Next week I will be attending Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in the United Arab Emirates as the winner of the Masdar Blogging Competition. My winning essay described a vision of my city, Rochester, New York, in the year 2030. The conference, which will include the World Future Energy Summit, also hosts numerous talks, displays and presentations featuring sustainable options for the future.
In preparation, I read this post on GreenBiz in which the author interviewed a number of leading thinkers in various fields about their thoughts on what 2030 might bring.
Not surprisingly, each focused on his or her own corner of the world. For example, Darrel Smith of Microsoft talked about the importance of cloud infrastructure and the kinds of services that could grow from that. Energy consultant Matthew Norden of MNL Partners foresees a nuclear power renaissance.
That view is shared by David Friedberg, CEO of the Climate Corp., who is a believer in liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR), a compact and purportedly safer nuclear technology that enjoys a cult-like following, at least among physicists. Friedberg acknowledges that LFTR won’t be commercially ready by 2030, but he expects to see progress all the same. Friedberg is also hoping to see room temperature superconducting magnets, as well as automated agriculture and a substantial increase in vegetarianism. His company’s main focus is on agricultural technology.
Speaking of agriculture, Paul Hawken, author and visionary, who always has something interesting to say, mentions only one thing on his list: pasture cropping, something I’d not heard of. It turns out pasture cropping is a way of bringing the idea of perennial crops into modern agriculture, an idea that Wes Jackson has been working on at the Land Institute for over 30 years.
Perennial agriculture entails using more perennial plants as a food source, which can significantly reduce the impact as compared with the annual monoculture practiced today. For starters, by not plowing under a crop each year and planting new seeds, this saves a great deal of topsoil from being lost. Additionally, perennials tend to develop deep root systems which makes them more drought tolerant. Furthermore, when plant species interact synergistically as they do in native prairie (which Jackson uses as his model), there is reduced need for fertilizers or pesticides. Jackson has been developing a set of four perennials that will interact in a way that allows them to grow together, resulting in the production of one or more useful grains.
Pasture cropping takes a slightly different approach. Here, as the name suggests, the crops are combined with the pasture plants in an integrated manner that increases productivity. Winter-growing cereal crops are planted right alongside summer-pasturing crops, which allows for year-round growth and fertilizing of the ground by farm animals.
Of course, if David Friedberg gets his way, there will be more vegetarians and less need for pasturing. In Australia, where pasture cropping has been in use since the 1990s, it is often used in conjunction with sheep, which could potentially could be raised for wool alone.
Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance, is all about addressing the roots of deforestation. Recognizing that some level of deforestation is inevitable, she has set the goal for net-zero deforestation.
Several others spoke of the continuing boom in solar and the expanded use of data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of various infrastructure systems like transportation and buildings.
It should be interesting to see how these ideas compare with those that come up in Abu Dhabi.
Image credit: Dany Eid: Flickr Creative Commons