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The Good Life Doesn't Have to Cost Us the Planet

What if you woke up one day to find that humans eventually did make the right decisions, and the world turned out to be a pretty cool place.

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With more leisure time and good cycle and public transport links, low impact local excursions are a much-loved part of life. But with our experience of both cities and countryside transformed by investment in really great public spaces, people feel less need to get away in order to unwind.


Need to get out of the house? Take a short stroll to one of the thousands of courtyard and street cafés that are enjoying the cleaner air and quieter streets. Plenty of these are cheap workplace and school cafés that have opened their doors to locals. The combination of a few familiar faces, a random mix of new ones, and a daily changing menu of fresh local food makes food a daily pleasure.


A journey to work? Problems are as big as you make them: it used to be said that people wouldn’t give up their cars. But instead of denying people their cars, the big breakthroughs were made by offering people really appealing alternatives. Some of these were alternatives to travel (like the conferencing tools). But we all want to move about.

So, by raising revenue from polluting and inefficient fossil fuel-run cars, governments completely transformed people’s experience of cities and towns. Owning and driving cars to meet most of your mobility needs has come to seem simply eccentric. Lifespan and quality of life have dramatically increased as a result of cities being redesigned around people -- and walking and cycling -- not cars. Transport options range from trains, streetcars, and quiet clean buses, to on-demand rural shared taxis and simple car-share schemes that meet the range of needs we have through a year. The common “ting” of the cycle bell is as much to say “hello,” as to remind you that you’re stepping across a cycle path. And when we do get in a car, the uncongested roads and beautifully designed hyperefficient vehicles remind us what a great invention these things can be.

Perhaps your office is one of the last bits of the building to have a green makeover. In hot weather you’ve got to turn the air conditioning on. It is not as wasteful as the old machines, but you know that some of the electricity is still going to be fossil fueled. You can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the increased costs brought about by carbon taxes have got your finance department talking to your building managers who are talking to the builders about natural ventilation systems. In the meantime the tax raised is salving all of your consciences.

In an idle moment you reflect on where this cash goes, and why that matters. One of a series of breakthrough climate deals between north and south ensures that the inhabitants of Brazil, especially those living in the Amazon, are directly rewarded for their stewardship of the ecological services that the rainforest provides to the whole planet. As we gradually descend from our carbon-fix high we can at least ensure that our habit is funding some security for us all by protecting these key carbon sinks. The bill for your air-conditioning that helps you cope with climate change in your office is, in effect, helping to pay the bill to keep the global air-conditioning running in the Amazon basin.


Time released from long working days, and the fact that fast food and ready meals have gone up in price now that they reflect their full ecological costs, has seen a revival of home cooking. With lots more single households there are some twists. More people get together to take turns to share informal meals in a neighborhood. There are delivery services providing decent food in returnable containers for people without the time or inclination for the kitchen or company.

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