Traveling to the Future,
I've just finished reading the book, 2052 A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, by Jorgen Randers, who was the computer math whiz in the original MIT group that produced the computer models of economy, population, environmental degradation and resource use, while looking at various scenarios, in the 1972 Limits To Growth book. The key modeling folks were not involved in this work, except one commentary from one of them. There are a lot of expert commentaries here. The computer models worked out and refined over four decades were not really used here, except as a comparison. The projections of this 2012 book include peaking global economy and fossil fuel use around 2040.
What I see is peak economy and peak CO2 emissions happened in 2014. They are not "decoupled".
The implications of the earlier peak in CO2 emissions (not total atmospheric CO2) coming sooner are "good" all around for life on our fair planet. It means we have to change sooner, which is much better than changing later. It would have been better to change course in the 1970s, and Carter was on that track, but it was not popular, so we got Reagan.
Jorgen Randers is a middle class Norwegian technocrat in very good standing, and envisions a world of more people, living in apartments in mega-cities, and eating food from distant fields, and enjoying virtual vacations in 40 years. (This is his own view, I believe. This is a big-solutions view. He was not one of the systems-analysis guys.)
What adaptations will we adopt in the US? The US uses the most resources and energy, and much of them come from far away, because the $US is the global reserve currency, and it's really unhealthy to go up against the $US forces, or even just have something they really want, like oil.
The first adaptation for the US is obviously to use much less oil, like the 55% to 60% of our use that is pumped here.
How can we do that?
Transportation uses 70% of the US oil budget, and personal transportation uses 65% of that. The US pumps something like 50% of the oil it uses at home.
Your car and my car are the main thing using more liquid fuel than the US makes. Natural gas, wind and solar can provide electricity as coal keeps phasing out.
Our entire suburban lifestyle grew up around commuting to work and stores in cars, so there is really no other way to live in the structure we have built than to be rapidly transported in small vehicles.
Without small vehicles to take each of us, and small groups of us, everywhere, the American economy does not work, and our whole landscape of houses, roads and work places becomes lost investment.
The fully autonomous vehicles, with no steering wheel, which Ford will market in 2021 provide an elegant answer to America's energy conundrum.
Driverless cars will be owned by big corporations, so big corporations like the idea, so it can happen. We will all pay rent to go places, and we will depend on the system for anything farther than we can bike, and to get things brought to us. Centralized power likes this kind of solution.
One of these vehicles can efficiently serve day and night, replacing numerous other vehicles, so fewer parking places will be needed. Fewer parking places at stores will be needed as personally owned vehicles give way to a public utility which is always available. The use of driverless delivery vehicles at night will make shopping be more online, with deliveries at night. This will further reduce daytime congestion on roads, and eliminate a lot of our stores.
There will be a lot of urban and suburban malls and parking lots to repurpose, a new wave of urban renewal.
If these vehicles use electricity, they can mitigate load on the electrical grid, and they can charge from solar farms and coordinate their storage capacity and their use for riders with the overall smart(ish) grid. There will still be summer days at 5:00 PM where AC is running everywhere and everybody wants a ride home.
This one technology will reinforce the current power heirarchy, not threaten it, and will let us stay where we are, reduce CO2, import less oil, and slowly build in the spaces in our cities and towns, which have been freed up. They can be living spaces, or food gardening spaces, or parks. We cn work on rebuilding them, because we won't be working at Macy's or Texaco.
This disruptive technology will make our whole economic system more vulnerable to glitches in the electronics. Still, how can it be avoided? It is bound to take over fast. Nobody will have to buy another car, ever.
Those who can pay to get places faster will pay and get places faster. These cars will let the high-paying customer through first. The rent structure will be maximally inclusive on the low end, and maximally profitable on the high end. The rest is details.
Those Google self-driving cars have been around Austin a lot for the past couple of years, particularly on some of my bike commute routes. They are really careful around bicyclists. I like that.