2050 Vision for San Juan Islands

In 2050, the world has come to grips with the challenges of climate change, natural resource depletion and the unsustainable business and living practices which characterized the 20th century. Greenhouse gas levels are falling as a result of global agreements to manage carbon and other emissions. The world has turned  away from excessive resource and energy use, to a path that not only  recognizes the limits of the natural environment but is actively rebuilding the planet’s natural capital.

Particular countries, cities and communities have led the way in this transformation. Islands in the San Juan County are among those leaders, inspiring and informing others. Our island communities have used their resources (environmental, financial and human) to model a transition to a low-carbon footprint/ highly creative way of life. The American dream has been reinvented here. People are happier now than they were in the height of the consumptive binge at the end of the 20th century. Lopez’s cutting edge transformations have also served to stimulate a cross-cultural exchange of ideas and learning, and drive positive policy changes, locally, nationally and internationally.

In 2050 internal combustion engine vehicles have largely disappeared. Bicycling has become a way of life, supplemented by regularly scheduled electric shuttles that circle the islands delivering passengers, local produce, library books, and personal items. Other vehicles on the roads are mostly small and electric and many of them are part of a thriving vehicle sharing program.  An electric  bi-weekly ferry service carries mostly passengers and goods, but few cars.  We are able to produce a limited amount of liquid fuel from bacteria-based fermentation, just enough to power non-electric fishing boats and emergency air travel.

Electricity that powers vehicles as well as our homes come from energy sources right on the islands. Wind turbines can be seen around the islands capturing wind energy in exposed locations. Photovoltaic solar arrays and solar collectors for heating water are seen on  south-facing roofs and walls of almost all houses – some of the older ones stand out, while the newer technologies seem to blend easily into the house designs. Houses are also more compact and incorporate passive solar heating design with  minimal air leaks. Wood heating is still the norm for many households. However, in several clusters of community we also see biomass-fueled district heating (one centralized boiler that generates electricity as well as steam to heat several homes connected by insulated pipes), efficiently and sustainably utilizing abundant biomass resources available on the islands. Wood stoves for heating and cooking have become common once again, but with much improved efficiency and the wood is gathered from sustainably grown forests.  There are also microhydro units dotting more mountainous parts of the islands generating power, particularly at times when the water is abundant but the solar production is down.  Sewer districts as well as some farms turn waste into precious energy by generating electricity from biogas captured from anaerobic digestion.

We have come a long way in terms of energy conservation and efficiency. Appliances are more efficient. But at least as important, users have developed lifestyles that are much more energy conscious. No light is left on unnecessarily. It is amazing to look back and realize how much energy was wasted  while carbon-dioxide built up in the atmosphere at the turn of the century. Through a combination of personal shifts, technological improvements and efficient utilization of renewable resources available on the islands, we easily achieved energy independence. We are still electrically connected to mainland Americana but our energy self-sufficiency here and elsewhere have made it possible for the nuclear power plant at Hanford and a few coal-fired generation facilities to be retired. A number of  hydropower dams on the rivers in the region have been decommissioned, and local salmon populations are  flourishing.

Another very visible change is the pattern of consumption, especially food. At the turn of the century, we imported 98% and produced only 2% of the food that we needed. Now the percentages have more or less reversed. A shift to fresh local wholesome diet coupled with agricultural reforms have made the dramatic change possible. There are many active organic farms and fields. Festive work parties to pool labor during planting and harvest are the norm, as  are various forms of sharing of land, seeds, labor, farm equipment and harvests. This community spirit of sharing works to maximize productivity and resource efficiency and minimize waste. Local produce is widely available in many forms. Baked bread made from local grain is the standard. The islands are able to grow food sufficient to feed all its residents, and indeed is an exporter of many high-value processed foods such as smoked salmon, craft cheeses, hot sauce, and pickled vegetables. The islands are also a seed producing and exporting center – producing high quality organic seeds planted in other communities in our bio-region.

The energy required to transport consumers goods has also reduced drastically. Life-skill classes and businesses focus on repairing and reusing things and recycling have displaced much of the need for imported manufactured goods. Increased consumer awareness and shifts in consumer preferences have changed the philosophy of product design from “fast throughput and built-in obsolescences” to “repairability and durability and/or biodegradability”. The concept of “waste” is long gone as throw-away products have little market and “wastes” are deemed precious resources. “Closing the loop” is not just a concept, it’s the way things are on our islands.

The economy still has large contributions from tourism; though the pattern of tourism has changed as the majority of visitors (many longer-termed) are attracted to experience and learn from the transformations that the islands have been leading. We witness a growing segment of local green job economy, providing essential services (from shuttle services, machine/product maintenance and repairs, holistic energy services, home energy retrofits, operation of district heating facilities to biofuel production). The dramatic reduction in energy footprints associated with food/goods production and consumption also adds to the major growth in the green local economy. Our strong and expansive local economy base means that each dollar that comes into the island economy is spent on average 5 times before it leaves the islands and that the economy now sustains many more young people who raise their families and work here.

Thanks to our leadership position in energy transformations, we witness a steady influx of visitors/class participants interested in energy self-sufficiency and carbon-neutral living. Our local Energy and Life Academy offers classes, workshops and consultancy services to communities and individuals seeking practical skills or professional training in many areas of solutions including energy, farming, natural construction and local economic planning.  More importantly, many visitors come here to seek inspirations and solutions of hope.

What is your reaction? Do you share this vision? Which part(s) of the vision above do you see differently in 2050? What changes would you make to make it your own? Do you think the changes visualized can be achieved in 2050?  What can be done to manifest the vision? Please leave comments below. Thank you. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s