Life in 2020 (Paul Brown)

In the new village of Hamstreet, in Kent, Richard Dumill goes to the bathroom and prepares for a new day. It is 2020 and as he flushes the toilet his sample is automatically analysed and sent to the local doctor. The cholesterol level is slightly high because of the heavy dinner of farmed cod and chips but the computer in the surgery discounts the readings as not exceptional.There is a slight hum as the family water purifier switches on, and as he walks down the hallway he taps the electricity meter and sees it shows that the family is in credit: his own windmill generator and solar panels are putting more energy into the grid than the household is using, adding to the family income.

Downstairs his wife, Sarah, is complaining. The so-called "smart fridge" has malfunctioned and the order for milk and bread which should have reached the local delivery service has not been sent. The grocer, who employs a refugee from Tuvalu, a Pacific island country that disappeared three years previously as sea levels rose, will have to be telephoned instead. Food deliveries go in a special lockable box rather than on the doorstep since theft of these increasingly expensive essentials is a growing problem.

Both parents now work to pay off the 55-year mortgage on their house. Sarah works as a counsellor for people who have a genetic predisposition to a variety of diseases like cancer and heart trouble that means they cannot qualify for insurance or mortgages. Richard normally works from home but is going in a shared hydrogen powered car to the office at the waste and recycling brokerage where he works. He rarely sees any of the recycled tin or plastic in which he deals but quotes prices for the futures market in which companies buy waste products to use in future manufacturing.

When working at home, a telephone gadget in his ear, which operates on electricity generated by his brain, allows his manager to speak to him at any time during working hours. This, among many new electronic devices which are supposed to make him more efficient, Richard regards with scepticism.

Today as he drives to work he carefully picks his route to avoid congestion charges on the motorway or in any of the towns on the way. His company long ago moved out of its central London headquarters to cut costs.

The former industrial estates, which gradually emptied and became derelict as manufacturing declined to 9% of gross domestic product, have been taken down and replaced with water-and energy-efficient housing estates. The whole area is planted with trees to form what has been christened the Dartford Forest.

The couple have a daughter Britney, adopted like many other children: sperm counts for the average male in Britain have dropped to 30% of 1940s level, because the chemicals widely used in food and farming have so damaged fertility. It is no satisfaction that many big food manufacturers have gone bankrupt in the last few years because of class actions brought by people no longer able to have children.

The clampdown on preservatives in food and high oil prices mean that sending fresh food long distances is prohibitively expensive. The family keep chickens to have a supply of fresh eggs and grow vegetables because so much imported food is now an expensive luxury. The warmer climate means melons can be grown outdoors, although it also has led to a malaria scare in nearby Tunbridge Wells.

Worldwide there are serious problems for less technology based societies. Large parts of central Africa are becoming uninhabitable because of climate change. The sea is encroaching on many low lying coastal areas causing a huge refugee crisis.


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