I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.
It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.
Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…
…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?
50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.
In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.
Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.
Only Thirty Cents A Day is a little story inspired by the heartstring-jerker television ads pleading for help feeding and inoculating poverty-stricken populations in various poverty hotspots around the world. I got to thinking, what would it take for — someone — to consider us in the pretty-darn-well-off-on-average USA in need of similar missionary-style poverty relief efforts? Who would be moved to make such an effort? I spent quite a few idle minutes jotting down notes and then promptly crossing most of them out, until finally the solution hit me.
What’s the solution? It’s all revealed by the end. So of course, being a typical tease of the author, I’m going to show you a preview… of the beginning.
Here’s the first quarter of the story:
Only Thirty Cents A Day
Frederick Bolling pulled his little hybrid car into his reserved parking space and unfolded himself from the driver’s seat. His lower back crackled like cereal when you pour the milk over. He was a tall man, not made for little environmentally friendly cars, and he was older than he had ever thought he’d get when he was an idealistic college student, or even after that, when he served in the Peace Corps. Bringing some of the benefits of the technological first world to folks who had no access to it themselves, and hopefully he hadn’t inflicted too much of the so-called civilized world’s downside on the people he’d tried to help all those decades ago.
He shook off the moment of nostalgic fugue—they came more often, the farther past seventy he got—and stood, grumbling, then eyes flashing wide as he turned and found himself face to face with an unexpected man. Frederick reflexively took an awkward little hop-step back. The curve of the car’s open door frame dug into his back and he sucked in a deep breath, ready to shout if he had to.
“That’s a hydrocarbon burner, right?” the unexpected man asked, like you’d ask the time on the street, casual. He held up his hands, palms out: I mean you no harm. His features were odd and Frederick stared. The man’s skin was darker than Frederick’s, sub-Saharan Africa dark, but his eyes were faded blue, almost white, and were partially hidden by strong epicanthic folds. His nose was bulbous and his ears were distinctly pointed, holding back straight black hair that was so fine it stirred restlessly with the faint breeze that penetrated the enclosed garage from outside. His brow had a heavy ridge, almost a shelf you could set tiny knicknacks on. Something about his posture was odd, too. Something indefinable.
Frederick blinked, trapped between looking away to avoid being caught staring and too obviously looking away as if the stranger was too strange to look at. It was rude to stare at someone with… whatever genetic abnormality had caused the odd features.
“I’m sorry,” Frederick said, meaningless politeness-words as he stepped smoothly to the side, face shutting down in the New York brushoff.
“Your car burns petroleum, sir?” the man asked again, moving just slightly into Frederick’s path. Frederick stopped, wondering if his initial alarm had been the right reaction after all. The other man was smaller than he was, but much younger. His features made it hard to judge, but he looked like he might be just out of college. He was dressed like an artist or street performer, or maybe a celebrity trying too hard to be outrageous, with a wide-lapel aquamarine shirt and bolo tie under a pinstriped jacket with long tails and matching pinstriped slacks. Even his dark shoes had pinstripes. Some kind of weird activist? The city had them like it had rats and cockroaches, underfoot in the most unexpected places.
“It’s a hybrid. I’m environmentally conscious. Try the twelfth level, it’s mostly sportscars,” Frederick said, avoiding eye contact, foot sliding to the side to take off on a new vector.
“How would you like a solar car?” the weirdo asked as Frederick began to walk again. “No gas to buy. Not even a need to plug it in.”
“I’m not buying,” Frederick said without turning, walking away toward the elevator, free.
“I’m not selling,” the voice came from behind him as Frederick boarded the elevator. “You’ll see.”
Frederick left work an hour earlier than the bulk of the office, to beat the worst of rush hour traffic. He keyed the door PIN and got into his car, the stranger from the morning forgotten, and tried to start his car.
His key didn’t fit. It slid off plastic behind the steering wheel, and he looked closer. There was no receptacle there to receive it. Frederick blinked at the featureless plastic. In a life that included a new car every other year, it wasn’t too unusual to forget the quirks of the new car and remember the quirks of a past car instead.
But the ignition wasn’t placed differently than he remembered. He even checked the center console next to the automatic shift, remembering an old Saab he had had in college that had started that way. The ignition wasn’t there, either. There simply wasn’t any.
“How the hell… where’s the ignition?” he said aloud to himself. Had he somehow gotten into the wrong car? The door PIN was only four numbers, maybe by some odd coincidence…
“Ignition?” the car said, voice soft, echoing him.
“Um. Yes,” Frederick said. His car definitely did not talk.
The car hummed to life smoothly, dash lights glowing cool green…
…and that’s the end of the preview. Hope you’ll check out how it ends; the links to find it are right under the picture at the top of this post in case you’ve forgotten. 🙂
Oklahoma is just the latest locality to enact legislation that penalizes individuals for using solar or wind power to supplement power from local utility companies. Oklahoma’s SB1456 requires a person installing solar panels (or any other item that generates power on site, if you can install a windmill, geothermal plant, or hydroelectric generator in your backyard) to pay a ‘tariff’ to the electric company if you remain on-grid.
Okay, you say. When you install solar, you’re prudent to retain your connection to the power distribution infrastructure. You can sell power back to the electric company if you generate more than you use. You have power if your solar doesn’t generate enough to run your home all by itself. And it costs a lot of money to maintain that infrastructure. Never mind that you subsidize a lot of that infrastructure as a citizen through your taxes either directly or by subsidizing the natural gas or coal that runs a lot of traditional power plants.
Well, not okay, I say. Natural gas and coal generate pollution and come from finite reservoirs within the earth. Nobody’s putting them back. An adherent of an apocalyptic religion might feel the world will end before we run out of oil, natural gas, and coal. Well, hypothetical adherent, I don’t share that belief and I’d prefer to hedge that bet, thankyouverymuch.
Discouraging people from shifting to renewable energy is a disservice to the future. I know, I know, we’ve built up a system that urges us not to worry about tomorrow. Too many of us live for the moment in a bad way, unable to distinguish it from the good kind of living for today that urges us to not worry ourselves to distraction and death about things we can’t anticipate, yet plan and prepare for what we can. Too many of us think, ‘hey, I’ll be dead by the time it matters, so why should I worry?’
I don’t know what to tell you, if you don’t care about what happens in the future, if you don’t care about what kind of world we’re leaving to our great-great grandchildren/nieces/nephews or simply fellow human beings who haven’t been born yet. I don’t know how to address that degree of insularity, how to turn around the ‘screw you future buddy, I’ve got mine’ attitude that doesn’t see a need to knock off burning the fossil fuels to run cars and factories and cool computers that fit in the palm of your hand (and I’m not knocking them, I enjoy the hell out of my smartphone).
I simply don’t know what to say to the people who think we shouldn’t switch to clean sources of power that damage the environment far less than fossil fuels and which are quite capable of running our present electric civilization and then some the same way it’s been sustaining a planet full of plants and proto-plants for about three and a half billion years now.
Stop being a short-sighted jerk?