A Look Back to that Critical Year, 2023

Vern Scott
7 min readMay 23, 2023

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A 2053 review of our societal progress in the past 30 years, yes another futuristic Vern Scott farce!

If we are careful, our tech future will be bright (Mark Anderson CC 2.0)

I sit here writing this piece from my comfortable seat aboard a hydrogen fuel-cell powered hover-craft in the cool, lush, vegetated plains between Petaluma and San Rafael, nibbling from a floating robo-veggy cart on Cybertrans-101, reading a holographic newspaper about how yet again, a bipartisan congress passed thoughtful legislation for the general good of the earth and humanity. I don’t suppose this utopian existence would have been possible, if not for the timely interventions that took place thirty years ago, during the tumultuous year 2023, when we all sat at the brink of disaster.

Dare I scare our children by bringing up the events of that pivotal year, when corporate fossil-fuel barons imposed their energy monopolies that largely controlled foreign policy and the domestic jobs economy, while choking our precious air with pollutants and dangerous climate warming CO2 and Methane gases? The youngsters might also shudder if they understood how quasi-socialist groups were demanding draconian overnight solutions to global warming, under-employment and lack-of-profit-sharing which included enormous corporate taxation, aircraft and cattle bans, and the elimination of oil, and natural gas. Somewhat miraculously, technology and practical thinking came to bear, as it has often done in American history.

First, it was pointed out that although wind, solar, and hydro sources were progressing, they were weather, “time of day” and “time of year” dependent and thus held back by the expensive energy storage devices of the day. Further, it was decided (with some reluctance due to a perceived competition with renewables) that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), relatively cheap and available technologies that captured and stored CO2 from natural gas burning, and Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)-a relatively expensive but emerging technology that could remove and reuse CO2 (especially in the making of more benign biofuels), made it so the versatile natural gas could still be used to balance energy demands left wanting by wind, solar, and hydro. These technologies made an immediate impact, much the same way the catalytic converter radically reduced smog in the 70s. It was further decided (with some trepidation) to update nuclear plants with Bill Gates’ clever “Generation IV” technologies, until slow phase-out in favor of renewables and the emerging CCU technology. Thus, dirty coal was eliminated, fracking scaled back/heavily regulated, and oil fields decreased (as oil was now used primarily to make natural gas, plastics, asphalts, and lubricants). Consequently, many oil workers did not have to be unemployed after all, while the ever-growing wind, solar, and carbon-capture made many new jobs available, with the versatility and benefits of local control, DC micro and super grids, and neighborhood scale. In a goodwill-gesture, makers of plastic consumer goods elected to reinvent plastic recycling, which then took the form of standardization, computer sorting, mandatory reuse (with healthy deposits) or clean energy conversion, making oceans again safe for wildlife. Yes, corporations were “taxed” alright, in the form of higher energy production costs (which were just passed on to us), but that was a good thing as with the gradual shrinkage of big oil, our economy subsequently prospered, we all had jobs in industries which we had a say, and subsequently even the National Deficit started to decrease due to fewer corporate subsidies and a better tax base.

In transportation, electric driverless cars became the norm for passenger travel, as prices came down after better technologies emerged (thanks to some generous subsidies paid for by an equitable automotive carbon tax). Truck travel became the domain of biofuel hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technologies (at higher cost) to supply greater horsepower. Existing natural gas pipelines were converted to hydrogen blended “green gas”, which eventually became pure hydrogen (made using renewable electrolysis and CCS steam methane reforming). Magnetic-levitation (Maglev) train travel became the norm for regional trips in the 100–500 mile range, while the aforementioned fuel-cell hybrid air travel (often in super jets with passenger payloads of up to 1000 people) became commonplace.

A Food and Health Revolution

Will sustainably grown and healthy food become the norm? (Mike Licht CC 2.0)

Meanwhile, a sort of food and health revolution was underway, as increased knowledge and tastes began to favor fruits and vegetables over meat and grain, and for time, it was as though Alice Waters and Michael Pollan had been elected President and Vice President, much to the delight of farm-to-table Petalumans. This worked out nicely for everyone, since fruits and vegetables could be very sustainably grown using less water and fertilizer, while not tearing up our precious soil, and allowing carbon stabilizing cover crops. In addition, the utilization of state of the art Ag-Engineering technologies (such as aquaponics and CCU biofuels), helped scale the ag economy down to reasonable levels that didn’t need pesticide and herbicide-laden monocultures, subsidies, and lobbyists. Ag production even became honorable/reasonable wage work again, as students, inner-city trainees, and well-treated Latino guest workers toiled side-by-side in harmony. As on the energy side, there was no need for the incumbent meat and grain industries to fear, as they too had a place in this new economy, albeit in a scaled down fashion. Grain began to be used primarily for healthy human consumption, in the form of high quality breads and cereals, while becoming less of the food animal diet. Beef and dairy became a sort of boutique industry (in which Sonoma County led the way), with grass-fed organic cows, highly sought-after varieties of cheeses and meat, while people began to realize that cows could be net carbon-neutral, due to their amazing ability to process and fertilize grass. The chicken and cow came to be seen as a valuable friend, providing eggs, milk, and fertilizer, with increased markets for “retired” layers and milkers, which better utilized meat in the form of stew pot chicken and beef.

In this modified ag loop, fertilizer became a prized commodity, as the reclamation of desert lands became a priority. Now armed with computer controlled drip irrigation and “smart” fertilization, these marginal lands became food-bearing and tourist-serving oases, which in turn trapped carbon and cooled the planet, at reasonable cost. Surprisingly, the word “drought” began to lose its meaning, as better ag practices and conservation begat stable aquifers, natural reservoirs, happy people and fish. As a side-benefit, people became much healthier, as in addition to their “less meat and grain, more fruit and vegetable” diet, they were much more in touch with their food and energy sources, and much more likely to exercise while harvesting their food and energy.

Futuristic affordable-housing

To house this loop of food, transportation, and energy perfection was a challenge and not solved right away, since the advent of “clean” everything didn’t necessarily remove the problem of “congested” or “expensive” everything. The answer, it turned out, came about five years later with the advent of a sort of “large scale 3d model making” (or “LS3M” for short) combined with the realization that people are happiest when they “live sorta like farmers, with gardens, animals, and sunshine”. This new movement, called the “L.S.L.F.W.G.A.S. Movement” (or jokingly “Farmers with GAS” movement), began unsurprisingly in Petaluma, where people knew the value of such things. LS3M made it possible to create an inexpensive structure (with a mixture of native soil and enviro-cement), so that large residential complexes incorporating gardens, parks, penstocks, and playfields with piped-in or artificial LED sunlight could be built near transit hubs. This made it so those with the newly ratified $18/hr minimum wage could enjoy reasonable rents (plus with animals, nearby running tracks, and their own gardens), while easily being able to jump into a “vertical/horizontal elevator” that could quickly take their transit pods directly to a maglev loading dock to the destination of their choice, whether it be San Francisco for work or L.A. for a ballgame, concert, or flight.

With most problems solved and not much left to fight about, Congress began to be a kind of social club, with Dems/Repubs mostly arguing about who was going to win the 3-D Academy Awards or the International Super Bowl. It was amazing to see how quickly all the problems of 2023 disappeared once some sensible concepts and technologies took place (and well yes, it did help that Facebook invented a device that would give the President an electric shock if more than 60% of the subscribers disapproved of anything he or she did at any moment). Current World Council Executive Leader Greta Thunberg can be very proud of the events that she, more than anyone, put in place many years ago, even though this author is still mad about her ban on “A View Back to” articles, “too-long” sentences, and over-used parentheticals, which has forced me to secretly time-warp-quantum-mail this article back to 2023’s primitive version of Medium, for fear of electro-shock applied by Medium’s 2053 robo-editor-counterpart, the A.I. Medium IV (The Magnificent).

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Vern Scott

Scott lives in the SF Bay Area and writes confidently about Engineering, History, Politics, and Health