, then by 2020
we will have created psychological shanty towns, inhabited by those whom
we have decided we don't want among us.
There are other, better possibilities, and the evidence for them too is
all around us. The young who are helping to reconstruct our inner cities
as diverse and dynamic places to live and work; the expansion of higher
education to sections of the population for whom, 20 years ago,
education would have ended at 16; the normality, in some places, of
mixed relationships and marriages; the education of disabled children in
regular schools; the provision of more and better childcare for those
who work and for those who don't; the recognition of the widespread and
complex nature of mental illness - all these are contraindications to
the dystopic vision of our future.
I don't take this optimistic view simply because I love flowers, Lassie
movies and the ickle children, but because I don't believe apartheid
works. Though treating well those who are easily marginalised or
excluded can sometimes seem impossibly difficult and very expensive,
treating them badly almost always costs more. And then
(who knows), you could, somehow, become one of the excluded yourself.
The "others" almost always want the same thing as the rest of us, even
if their ways of achieving it seem so intolerable. They aren't after
impossible amounts of easily gotten wealth, or the right to live in
filth and criminality, but they need recognition as human beings. They
piss on us because no one notices them when they don't. The only time
someone like me looks at that drunk girl on the bus is when she calls
everyone a cunt. That's the thing we have to change.
Work this way
You'll need to be flexible to get a job in 2020, But firms will also
have to be flexible to keep you says Liz Stuart
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian A trip forward in time to Head Office, 2020. You cannot
even begin to think about the new skills required of you, the new
methods of getting the day's graft done, because one thing keeps nagging
at you: where are the desks? And where are the people who used to sit at
those desks? There seems to be just a handful of people about, gathered
in small groups. Some stand as they work on handheld computers, others
sit in groups, on clusters of chairs. Even the office itself is tiny.
The huge glass and chrome monstrosity the company put up in the 1980s
has long since been sold off - with fewer people to accommodate, there
will be no need for sprawling blocks.
Predicting the future of work is not a science. The vision above is that
of Michael White of the Policy Studies Institute, the co-author of
Managing to Change, which was published as part of the Future of Work
research programme. Will his prediction be any more accurate than those
of some of the illustrious names who have preceeded him in foretelling
John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930, in The Economic Possibilities for Our
Grandchildren, that by the end of the 20th century we would all be
working just five hours a week. In 1996, Jeremy Rifkin soothsaid the end
of work altogether. In the 21st century, he predicted, employment would
be phased out, at least in the industrialised world. Jobs would be taken
over by machines and workers forced on to the dole. The German
sociologist Ulrich Beck, in The Brave New World of Work, published in
2000, claimed the work society was disappearing. The working environment
of the future, he said, will resemble that of Brazil, with no permanent
jobs, only informal and insecure labour.
Going by current trends, Keynes's proposition is impossible and Rifkin's
and Beck's seem implausible. So can we take a guess at how we will be
working in 2020?
In 16 years' time, most employment in Britain will still be structured
much as it is now: the majority of us will still be working for other
people, mostly in a place other than our homes, doing a job instantly
recognisable today. There probably will not have been a wholesale shift
to an itinerant workforce. An example from the immediate past proves the
need for caution when predicting change: the fastest-growing occupation
in the 90s was not software engineering
(although the numbers employed in that trade grew by 185% between 1992
and 1999) or even telephone sales or business consultancy (106% and
93% respectively). The real growth industry, at a massive 302%, was the
distinctly low-tech job of hairdressing.
In the words of Richard Pearson, the director of the market research
centre the Institute for Employment Studies, rather than being about
sweeping changes, the future is about "evolution, rather than
So how will we be working in 16 years' time? The answer, of course, is
far from certain. Most of the government's peering into the future takes
us only as far as 2010 - such as the work done by the Department of Work
and Pensions, and the Department of Trade and Industry's Foresight team.
As Alexandra Jones, a senior researcher at the Work Foundation, says,
predictions past that date become "a lot wobblier".
But there is some evidence to provide us with ideas. From his base in
Leeds, Professor Peter Nolan runs the Future of Work programme, a huge
research project which has been running under the auspices of the
Economic and Social Research Council for six years and across 22 UK
universities. He paints a picture of a growing divergence between those
employed in highly skilled, highly paid professions, and those at the
bottom of the employment chain. The economy of work, he believes, will
be increasingly hourglass-shaped.
"At the top end of the jobs hierarchy, people are likely to enjoy
substantial discretion over their hours, places and patterns of working
time. But this will be fuelled by the growth of low-paid and unskilled
labour, doing jobs that would have been familiar 100 years ago," says
Nolan. He predicts managers and those in the professions will have job
security. And, contrary to the predictions of futurologists, the
majority of employees are likely to continue working for an
organisation, rather than for themselves, or for a series of different
people. In 2020 nine out of 10 jobs will still be permanent, although
maybe not full time, he says.
Flexible working is the mantra of those who seek change in the way our
working lives are structured - in the first six months of this year,
this newspaper alone carried 67 stories that mentioned the phrase
"flexible working". The government has given employees the right to
request flexible working patterns, and last month's Guardian/ICM poll
showed a strong appetite for greater flexibility, especially among young
workers. That hunger is likely to have been satisfied by 2020, by which
time the way our jobs are structured will have changed massively. Many
people will work as employed freelancers. People will be trained to work
on a wide range of different projects, liaising with experts outside the
company when additional help is needed. Companies will be smaller and
more specialised. Jones says management structures and hierarchies will
flatten out, giving workers more control over their jobs.
Offices will be for "face time" only, when meetings in the flesh are
essential, says Jones. Everything that can be done from home, will be.
That will have wider benefits, too. Half the greenhouse gas emissions in
Europe are the result of office work - people's journeys to and from
their workplace, and heating and air conditioning once they are there -
according to figures from the European commission. While homeworkers
will still need to keep warm, there will be much less wasted energy use.
But our connections with our employers might actually become more
profound, even if we spend less time with co-workers. We are likely to
stay in our jobs for longer as we learn and develop within the company,
and so become less likely to look for another job. Keeping staff is
vitally important in the service sector, and Jones believes employers
will finally have woken up to the paradox that to keep someone on, you
need to keep developing in them precisely those skills that would equip
them to leave and find a job elsewhere.
Companies that want to retain staff will also have to take a more
relaxed attitude to time. Jones envisages careers being seen as a
landscape, with peaks and valleys of working hours, allowing the young
to work longer, those with families to work less, and retirement to be
phased in gradually. All workers, not just those with children, will be
allowed to take time out to study or travel. Inevitably, that would
require us to manage our own careers and finances, particularly securing
our pension provision.
John Cridland, the deputy director general of the CBI, agrees. He thinks
that by 2020 there will be no fixed hours, or job descriptions:
everything will be up for negotiation. "This will definitely be the case
with managerial and professional jobs, but also in other service jobs
too. Obviously you need staff in a restaurant at the same time as
customers, but provided the basics are covered, there'll be no point in
having lots of people with the same set of skills."
More jobs will be open to more people as well. White hopes that by
2020 every other person working would be a woman, particularly in senior
roles, "although I think it's unlikely to be 50-50 by then", he says.
While gender parity will not yet be a reality, women in the 2020
workplace will be better able to realise their career aspirations. "Put
it this way, it's going to have to change because women are just not
going to put up with things like glass ceilings in the future," says
That process will be aided by men playing a greater role in caring for
their children and their parents: by 2021 there will be 12 million
people over the age of 65, so the burden of care will have to be more
evenly shared. Instead of men working 60 hours a week and women working
20, it is likely that many couples will opt to split the workload, as
well as their responsibilities at home - so we could well see both
partners choosing to work a 35-hour week, with the costs of additional
care subsidised by the government. Care provision will be another area
in which employers see the chance to build loyalty among their staff.
Workplace nurseries will be more common, and technology will boost
parental confidence in them, with webcams allowing mothers and fathers
to check on their children whenever they choose.
It will not only be women who secure higher status in the workplace.
There are already a million disabled people who say they want to work,
according to the Disability Rights Commission, and that figure will grow
as the workforce ages - particularly as disability includes conditions
such as diabetes and severe heart problems, as well as long-term
depression. In the sardine-tight labour market of 2020, that will be a
group employers will not be able to ignore.
Cridland feels more progress will also have been made towards racial
integration in the workplace. "For instance, many African-Caribbean male
teenagers have a greater tendency to rebel and opt out of education when
they are younger, although they go back into learning when they are
older," he says. "Some employers are already realising they need to do
more outreach work to get to these groups: in a tight labour market, and
as service sector employers realise they need employees who reflect the
communities where they work, they really need to attract them as
There may also be more Pakistani and Bangladeshi women at work by
2020. Those two groups are currently badly underrepresented in the
workforce, but research from Manchester University suggests that more of
these women, particularly those with qualifications, will want jobs.
Older people, too, will be more prevalent in the workplace. Jones says
the likely retirement age by 2020 will be 70, and many future-watchers
predict that will rise even further - not only to counter the pensions
crisis, but also to release the pressure on the labour market.
Nolan, however, disputes the notion that older people would stay on at
work out of choice. "That's fine if you're a lawyer or company director
where you can pick and chose your hours and projects," he says, "but if
we're talking about someone who's been working in a factory for 40
years, do you really think that they'd want to carry on for another
The real beneficiaries of the changing nature of the workplace will be
those who have low levels of skills but can none the less master
technology, predicts White. At the moment, the opportunities open to
those people may be no more exciting than working in a call centre, but
new technologies should open up other possibilities. Cridland agrees,
adding that everyone will be better qualified (by 2010 there will be 2m
fewer jobs that require only GCSEs, for example), so employees will be
valued for their skills rather than just for turning up. If they cannot
master technology, however, the least skilled will have to settle for
supporting the freer lifestyles of the their better-paid peers. And
many, reckons Richard Pearson of the IES, will be forced to take second
Outsourcing, the issue currently animating both the incumbent and the
aspirational president in the US, will continue. Reservation agents,
computer programmers, database managers, financial analysts - all those
whose jobs that depend, in part, on an ability to master repetitive
tasks performed on a computer - will have been relocated abroad. "Only
the customer-facing jobs will be left," says Cridland.
But, he points out, the lost jobs will be replaced with shiny new ones,
more suitable to our developing economy. He points to the banking giant
HSBC, which creates two jobs for every one it sends offshore.
The bottom line about work, of course, is that we do it for money. Those
who do it for hard cash in the hand might not be happy about some of the
changes ahead: identity cards and the decreasing use of cash will make
back-pocket payments harder, in effect formalising the black economy.
That will, however, be a positive for those people, mainly women, who
work off the books not to avoid tax but because their employers want to
avoid giving them full employment benefits. The minimum wage is also
likely to increase, and childcare and housework are likely to attract
tax breaks, meaning people can afford to pay their nanny and cleaner
Ian Hopkinson, the head of employment tax at KPMG, thinks salaries will
consist of totally flexible remuneration packages: we will be able to
choose between pay and a combination of benefits, such as buying days
off. While this is already happening in some workplaces, it will be the
norm by 2020. He adds that while there are still likely to be behemoth
salaries paid to City executives, wages will be far more transparent.
Sadly, he also thinks it unlikely that teachers or nurses will see
radical increases in their relative salaries. "These are likely to
remain in the private sector and future governments aren't going to be
able to afford to pay them huge amounts," he says.
Public sector workers will still negotiate their pay collectively,
through trades unions. But in the private sector, where only 18% of the
workforce now carries a membership card, the unions will have been
transformed into professional service organisations.
"This needn't just be about providing things like insurance," says
Cridland. "The downside of negotiating individual contracts is that
you're not protected by collective bargaining. Unions in the future are
likely to step in to assist individual members to negotiate pay."
The presence of more women in senior positions and in better-paid
professions means the gender pay gap will narrow, but it will not
disappear. "For that to happen would require a major revaluation of the
contribution of women at work. We'd have to see the political will for
things to change," says Alastair Hatchett, the head of pay services at
Incomes Data Services.
The Work Foundation predicts there will be a major revaluation, however,
in the measurement of work. Some method will be found to measure output
- the number of books edited or meals served - rather than input, the
number of hours spent at your desk, it says. Others, however, are more
sceptical. Pearson says: "Theoretically it's a good idea for output to
be measured rather than input but in reality, for the majority of jobs,
it just isn't possible to evaluate in an equitable and affordable way.
You start getting into value judgements - how do you judge that the
output of one person editing a book is better than that of another?"
Finally, to the most important question. Will we be happy in our jobs?
Sadly, in spite of all the corporate attempts to woo us, and the chance
to work from home a couple of days a week, it seems likely we will be as
discontent as ever.
"People are being more intensely critical and demanding about
everything. They expect more from their jobs. It could be harder for
companies to make people satisfied: they'll do what they think necessary
to make people committed and content, but I think they just won't be
quick enough on the work-life balance issues," predicts Michael White.
It seems the technological advances pictured by Keynes may not bring us
joy. Look on the bright side though: at least we'll be able to discuss
our woes via video-imaging, rather than by standing around the water
The back page
Welcome to Hollywood's vision of the future: a world of brightly
coloured separates and sperm chic
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian In the future, we will have no bladders. Nor, equally
surprisingly - although it is rather less medically unsettling - will
issues of practicality, comfort or even basic aesthetics hold any sway
over what we wear. Thus sayeth Hollywood's costume designers, anyway.
1936 Saturday-morning series Flash Gordon onwards, the consensus among
film-makers has always been that at some time in the future we will
undergo some kind of collective lobotomy that will free us of any
quibbles we might have about wearing, say, one-piece suits in primary
colours (Flash Gordon, various parts of the Star Trek franchise) or
angrily ripped-up leather (Blade Runner, The Terminator series - sooo
Camden early 70s, Harrison and Arnie).
Clothes in sci-fi films tend to make the audience wonder if they have
been slipped the same hallucinogenics the screenwriter and director took
to come up with the tosh in the first place. I shall take this moment to
mention Gary Oldman's luminous multicoloured waistcoat in The Fifth
Element and then I shall mention it no more. But leaving aesthetics
aside for the moment, convenience, too, seems to be of little
importance. Also in The Fifth Element, think of the poor police
officers, who wear so many bulky layers they more closely resemble
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than upholders of the peace.
As for the women ... Don't even get me started on Milla Jovovich's
bondage leotard in - yes, again - The Fifth Element. Not since Donna
Karan introduced "the body" (a leotard that did up at the crotch) in the
80s has a woman worn an item that held the potential for so many
disturbing personal hygiene issues.
When we think of the imagined costumes of the future, we tend to assume
they fall into two camps: either the weirdly asexual catsuits used to
symbolise a fresh, modern society or the grungier torn leather and denim
that signify the hell of society's breakdown. These, however, tend to be
the more extreme manifestations.
Visions of the future are often, in fact, surprisingly prosaic. I refer
you to the garb donned by crew members of Federation vessels in the
various Star Trek series: brightly coloured crew necks and black
trousers, with spangly red jackets for formal wear, a combination oddly
suitable for life as holiday camp entertainer. Similarly, little jerkins
and tunics crop up with disturbing familiarity - Buck Rogers
(in his late 70s guise, as played by Gil Gerard), and Logan 5 (Michael
York's 23rd-century character in Logan's Run) all don the tunic. It's as
if the directors thought picking a garment from any time other than the
present - even ones that scream "16th century ahoy!" to most cinemagoers
- would be enough to place the events in the future.
More often, though, the imagined dress of other eras is a reflection of
contemporary concerns, reflecting our greatest fears or dearest hopes.
Take Soylent Green, made in 1973. Set in New York in 2022, it is,
ostensibly, a warning about the perils of future overpopulation. Now,
however, it is hard not to see it as an enjoyably kitschy bit of
anti-communist propaganda, about as balanced as you'd expect of a film
starring Charlton Heston, a future president of the National Rifle
Association. Hence, everyone wears colourless institutional outfits with
a distinctly Mao-esque flavour: beige button-down shirts and trousers
for the boys, brown muu-muus for the girls, which certainly makes the
red wave more credibly unappealing than the film's ultimate threat that
we will all be forced into cannibalism because of the dreadful food
Which brings us to the wretchedly portentous 2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968). Here, too, there is a touch of Mao to the men's suits, but more
memorable are the sweetly anachronistic spacesuits, with their
Slinky-like arms and duvet-style padding. Far from 2001 being a hugely
imaginative view of the future, as has been claimed by its many
supporters, the weird curvy furniture and the awkward spacesuits show it
to be solidly rooted in its own time.
George Lucas's THX 1138 (1971) also rocked the institutional look, but
with somewhat different results. According to the critic David Thomson,
the white body-suits and shaven heads represent "a fusion of cleanliness
and death". That may very well be true, but to the more low-minded of us
they are also snigger-inducingly similar to the sperm in Woody Allen's
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask,
made the following year. Coincidence? Or tribute?
Far more fun is Logan's Run (1976). The posters claimed it portrayed "a
world of perfect pleasure". And how did film-makers of the immediately
pre-punk era visualise that perfect pleasure? Obvious, really: lots of
people wearing primary-coloured togas. In other words, a Roman orgy with
the added fun of acid, which sounds like a very 70s swingers party with
marginally better clothes. The best (and most 70s) fashion moment comes
when Michael York tries to seduce Jenny Agutter by slipping on a Talitha
Getty-style poncho and raising a G&T. It seems the mid-70s was when
Elizabeth Taylor achieved fashion apotheosis, as the defining style icon
for both sexes.
Not that we can be smug. Instead of recreating sperm style, this
generation is content to aspire to a decidedly bland future. Look at
Gattaca, with its slicked-down department-store suits. Or Steven
Spielberg's AI (2001), in which our future perfect is a world in which
men wear button-down shirts and jeans, and there are tasteful knits and
slacks for the ladies - the only relief is the occasional foray into
yoga whites. In other words, it's all very American lifestyle catalogue,
proof that some aspirations will never die. The future, perhaps, is a
little too bright.
It's all for your own good
Drink too much? Eat the wrong foods? By 2020, no aspect of your life
will be safe from prying eyes, or from interfering official nannies
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian You are at work. The morning coffee break has occasioned a
need to visit the loo. As you get back to your desk a red-tinged
internal company email message flashes on your computer screen.
"Analysis of your urine deposit at 11.24am shows that you have consumed
excessive alcohol in the past 24 hours. This is the fourth time in the
past month that urine sampling has registered you at excess of 140mg of
alcohol per 100ml of blood. This is a formal company notice. You must
immediately register for the company alcohol abuse management scheme.
Failure to do so will result in the termination of your contract."
A few seconds later another message pops up on your screen. This time it
is from the police.
"Under the mandatory requirement your employers have notified us of your
excessive alcohol consumption in the past 24 hours. Your car has been
recorded by roadside cameras using the numberplate recognition system as
having travelled between your registered home address and your place of
work at 8.03-8.31am today. The camera images were checked with the
national facial recognition system and it has been confirmed you were
It continues: "You are believed to be in breach of current drink-driving
legislation, which permits a maximum of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of
blood. Your car will be immobilised using the integral
satellite-to-vehicle communication system until we have further
investigated the matter. Your company will now provide us with blood
sample analysis. Please contact your local police station. Do not
It is a bad morning already, but it is set to get worse. A message from
the NHS Genetic Monitoring Authority pops up in your email inbox
(snail mail ceased to operate years ago). "From your recent blood sample
we have detected serious flaws in one your genes. You are hereby
notified that you are to cease any sexual relations until you have
undergone genetic rectification therapy. Failure to comply is an
imprisonable offence." It sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn't it? But
maybe it's not such a leap. Much of this surveillance technology is
already in place or under development. And this scenario is just one
example of the power of data matching - the sharing of someone's
personal data across different computer systems to draw up a complete
detailed picture of their lifestyle.
A Japanese company has already developed a toilet - targeted for use in
large companies - that can analyse whether an employee has recently used
illegal recreational drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Numberplate
recognition cameras are in place in a number of key British motorways,
enabling police to track stolen or suspect vehicles. Facial recognition
for CCTV is still in the early stages of development but has already
been tried out in the London borough of Newham and other locations. The
trials were not wholly successful, but the technology will improve.
Leeds University's Institute for Transport Studies has developed a
communication box that could be fitted to all vehicles to regulate
traffic speed and flow. Immobilisers will be no great problem.
As for gene surveillance, experts only need a tiny piece of hair or
other cells from our bodies to draw all sorts of conclusions about our
genetic inheritance, our parentage, the diseases we are prone to and
what is likely to cause our eventual death.
All that technology will be at the service of the government, and by
2020 its use will force us to consider the delicate balance between the
freedom of the individual and intrusion into our daily lives by the
The excuse given to justify this technological encroachment into our
everyday lives is that our rulers are acting for the "common good".
Forcibly restricting a heavy drinker's alcohol intake seems like a
mundane intervention - and almost a helpful one - compared with the
threats from totalitarian regimes of the past. Does punishment for
drink-driving really compare with being carted off to the gulags in the
days of the Soviet Union? It should do: it is part of the same continuum
of state intervention, and it raises the question of where that
intervention will end.
The apocalyptic school of civil libertarianism holds that the freedom of
the individual is already being seriously compromised, and that the
terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 gave politicians an excuse to
introduce ever more repressive laws and technology. "The 'war on
terrorism' has turned into an ongoing 'war on freedom and democracy',
which is now setting new norms - where accountability, scrutiny and
human rights protections are luxuries to be curtailed or discarded in
defence of 'democracy'," says Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, which monitors
civil liberties in the EU.
The members of this apocalyptic school believe liberal democracy, which
historically has protected us from the tendency of the state to encroach
in our lives, is now either dying or already dead. It is being replaced
by a creeping authoritarianism.
Bunyan says liberal democracy reached its zenith during the last days of
the cold war. "During this period liberal democracy had to have some
substance, some tangible reality in opposition to Soviet-style
communism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 it was not just the
USSR that disappeared but with it, too, the content of liberal
democracy's political culture."
Simon Davies of Privacy International has an equally bleak take on the
state of civil liberties: "The default has clearly shifted from privacy
to surveillance. Almost all large government projects attempt to
compromise the right of privacy. The proclaimed need for the protection
of children and the fight against terrorism has often been shamelessly
used as the pretext for privacy invasion."
Others, such as Barry Hugill of Liberty, take a less pessimistic view of
the state of our freedoms, but even these relative optimists warn that
many threats to personal liberty have already manifested themselves.
But, Hugill warns: "People are not aware of much of what is happening."
Twenty years ago, fears of a Big Brother state were commonplace. Not
only were we in the year of Orwell's dystopia, but during the miners'
strike the Thatcher government had used the state's ability to make
covert interventions in our lives in its fight against the National
Union of Mineworkers. The undercover operations of MI5 and the police
have disgusted many who bore no sympathy for Arthur Scargill or his
fight. Surely we are really in much less danger from the thought police
than we were then?
The answer, of course, is no, not least because the battleground on
which we fight to preserve our liberties and privacy is now so much
wider. Civil libertarians are now as concerned about the right to
individual privacy as about the issue of political control. "Privacy is
the right on which all other rights rest," says Davies. That is why
campaigns against developments such as mandatory ID cards and the
surveillance culture are couched in the terms of protecting individual
"What has occurred in the last 15 years is that there has been a
systematic attack on the concept of individual rights, especially
privacy," says Davies. Where has the state extended itself too far into
the private sphere? "It is easier to give examples of where it hasn't
gone too far. Nearly every piece of legislation in the past five years
has gone too far."
Why, then, have we not risen up in protest? Perhaps because we trust our
government more than we used to. That is the perspective of Conor
Gearty, the director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the
London School of Economics. He believes there has been a profound
political shift over the past 20 years. "Maybe I'm getting old but I
think we live in a different world from the days of Mrs Thatcher. The
days when my Irish mates would get hauled out of their homes in Kilburn
by the police are gone, I hope," says Gearty, an Irishman whose view of
state power was shaped by the Troubles. "My impression is that there is
not an inevitable spiral towards Big Brother and the repressive state. I
think this culture is much more open than people expected. The detention
[of terror suspects] is a huge political crisis, but I would be cautious
about saying 'Oh, Big Brother is just around the corner.'
"Where I would differ with some of the more republican/socialist
libertarians is that I do not believe that advance of technology always
fuels the antagonistic state."
He thinks a new social contract has been drawn up between the government
and the public. That is what has allowed the recent legislation to
extend the powers of the state, through the police, in dealing with
terrorism and crime. "These laws are passed but the public expects
checks and balances to them to be put in place. The issue for me is one
As long as people are sure the state can be held accountable in the
event of an abuse of its powers, says Gearty, they are willing to see
changes to their liberties as a process to be managed rather than
resisted. He cites the recent ruling by the House of Lords that allowed
the police to take DNA samples of suspects even if they are not charged.
The Lords were willing to allow the police that right, he says, because
the safeguards concerning the use of the DNA were sufficient to ensure
there was no contravention of human rights legislation.
Simon Davies profoundly disagrees with Gearty's analysis. He believes
the current government's authoritarian tendencies have been heavily
influenced by the philosophy of communitarianism, as espoused by the US
sociologist Amitai Etzioni, the author of The Limits of Privacy.
The Etzioni model of communitarianism holds that individual rights must
be balanced against the concern for the common good. He favours testing
infants for HIV, opposes encrypted messages, favours national ID cards,
and proposes isolating sex offenders in villages akin to leper colonies.
"If you look at Labour's policy documents and legislation it is riddled
with concepts of 'the common good' which take their cue from Etzioni's
philosophy," says Davies. "It is this concept of acting in the interest
of the majority that has caused the erosion of the idea of individual
freedom and privacy. In this dogma all individualism is seen as an
expression of selfishness. It allows the government to justify
potentially repressive laws."
But do we not still have privacy in much of our personal life? No, says
Davies, we don't. "You might not want your bank account to be public
knowledge, but just look at the tranche of people, from the police to
civil servants, who are now entitled to look at your account without
your knowledge. That's not privacy."
Gearty, however, argues there is no immutable right to privacy. "What's
the big deal about privacy? I'm not just for individual autonomy," he
says. "It's just out of kilter with the way we live. Part and parcel of
society is the invasion of privacy, it is why we live together. It is
part of civilised society."
He suggests the public do not share campaigners' concerns about the
multiplication of CCTV cameras - of which we have more per head of
population than any other country in the world - and other surveillance
devices. The reason is that people see the benefits - helping the police
crack down on crime and antisocial behaviour - as outweighing the
drawbacks. "The disjunction between state and the public may be less
wide than we may generally think," he says. "Liberal concerns over CCTV
and its impact on privacy may not be shared by the public at large."
It matters that these issues are thrashed out now, because the rights we
are currently surrendering to the state are those we will not have in
2020. And governments - the bodies that exercise the powers we grant
them - change. So while you may trust Tony Blair, David Blunkett et al
to use wisely the powers to interfere in your life that they have
accumulated since 1997, how will you feel if a government of a different
shade comes in and takes a different view about what constitutes
The possibility of today's anti-crime legislation becoming the planks of
tomorrow's repressive state increases with every rise in global tension,
because a threatened government is a dangerous government. What happens
if Britain's security is in question? What if Islamic fundamentalism
develops into an even more potent political force, or if oil shortages
lead to global political instability? How, then, would the government of
2020 use the powers it will have at its disposal?
"That's a serious point," says Gearty. "I don't see that happening at
the moment, but if we did have a new Thatcher who saw the enemy within
and if the police reverted to their ways of the 1980s, that's a real
concern. It is not vacuous."
Some argue the repressive state is already taking root in our society.
Tony Bunyan suggests some sections of the community are already bearing
the full force of new laws. British Muslims, for example, have felt
pressure from both the state and non-Muslim Britons with the launch of
large-scale anti-terrorism operations over the past three years. Nor is
the fear confined to radical Islam: moderate community leaders in areas
where young Muslim men have been arrested under the Terrorism Act fear
that Muslims - like the miners and black youths before them - will
become tainted as the enemies within.
For many, though, the most likely threat to liberty in 2020 will be not
political control but overweening nannyism. You are more likely to see
your privacy encroached upon "for your own good" than because you pose a
threat to the peace and democracy. So if you have an obesity problem but
cannot resist slipping an eight-pack of burgers and half a dozen
doughnuts into your supermarket trolley, expect trouble at the checkout.
It is not too far-fetched to believe that the supermarket, under
mandatory government requirements, will have programmed your storecard
to stop you buying food with a high fat content. You might be prevented
from buying more than 10 cigarettes a day or 12 units of alcohol a week.
And the government will fall back on a "common good" argument to justify
this: why should responsible eaters and drinkers have to pay the costs
to the NHS of treating indisciplined sybarites who brought their woes on
themselves? "My sense is that by 2020, if current trends continue, the
right to privacy for the individual will be an exception," says Simon
But in another curious twist, there will be those who will benefit from
the extension of surveillance technology. People who at present are, of
necessity, dependent on others may find themselves gaining a greater
measure of personal independence.
Jeremy Myerson, who is professor of design studies at the Royal College
of Art, has examined the relationship between design and social and
technological change and sees benefits accruing from surveillance. "By
2020 it is forecast that more than half the European population will be
over 50. This is going to have a dramatic effect on the way we care for
people, and the burden it puts on the NHS," he told the Guardian in July
last year. "Surveillance systems in the home can monitor people and keep
them out of institutions. It may seem Big Brotherish, but it's actually
about giving people their independence."
There are no easy answers to the questions raised by the incursions into
our liberties. If people are going to accept ever increasing
surveillance - in the home, at work, on the street, in the shops - they
will need to be convinced it really is for their benefit, not for some
sinister purpose. The problem we face in securing the future is that we
live in a time of centrist government and economic prosperity, where
there are no great issues rending society: exactly the kind of period in
which freedoms can be limited without anyone kicking up too much of a
fuss. As Gearty, who rejects the view that our liberties are doomed,
says: "We need to keep the culture vigilant about abuse of executive
power and to keep parliament mindful to insist on safeguards to new
We might also recall the observation of another Irishman, the Georgian
statesman and judge John Philpot Curran: "The condition upon which God
hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he
break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the
punishment of his guilt."
Life in plastic
Will we use the advances in plastic surgery techniques to remake our
identities at will?
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian We all think we know what cosmetic surgery is going to mean
to us over the coming years. The path has been pointed out by a series
of reality TV shows in which contestants go under the scalpel to look
like their favourite celebrity, or have an "extreme makeover" at the
hands of the surgical team. By 2020, surely, cosmetic surgery is going
to be the tool of those who want a new look for their Saturday night
out, an adjunct to the make-up compact.
Of course, that view rather typecasts cosmetic surgeons as Nip/Tuck
merchants out to make a quick buck. The reality is rather different.
Plastic surgery is the biggest trauma specialty after orthopedics and
its practitioners are primarily concerned with function, not appearance.
Its increasing use is because there are more complaints now that can be
treated with surgery. And though it will be an even more important
branch of medicine by 2020, with dazzling innovation in materials and
techniques, it will still be used principally for sound medical reasons.
"It's driven by public demand," says David Soutar, a consultant plastic
surgeon at Glasgow University and a past president of the British
Association of Plastic Surgeons. He points out that even 10 years ago, a
plastic surgeon would not have been called to A&E when a child arrived
with a cut on their face. Now such a call is routine, as is an offer of
reconstruction after surgery on cancer around the breast, face or neck.
And legs or fingers that would have been amputated are now expected to
be saved. Soutar expects that level of demand to continue.
There have been two major brakes on the use of plastic surgery so far,
he explains. One is the problem of rejection, which limits the
transplant of "spare parts" from donors. But the burgeoning field of
tissue engineering is creating the possibility of "tissues to go",
whereby tissues or structures such as ears are grown to order using the
patient's own cells, eliminating the possibility of rejection. The mouse
with an ear on its back that I introduced to a startled public on
Tomorrow's World a decade ago was the start of this revolution, which
should be fully realised by 2020. The field has been slower to advance
than originally predicted, partly because there is more caution about
the introduction of new technologies that are not immediately
lifesaving, but that enhance appearance in the otherwise healthy.
There are concerns that this approach will only work for elective
surgery, for which doctors have time to prepare, but as Simon Withey, a
plastic surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in London, says: "Even for
emergency surgery, it may still be possible to close wounds temporarily,
whilst growing new tissue to order." He suggests that a development we
may see sooner is immunomodulation, in which the recipient receives bone
marrow from the donor in advance, thus lessening the chances of
rejection when the donor's tissue is introduced. Either way, the ability
to grow bone and skin in 3D shapes, both essential to the plastic
surgeon's art, will shape the practice of the science.
The other big restraint on plastic surgery has been scarring. The shine
on a burn victim's face, the loss of full joint function after injury,
or the rough raised edges of a graft are all the result of scar tissue.
But scar-free healing will be available by 2020. It has long been known
that at extremes of life - among newborns and the old - scarring is
minimal or, in the case of babies in the womb, non-existent. It is most
extensive during adolescence and on certain parts of the body, such as
the chest and shoulders. Over the past two decades, the science of wound
healing and scar formation has been extensively investigated,
principally by Professor Mark Ferguson and his team at Manchester
University. Their research has helped in the development of drugs to
prevent scarring after healing, and these will be available by 2020.
They should have an immense impact on the use of surgery.
The techniques, too, are developing rapidly. Withey is part of one of
the two teams in the world serious about offering face transplants to
the severely disfigured - though don't expect it to be anything like
Face/Off. At the moment the disadvantages - the need to take lifelong
toxic immunosuppressants after the surgery and the risks of the
procedure itself - outweigh the benefits. What's more, the disfigured -
rather patronisingly - are felt unable to give proper consent. The work
to develop facial transplants has also foundered on the threat it poses
to individual identity.
As the demand for cosmetic surgery continues to soar, there may be a
blurring in the public mind about what constitutes cosmetic and what
reconstructive work, with the former being made unavailable on the NHS.
But should a 14-year-old who has Poland syndrome, a congenital condition
that causes only one breast to develop, have reconstruction available on
the NHS, even though it is cosmetic work? Of course, but expect to see
NHS funding bodies wriggle all the same. Soutar is clear, though, that
cosmetic surgery offers real medical benefits. "Cosmetic surgery may be
more effective and do more for an individual than sewing a leg back on
someone that won't ever work properly," he says.
In fact, the real worry about cosmetic surgery and the NHS is that by
2020 the burgeoning private sector will have taken all the talented
surgeons, as has already happened in the US, to the detriment of burns
and trauma work in public hospitals.
And what of the worry that, by 2020, cosmetic surgery will be an
everyday lifestyle choice? Should we take action to prevent that
possibility? Perhaps we should instead be asking why stopping people
having surgery should be an option: if people are prepared to pay for it
and it makes them feel better, then why shouldn't they do so? Professor
Sheila McLean, the director of the Institute of Law and Ethics in
Medicine at Glasgow University, does not see more cosmetic surgery as an
ethical issue for the future, but she worries about what drives people
to surgery. "In an emotionally driven decision, there is every
likelihood that people are duressed by an emotional perception of
themselves and are unable to give proper consent." What concerns her is
that, when the expectation levels for what surgery will achieve are so
high, the risks must be properly explained.
And while consumer demand may benefit patients by increasing what
plastic surgery can do for them, the downside is that people think of
surgery as a consumer purchase. Changing your appearance becomes the
ultimate pick-and-pay choice. That trend will continue, underpinned by
future government agendas on choice. But choice or not, some people feel
serial patients - such as Jocelyn Wildenstein (below) - should be
stopped, in order to avert the prospect of countless others following
That view is driven partly by snobbery and partly by envy, but there is
also a genuine worry that in a sector dominated by profit, doctors
working outside the NHS will say yes to every last demand for knee lift
and stomach suction by the surgery junkies, putting their health at
So one of the major dilemmas for plastics in 2020 will be trust in
doctors. "Doctors have a legal right to refuse treatment," says McLean,
"if they don't think that it is in the best interests of the patient.
They are under an obligation to positively do good but also negatively
to do no harm." There is already a raft of civil and criminal law to
protect patients in this regard and the General Medical Council is
already noticeably tougher with dodgy cosmetic surgeons than other
doctors - so there seems little need to fear cosmetic surgery becoming
an ethics-free zone.
"We are a society obsessed by looks," observes David Soutar. Don't
expect that to change, and expect our own desires to fuel the
development of technologies that might make some beautiful. But remember
that they will be few: those who benefit from improved function, social
acceptance and comfort will be far more, and far more important.
Where will we be living come 2020? In beautiful bespoke homes or in
soulless suburban estates? The choice is ours, says Jonathan Glancey
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian New homes spread like so much detritus discarded across
thousands of hectares of southern England. Plots of land the size of
handkerchiefs, crumpled into the nowhere lands of the Thames Gateway,
the M11 corridor and greater Milton Keynes. Hundreds of thousands of new
homes: red-tiled, UPVC-windowed, developers' junk.
That is what many of us fear when we think of future housing. An England
made more subtopian than suburban. A Britain divided between
overcrowding and underachieving. Every last corner of a southern English
field that once was forever cornflowers, dog rose and meadowsweet now
built on in the most meretricious, money-wringing manner. Ever more
cul-de-sac housing estates linked together by raging arterial roads
lined with chain stores - with a bit of swooping-roofed architectural
fantasia sculpted in between. Breeze-block homes - or "consumption
units" as they will be known by 2020 - with twin garages for two Jags,
or a brace of Jeeps. Petrol-powered still, despite the insoluble
problems of the Middle East.
Superstores. Multiplexes. Distribution depots. An England 100% England
free. A getting- and-spending, logoed and baseball-capped land,
chock-full of call centres and staffed by customer service facility
managers. An England stripped of public-minded public services and
punished by even more CCTV cameras, by congestion charges, creativity
charges, intelligence charges.
An England where no one will remember Adlestrop, much less Grantchester
or Little Gidding. A nation of mass housing with as much poetry as the
infinite sub-clauses of a particularly turgid and much-delayed
government report. A land stupefyingly bland and irredeemably boring.
A country offering good old English staples: cappuccinos,
quarter-pounders, barbecued ribs and deep-pan pizzas, all you can eat at
every bloated turn, every blubbery day. A self-righteous, increasingly
foul-mannered nation valuing "accessibility", "inclusivity",
"sustainability" and rights rather than duties. A country of shopaholic,
drunken, TV-eyed excess, signifying not very much at all.
Depressing? Yes, and this is the indolent world we are in danger of
creating, while governments, quangos and worthy professional bodies bang
on about shaping "sustainable communities", their idea for the New
Urbanism of the future.
But this glum, dystopian world is already with us. It has been, in one
form or another, since the 1920s: only its rate of expansion and the
places it is colonising are changing. Along the once silver-fringed and
bird-haunted marshes of Thamesside Essex are new estates of witless
housing, which have been approved - as blustering signposts at Barking
Reach boast - by Whitehall. They are so dismal, strung out under
high-voltage electricity cables, scented by sewer works and scored by
roaring dual-carriageways, that anyone with a choice - something we are
all meant to be endowed with in New Britain - would surely opt for a
caravan, a tree-house or a lean-to.
How can the country - how can London, which once boasted some of the
best respected low-cost and middle-class housing in the world - have
stooped so very low? Architectural students from around the world now
come to gawp at and video the staggeringly inept new world we are
creating with which to punish our citizens. By 2020, those who have not
been imprisoned for increasingly petty offences to satisfy the baying of
moral cretins will, increasingly, live in jails of their own buying, if
Or will they? Is there a chance that we might yet use our architectural
and design talent, latent though it might be, to shape a very different
Britain? Could our housing enjoy a renaissance between now and 2020?
Cynics and fatalists will shrug their shoulders and argue that what will
be will be: London and the south-east will metamorphose into one
amorphous economic hothouse, one big dormitory suburb, a snook to cock
at continental Europeans with their elitist, un-American obsession with
compact, cultured cities. Sod them for a game of urban warriors. The
towns and cities north of the Humber-Severn divide, these cynics argue,
will shed their residents like a moulting dog, leaving their centres
top-heavy with "iconic" City of Culture-style architectural follies,
heaving nightclubs, drunken ravers, ailing PFI hospitals and
graffiti-sprayed public art in pedestrian precincts.
Thankfully, there are alternatives, and we are not too late to build
them. Housing does not need to be so vapidly dull, nor so very cynical.
If we are honest with ourselves, we might learn to admit that neither
suburban sprawl nor stock suburban housing is for all of us. Planning
authorities, housebuilders and architects should be able to respond more
fluidly, and fluently, to people's dreams. Admittedly, by
2020 we are unlikely to be able to buy the sort of houses evoked in JG
Ballard's Vermilion Sands - the very structures of which mutate
according to the emotions of those who live, or once lived in them - but
we might be able to buy, and even build for ourselves, homes that have
more meaning and life than mass-produced, brick-dressed breezeblock
To enable that to happen, planners and those who draw up the planning
laws need to think hard, and laterally. If we are going to house people
on floodplains, as we are doing in the Thames Gateway, we might offer
them houses on stilts, or boat houses - or just boats. The house types
already under construction in the area are the architectural equivalent
of King Canute ordering back the waves, except Canute did it to prove
that even a king had no power over the gods of nature. Contemporary
housebuilders appear to believe they have gone one better. High waters,
though, will come to the Thames Gateway as surely as they did over
Canute's knees, and to ancient Mesopotamia, as recounted in Genesis.
Noah built his ark, and survived the flood. We would be wise to follow
the mythical example of Noah and assume the waters will come.
Or we might choose to build houses that soar above future floodwaters
and that, instead of gobbling up land, use as little of it as possible.
On pages 16 and 17 we show the ideas for Skyhouse by Marks Barfield,
architects of the London Eye. Skyhouse, as Marks Barfield is keen to
stress, is not a proposal for a new generation of tower blocks,
structures now largely discredited. It is, rather, a kind of giant
artificial stem off which grow flats, houses, shops, health clubs and
gardens. Powered by recyclable solar and wind energy sources, Skyhouses
could provide clusters of ultra-modern homes, offering peerless views
without destroying the land from which they rise. They would, in all
likelihood, be popular with the young, those without dogs and children,
and those happily retired from the Ricky Gervais-style office, customer
service facility and chain store world below them.
Equally, we might want to build new land, reclaimed from the water, as
the Dutch have done with their polder for generations. Or we could build
lightweight cabins, or the equivalent of Mr and Mrs Peggotty's boat, on
soil unsuitable for conventional homes. We could add cabins along old
lanes, flanked by allotments, instead of thumping down executive estates
and their dream-shattering houses.
But there is a tremendously strong vein of snobbery running through
planning departments the length and breadth of Britain. Conventional
housing schemes designed in garish, pseudo-vernacular styles - meaning
they look the same wherever you go - are given the go-ahead pretty much
willy nilly, because they look like the proper homes depicted in
children's drawings, even if they undermine the character of the
villages they desecrate and make a mockery of centuries of local
architectural styles, and run counter to an area's building character
and materials. Yet when people try to build truly local homes that would
blend in to their surroundings, or add to the character of a locale,
they are usually told by their local planning departments that they
cannot do so.
But think of the startling places of Britain, and consider for a moment
the fact that their attraction is owed to what sets them apart from a
thousand other places. Then think of how their characters could be
destroyed in weeks. Imagine, for example, if Dungeness in the far
south-east corner of Kent was to be rebuilt with contemporary,
pseudo-vernacular developers' housing. No more black-tarred fishermen's
cottages. No more railway-carriage homes. There would be no particular
reason to live here. It would be just like anywhere else.
It is an irony that Dungeness, a very special place, has been saved by a
product of the modern world less attractive to most than even the
boxiest of starter homes. It has avoided the fate of much of the rest of
Romney Marsh, which once seemed safe from crass housing developments,
not so much by its remote, end-of-the-world location on a shingle beach
looking across a rough stretch of sea, but because there is a nuclear
power station there. Most people want cheap(ish) electricity on demand,
but few want to face up to the reality of the nuclear power that helps
to provide it.
Just a few miles from Dungeness is St Mary-in-the-Marsh; the ancient
parish church celebrated by artists for centuries is now faced by a
singularly unsuitable row of pseudo-vernacular-style executive houses.
That is a dumb piece of building work, but it has been replicated
throughout the country. The character of charming old villages
throughout Oxfordshire - a county of home workers sitting behind
computer screens, SUV in the yard - is being undermined as fast as I can
type this by mind- numbingly banal new housing.
This same housing can be seen from the windows of any number of garishly
painted, privatised trains. Swindon, for example, once the proud home of
the Great Western Railways locomotive works, is swamped with the stuff,
wilfully badly planned and designed to numb brains. Ely, all of a
sudden, is even worse. Didcot, a disaster.
This new, ever-extending subtopia is not a patch on Bekonscot Model
Village in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Bekonscot was built in 1929 as
an idyllic vision of a contemporary Britain. But it was a dream even
then: three-quarters of a century ago, critics were aiming the same
criticism at crass new housing developments as we hear today. There were
solutions then, as there are now, but clearly the idea of extending the
sub-Metroland style of housing and living throughout the country has
been, and may yet remain, unstoppable. There is no reason to doubt that
in 2020 we will still be building this kind of poorly planned, pokey,
two-fingers-up-at-local-character housing, and it will still be marketed
in the property pages as some sort of domestic dream.
Over the past decade we have seen a rise in the number of new
"apartments" and "lofts", converted from old warehouses, in revitalised
city centres, but these are only a small part of the housing market and
they will remain so, as will some of the fascinating and even romantic
designs by many architects trying to inject fresh ideas into housing.
We could, of course, build more on what are known as brownfield sites on
former industrial land, especially in any number of the all but
forgotten corners of London and its inner suburbs. Why build on virgin
land when we have great patches of the London borough of Brent, for
example, to build on? And many other inner suburbs in need of upgrading
and general redevelopment.
The reason we rape so many virgin sites with crude housing is that there
is still cheap land to buy. It is much easier, and more profitable, to
build cheap, conventional houses for sale on greenfield sites rather
than to clear redundant city sites and design intelligent architecture.
It is certainly easier to sell those houses than to convince buyers they
need not be sceptical about an elegant flat, perhaps with a balcony and
a roof garden, or maybe looking over a courtyard or a town square
garden. Instead the shoddy little house is sold as a dream, yet it is
nothing of the sort, out in the wind-scythed Thames Gateway, where
public transport will never be as good or as well connected as it is
further into central London.
Beyond the question of cheap virgin land versus more expensive used
land, we need to think about what our inner suburbs might be like in
2020 if current trends prevail. To ensure they are truly attractive
places to build and live, we need to make sure they retain some of their
essential and distinctive services - post offices, family-owned shops,
libraries, street markets, swimming pools. All those things, however,
are in danger of being swept away by dull-minded corporations, which
appear to despise the very people they are meant to serve (as in the
case of the Post Office), or else by the chain stores pressing hard on
the frontiers of even the most special of our old inner suburbs.
Who would want to work so very hard and save enough money to buy a home
in an area meant to be special, but which ends up - certainly by
2020 - almost 100% free of independent shops and cafes and pretty much
100% full of boring chain stores?
The trouble is that there is no grown-up - much less joined-up -
thinking in local or national government, much less in planning offices,
to prevent the destruction of the distinctive nature of our high streets
and suburban centres. Policy in general is aimed at undermining local
character, and small family businesses; it encourages powerful national
and global business interests better able to pay high taxes. Property is
simply too expensive for anyone's long-term good or happiness in
Britain. That is unlikely to change by
And yet there is so much talk of "urban regeneration", of government
quangos working with the best architects, with a desire, however
superficial, to raise the standards of housing design and improve the
ways we live. That, though, is so much hot air, because the economy does
not need to follow such high-flown ideas to keep functioning. It needs
only to perform its task at the most prosaic level.
By 2020, then, more and more people will live in execrably dull new
homes, in increasingly characterless extended suburbs lined with chain
stores. Such homes will be described by ministers of parties right and
right (there will be no "left" or even "centre" by then) as
"cutting-edge designs" in "sustainable communities". They will claim to
have "delivered" (ministers, it seems, would care to be regarded like
the milkmen of yore) the half-million new homes, or whatever the figure
will be by then, that the south-east of England so badly needs, while
palming off northerners with some cultural festivals, more nightclubs,
fancy department stores and bread-and-circus architecture.
But, what if ... what if we revolted against this trash, this "delivery"
hype, this wilful blandness, and went for what, in our hearts, and even
in our minds' eyes, we might be really happy with, and delighted by?
Houses with local character, whether cobbled together from rags and
patches or the very latest in leading-edge design. Suburbs revitalised,
and given form, with new homes built around squares, along canals, with
communal as well as private gardens, shot through with covered markets,
street markets, libraries
(instead of dumbed-down Idea Stores), served by intelligent public
transport services run, not by some bullying, punitive, power-hungry
mayor, but by a new, forward-looking public corporation with the aim of
providing the very best to ordinary people.
On the skyline, there may well be some of Marks Barfield's elegant
Skyhouses. Down on the Romney Marshes, or in the byways of
Cambridgeshire, there will be cabins - some clapboard, some made of
ultra-modern materials - tucked in between hollyhocked hedgerows,
choired by songbirds, replacing crass pseudo-vernacular housing estates.
Ely and Swindon, Didcot and Doncaster will gang together to demolish
trash cul-de-sac housing, and rediscover both their local identities and
their place in the world in the third decade of the
In towns, new housing, whether truly traditional or super-new, will be
squeezed into any number of unlikely sites, so people can live
cheek-by-jowl with their history as well in the present, while looking
to the future. The Thames Gateway will be given back to marshes and
fowls, with those who truly choose to live here investing in houses on
stilts and houseboats.
Independent shops and cafes will be encouraged by planning and local
taxation laws; chains will be curbed in their ambition to turn us into a
nation of all-consuming dullards. We will learn to stop "delivering
housing" and to design decent homes and rewarding places to live. In
Jonathan Glancey is the Guardian's architecture critic
The conventional nuclear family is already a thing of the past: the
challenge for 2020 is dealing with the results of its disappearance.
By Madeleine Bunting
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Guardian The past 30 years has been a generation of dramatic change
in the shape of family life. That pace will not be continued in the next
The next two decades will be a period in which already well-established
trends are consolidated. That is the consensus among researchers. And
all are agreed that by 2020 it will be very hard to talk of a "typical
family", such will be the variety of shapes and types of families.
The most marked characteristic of families since the 1960s has been that
the traditional conception of the British family has disintegrated. The
married couple with 2.4 children is disappearing. The sequence of life
events - marriage, sex and children - has been radically reordered.
Marriage rarely comes first and increasingly does not happen at all.
Over the past 30 years, levels of cohabitation have trebled, the number
of babies born outside marriage has quintupled, and the number of
single-parent families has trebled.
The most dramatic change, however, has been to the "happy ever after"
bit in the picture of family life. In the past 30 years, the rate of
divorce has doubled; and half of all children now experience their
parents' divorce before they are 16.
All four trends - cohabitation, divorce, births outside marriage and
single parents - are likely to be even more pronounced by 2020. There is
no evidence that any of them are easing. Much has been made of the fact
that the divorce rate appears to have reached a plateau - Britain has
the highest divorce rate in Europe - but it is still rising in first
marriages. Cohabitation arrangements are even more likely to break down
than marriages. So what will be accepted as a general rule of family
life in 2020 will be the brittle nature of the core relationship between
"There have been 20 years of dramatic change and the diversity of family
structures is much greater. The proportion of single-parent families
will probably continue to bob around 20%, but there will probably be
more stepfamilies in the future," says David Utting of the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation, who is also one of the authors of The Handbook of
While the underlying trends reshaping families will not change, our
attitudes to those trends will. The recent period of revolutionary
upheaval will bed down into social acceptability. The stigma that used
to surround divorce and illegitimacy will be a subject only for the
history books. Gay and lesbian partnerships, with rights enshrined in
law, will no longer prompt comment. Family life will have adjusted to a
pattern of serial monogamy, with a much larger number of stepfamilies.
Lone parenthood will be a common phenomenon, but not necessarily a
long-lasting one: on average, single parenthood lasts five years now,
but that could drop lower by 2020 as the "churn rate" of relationship
The diversity of family forms will be striking by 2020. Children living
with both their biological parents in the same household will be in the
minority. There will be dozens of different types of co-parenting
arrangements, with combinations of stepfamilies, or adults with children
from previous relationships entering long-term relationships with others
in the same position but choosing not to live together.
>From the vantage point of 2020, there will be some amusement at the
heated debates this scenario inspired at the turn of the century. Talk
of family breakdown will cause wry smiles as people attribute the kind
of moral panic seen in the late 20th century to a particular kind of
centennial angst. At least, that is the view of Christina Hardyment,
author of The Future of the Family. She argues that the overriding
picture is not so much one of family breakdown as of a radical
restructuring that allows for just as much emotional commitment as ever.
"There is an alternative view to the doom-laden prophesy that families
are falling apart," says Hardyment. "In fact, the future of the family
is stronger than ever - all the research shows that families are hugely
valued and will continue to be."
That is borne out by successive British Social Attitude Surveys, which
show clearly that while family members live further apart, they turn to
each other when important life events take place. Hardyment points to
the fact that families are still responsible for the bulk of socialising
in British life and that family members talking to each other account
for a large proportion of telephone usage. For Hardyment, the most
important factor is that "the relationship between adults is chosen
rather than one of economic necessity. That's a tremendous change in the
basis of the relationship."
One of the most dramatic social changes of the past 30 years has been in
women's patterns of employment. In the UK the proportion of women in
full-time employment has trebled in the past 30 years and maternal
employment has leapt from 57% to 65% during the 1990s. With their new
economic power, women are able to negotiate more equal relationships -
already one in five women earn more than their partners. That proportion
is likely to increase over the next decades as a generation of
high-achieving schoolgirls arrives in the labour market. Women now make
up more than half the intake of traditional professions such as law and
The norm in families now is for one male full-time worker and one female
part-time. By 2020, more women will be the primary breadwinner, though
that shift will be restricted by the fact that while earning power is
being redistributed within the heterosexual couple, caring
responsibilities have proved more resistant to change. A
disproportionate amount of housework and childcare is still done by
This renegotiation of the economics of the couple is what the social
theorist Anthony Giddens celebrated as the "pure relationship" in his
Reith Lectures of 1999. He heralded a new era for the family as the old
structures of patriarchy, duty and deference crumble to give way to a
more democratic model between partners, and between parents and their
children. Giddens argued that "individualisation" - how people define
their identity - shapes family experiences, as people choose to develop
only those relationships that promise them emotional integrity.
Fiona Williams has led the Care, Values and the Future of Welfare
research project at Leeds University for five years. She argues that
Giddens' thinking has overstated the extent to which people are
atomistic individuals who seek fulfilment in personal relationships.
"There may be seriality in sexual relationships, but that doesn't lead
to fragmentation of the family," she says. "People will have different
experiences over their lifetimes - of marriage, of cohabitation, of
single parenthood - but in many of them they are negotiating complex and
deeply held commitments."
In fact, the major characteristic of the 21st-century family is that the
relationship between parents and children has been charged with a much
greater intensity, commitment and pleasure. "Parenting has gained in
political, economic and emotional significance," says Williams. "Parents
and children have more emotional investment in each other. The issue is
the quality of the relationship, not just its functionality. Children
and their parents talk of each other as friends whom they can talk to -
now, fathers want as much of that quality of relationship as mothers
have. The relationship between parents and children has got stronger."
What goes along with the greater emotional investment is a longer
financial dependency. Children used to be off their parents' hands by
18, but the combination of student loans, university fees and rising
property prices has already reversed that, and the trend is likely to
continue. Parenthood is well on its way to becoming a minimum 25-year
deal. The way generations in the family are connected by vertical links
is sometimes characterised as the "beanpole family" - long and thin. As
family sizes shrink, the number of siblings and cousins will dwindle
while the intergenerational relationships become more intense. That
beanpole family will present the state with some particular challenges
in the 2020s, adds Williams. The strength of the parent-child
relationship might mean that today's children will expect a lot of
support from the state to care for their aged parents. Meanwhile,
grandparents will want to help with the care of their grandchildren but
will have to carry on working to fund their pensions.
Many researchers believe the past 30 years have seen not so much the
breakdown of the family as its reinvention. The baby-boomers adapted
family structures in line with their aspirations to autonomy,
self-definition and emotional integrity. Over the course of a
generation, they have taken the family unit apart rather as a car
mechanic might an engine. The great shibboleths of western family life
have been dismantled: sex and marriage used to be interlinked - as did
marriage and children, as did heterosexuality and marriage. Those links
have been broken and people can assemble the bits as they wish: the
worth accorded to individual autonomy has hugely increased and will
continue to grow.
Despite the moral panic generated by these shifts, one aspect of the
reinvented family that has been less controversial - in relative terms -
has been the delinking of genetic material and parenthood. Donated semen
to help couples in which the man is infertile has been used since the
1960s, and donated eggs are a common part of infertility treatment.
Test-tube babies and surrogate mothers are no longer a novelty. What has
been firmly established is that parenthood does not always entail direct
genetic inheritance; the bonding and strength of relationship is not
determined by common genetic material.
But the strong resistance in British public opinion to some developments
of reproductive technologies - such as cloning and choosing a baby's
characteristics, the creation of so-called designer babies - shows no
sign of abating. By 2020, the techniques to develop a cloned embryo will
almost certainly exist (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
has already given a centre in Newcastle the go-ahead to begin research)
and will probably be practised elsewhere in the world. It will be almost
impossible for the government to prevent people becoming fertility
tourists, travelling to find the treatment they want. But it is a moot
point as to whether public opinion will have shifted to allow parents
these choices in their own country.
The baby-boomers' reinvention of family has ensured that increasingly
there will be no collective narrative about how intimate relationships
should be structured and the order in which major life events should
unfold. Adulthood will not carry with it expectations of achieving
certain relationship milestones, such as getting married or becoming a
parent. But while the options for personal freedom will have been
enormously enlarged, that will bring with it a degree of confusion and
disorientation, because individuals' wishes are sure, in many cases, to
conflict: to have children or not; to marry or not; to stick together or
separate. Without norms, some individuals will happily negotiate their
way through the choices, but others will find it more difficult.
Despite the rising tolerance of relationship breakdown and divorce,
there is still a tremendous attachment to the ideal of a stable,
lifelong commitment, points out Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the
National Family and Parenting Institute. The vast majority of people
tell surveys they want to spend their life with one other person.
Children, in particular, are very attached to living in a household with
both their mother and father. MacCleod acknowledges it is "troubling"
that, in effect, children's expectations of family life are not, and
increasingly will not be, met. There is some evidence we are getting
better at divorcing - there is still a long way to go - but there is no
getting away from the fact that the serial monogamy of the future will
be disruptive and difficult for children. Research has already shown
that children of divorced parents have, on average, a lower rate of
educational achievement and higher incidence of mental health problems
in adulthood. There will be increasing pressure on couples to achieve a
"good divorce" for the sake of their children.
The increased freedom of the reinvented family has also brought a
doubling in single-person households and a sharp rise in the proportion
of childless women. In part, these developments are attributable to
increased choice but, in part, it is the cost that is paid for choice.
In a significant minority of people's lives by 2020, family will not
play a major role and friendship will be much more important in these
people's emotional lives. Those friendships may often entail strong
commitment to mutual support so friends can help each other through life
crises. For many in 2020, "significant others" will be as likely to
refer to a few close friends as a husband or mother.
But the attenuated family structures will leave some vulnerable.
Loneliness and depression will be more common, and some groups, such as
the elderly, will be particularly vulnerable. As geographical mobility
continues to spread families over greater distances and the smaller
family size increases the dependency of the elderly on their one or two
children, loneliness in the final decades of our longer lives will be a
huge issue. Given that women live longer than men, they will be
disproportionately affected; by 2020 we will be discussing the
feminisation of loneliness and searching for strategies to develop
greater peer sociability to compensate.
The ageing of the British population by 2020 will be a major political
and social issue - the number of people over pensionable age will
increase from 10.9 million now to 13.2million in 2026. But the workers
of 2020 will be bracing themselves for an even older age profile when
they retire, because we are expected to reach the peak of 15 million
pensioners in 2040.
We know we will work for longer and live for longer. But the big unknown
is how the medical treatment and care we need in our old age will be
financed. Utting points to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
that indicates that by 2020 the funding implications for care will be
acute. Will taxes have to rise to pay for the number of heart operations
needed for octogenarians? These will be the dilemmas for the electorate
in the 2020s. Alongside financing the huge costs of medical treatment
will be the enormous challenge of funding the much more prosaic matter
of caring for the frail elderly - dressing them, cooking their meals,
doing their housework and helping them to wash. By 2020, we will be in
the middle of the debate on the care deficit. This could be the single
most difficult issue facing the family in the
Historically, women were responsible for care within the family. They
raised the children and cared for the elderly according to the
traditional, early-20th-century model. But the transfer of their labour
from the family to the paid economy has opened up a care deficit. That
is one part of family life the baby-boomers singularly failed to
reinvent. Women are still expected to take on the bulk of the care
responsibilities within the family and some research indicates that men
(particularly those in professional jobs) are now doing fewer household
chores and less childcare than they did 20 years ago. What is fuelling
the care deficit is the growing pressure of long hours at work. The
number of long-hour workers in the UK has doubled in the past five years
to 26% of the workforce.
At the moment, the centre of the debate over the care deficit is how to
care for children, which is likely to be a major issue at the next
general election as demand grows on the state to step in and help
families with this part of the care deficit. As birth rates decline
dramatically in countries such as Spain and Italy, the European Union
will add to the domestic pressure in the UK for the government to adopt
family-friendly policies, including state childcare provision and
greater encouragement for flexible working. By 2020, it is possible that
the childcare question will have been solved - there will be enough
provision and the state will ensure it's affordable - but another part
of the care deficit, the care of the elderly and chronically ill, will
be provoking much greater concern.
On every aspect of the care deficit over the coming decades, people will
turn to technology for help. Japan, which has the highest proportion of
those over 60 in the world, has already pioneered the kind of remote,
web-based technology that can administer health checks such as taking a
pulse rate and measuring blood pressure. There will be moves to further
extend the role of technology in providing care.
Webcams might by 2020 be playing the role the telephone did in the
20th century, a vital communication link for families who might live
hundreds of miles apart. Already some nurseries are linked up to their
parents' office by webcam so they can see their children at play. More
and more communication within the family is likely to be mediated by
technology - the internet, email or the mobile phone. Already,
technology has facilitated the family life of people who have migrated
from their home country. For example, a South African nurse working in
the UK can now be involved in daily decisions about the upbringing of
her children and care of her parents. Involvement in family life no
longer requires geographical proximity.
Technology will alleviate some of the loneliness arising from the care
deficit, but it can offer few solution to the basics of sustaining a
person's daily life. There have been suggestions that robots could be
programmed to respond to a baby's crying and that they could play a role
in the care of tiny babies. But there will be strong cultural
reservations about such an idea, reinforced by the emerging research on
the importance of affection towards babies in the development of their
brains in the first year, so it is hard to see robot nannies being a
major feature of family life.
The big problem in 2020 will be to find the workforce to meet the care
needs of families. It is predicted that by 2020 the US will absorb the
entire global workforce of nurses, such will be the demand of its ageing
population for medical care. It will be able to offer high enough wages
to poach them from all over the world.
The declining birth rate in many European countries - Britain's has been
declining also but at a slower rate - will post the acute problem of
finding enough people to care for their ageing populations. Perhaps
governments will finally have to tackle the chronic low pay and low
status of care work to recruit sufficient numbers. Or perhaps they will
adopt the short-term solution of importing care, allowing women migrant
workers on short-term contracts to staff our nurseries, old people's
homes and hospitals.
We do not yet know. But whatever course policymakers choose, they - and
we - face some tough challenges.
Madeleine Bunting is a Guardian columnist and the author of Willing
Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives (HarperCollins,
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