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Transition or Die: Four Timelines for Four Futures

Shaun Chamberlin, author of The Transition Timeline: For a Local, Resilient Future, not only sees the future—he sees four of them. The following timelines lay out what Chamberlin sees as the four most likely paths that societies around the world will take when confronted with the realities of peak oil. All societies will struggle—some will go extinct. But with the proper foresight and planning, a few societies will thrive in the low-energy future. Which path will your community choose? The following is an excerpt from The Transition Timeline, by Shaun Chamberlin. It has been adapted for the web.
Denial Business as usual Ignoring evidence 2010 – Recession deepens, UK manufacturing declared to be ‘in crisis.’ British Airways announces bankruptcy. World oil production passes its peak. 2011 – US dollar crashes, colossal losses on the international markets. House repossessions rise sharply. 2012 – Extreme rises in global food prices. W.H. Smith and Debenhams declare bankruptcy. London Olympics deemed ‘a massive disappointment’, due to the numbers of athletes and international spectators unable to attend. 2013 – Arctic ice-free for the first time. Major flood in Bangladesh leads to refugee crisis. London Mayor introduces free bicycle scheme to London, and bans cars from many areas of city centre. Government introduces ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ scheme. Oil reaches €300 a barrel, with gas prices following suit. Many areas of the UK begin to experience regular power shortages. Nitrogen fertiliser becomes unaffordable for many farmers. Government presses for huge increase in coal production. 2015 – British Aerospace launches wind turbine manufacturing plant in Bristol. Stock-market crashes. 2016 – The world passes the tipping point into unstoppable climate change, although it doesn’t know it at the time. 2018 – UK runs out of landfill sites and is forced to export virtually all of its waste. Draconian limits on rubbish collection lead to problems of waste accumulating in streets. 2019 – IPCC announces “it’s over”, and that runaway climate change is now beyond human control. 2020 – Huge African famine kills 4 million. 60% of world’s fisheries so depleted that it is ‘uneconomic’ to fish there. Beyond this point it becomes too unpleasant to relate…. Hitting The Wall Business as usual Acknowledging challenges 2010 – After much wrangling and political brinksmanship, the 2010 Accord agrees to limit the peak in global atmospheric concentrations to 400ppm CO2 and reduce from there. This is hailed as a ‘victory for sanity’ by environmental groups. World reaches peak oil production. 2011 – Emissions already exceeding 2010 Accord targets. Global Emissions Trading Scheme (GETS) introduced. Food riots across the developing world. British Prime Minister tells President Putin “when it comes to our energy security, the UK knows who its friends are.” Oil passes €150 a barrel for first time. 2012 – Russia tells the UK that “in this new energy world, it is every man for himself ”, and brings in crippling price rises. UK experiences regular power cuts over the winter. US President Obama announces “the wheels have come off the world’s oil production.” 2013 – Government introduces mandatory ‘smart’ electrical goods, which allow power companies to reduce the energy provided to appliances at peak times. Some countries with agreed strict limits on fossil-fuel extraction report that they are struggling in the fight against organised criminal mining projects. 2014 – UK fuel poverty soars. TV viewing drops sharply as the trend for home storytelling and music-making booms, a side effect of the previous winter’s power cuts. 2015 – GETS abandoned. UK Government introduces new rules to encourage decentralised energy generation, and rushes through its ‘Local Energy Act.’ 2016 – UK Government’s ‘Dig for Resilience’ initiative, a part of its National Food Security Plan, pays people to stay home and garden, and introduces a Lawn Tax. The Impossible Dream Cultural shift Ignoring evidence 2009 – UK Government introduces feed-in tariffs, guaranteeing a good price for households and businesses selling surplus electricity into the National Grid. Copenhagen Climate Agreement commits all major world governments to stabilising CO2 concentrations at 500ppm. 2010 – World oil production passes its peak. Russia tells UK and other nations that increases in gas production are “not possible.” UK Government introduces Tradable Energy Quotas and uses the ‘Transition Fund’ the scheme generates to support relocalisation initiatives. New Government ‘Vision for UK Food’ launched, including controls on importing foods which can be produced in the UK. 2011 – 1,000th UK Transition initiative unleashed. 2012 – Government introduces the ‘Community Energy Act’ to encourage local ownership of power generation. 2013 – All Copenhagen signatories adopt Tradable Energy Quotas. 2016 – 85% of food consumed in UK grown here. 2017 – Global oil demand down to 70 million barrels/day. 2020 – 15% of UK energy demand met by renewables. First Climate Tribunal convened to assess possible past ‘crimes against humanity’. 2025 – IPCC Seventh Assessment Report (AR7) expresses alarm at temperatures rising faster than expected – calls for urgent re-evaluation of agreed concentration targets. The Transition Vision Cultural shift Acknowledging challenges 2010 – EU introduces Common Sustainable Food Policy. The 2010 Accord commits all world governments to preventing atmospheric CO2 concentrations topping 400ppm. UK government mandates a faster expansion of forests and woodland in the UK. UK airport expansion programme ‘shelved.’ Tradable Energy Quotas introduced in UK. World oil production reaches peak. 2011 – UK road expansion programme halted. Recycled building materials stores opening across the country. 2012 – Lower energy holiday choices becoming increasingly popular, including airship cruises, travelling by canal boat, sailing on ‘pirate galleons’ and simply exploring the local area (‘staycationing’). The target of 2,012 food gardens being in place in London in time for the London Olympics is exceeded. UK road speed limit reduced to 60mph 2013 – The year’s top rating TV show is ‘Hot Composting with Amy Winehouse.’ UK Government’s ‘Fruit Forest UK’ programme gives away free fruit trees across the UK. Global agreement reached to phase out coal production. 2014 – UK population begins gentle reduction (around 0.3% per year). 2015 – The most popular money lenders in the country are now credit unions, rather than banks and building societies. Programme introduced to reopen many of the UK railways closed in the 1960s. UK building regulations revised to ensure new buildings use 60% local materials, leading to a boom in local businesses providing materials for construction. Time Magazine declares 2015 ‘the Year of the Raised Bed’. 2016 – ‘Peak cars’ on UK roads passed. 2017 – UK now imports only 10% of its food and 35% of its fruit. British car industry in tatters, many car plants converted to wind and tidal turbine manufacture. 2018 – Provision of car parking space by Local Authorities falls by 40%. 2020 – Green Party wins 40 seats in election. Obesity has fallen 40% from 2010 levels; average UK life expectancy officially reaches 81. 31% of UK electricity demand met by renewable sources, partly thanks to substantial reductions in demand. 2024 – Pension age for both men and women raised to 66. 2026 – Mental health problems have reduced to directly affect just over 1 in 6 people’s lives, compared with around 1 in 4 in 2007. 2027 – UK oil and gas production down to one-sixth of 2007 levels. 70% of UK electricity is renewable. Britain 96% self-sufficient in food. Average UK life expectancy officially reaches 82, thanks to major reductions in heart disease, obesity, cancer and traffic accidents.

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