Mull of the future?

(Also published on Arc of Prosperity.)

highland village photo
Photo by kingary
I woke up to the crowing of the rooster and the smell of freshly baked croissants.

My butler minion gently opened the door to my bedroom. “Would you like your breakfast in bed, master?” “That’d be great, Bob.”

Bob buzzed in on his wheels and served the croissants together with a gorgeous cup of cappuccino. I’ve spent years searching for the perfect recipe, and I finally found it on a website somewhere in Italy. It was worth the hassle, though. People keep asking me for it, but I’ll not share it for any less than 1kg of scrap copper.

“Master, what would you like for lunch?” asked Bob. “Perhaps a mushroom omelette? Tim found some lovely wild mushrooms in the forest this morning.” I grunted my approval. Tim is my foraging minion, and he always finds the best stuff. At least it sounded a bit more filling that the salads Bob has been feeding me for the past week – I guess my weight is back to where it should be. Not that Bob ever tells me.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” I asked. “You’ve got dairy farm duty from 10 to 12, you’ve got a work meeting at 14.30, and finally you’ve invited your girlfriend for dinner at 19.00.”

I spent the next hour inspecting my home farm. The minions were zooming around me at the same time, collecting eggs, weeding the lettuce and cleaning out the pigsty. I love my home farm.

At 9.50 a car stopped outside the gate, and I strolled out and got in. Yukiko and Pierre, two of my neighbours, were already sitting in it – we do farm duty together. They greeted me with a cheery “Madainn mhath! Ciamar a tha sibh?” and we started chatting in Gaelic. It’s not our native language, and to be honest it probably would be easier to speak English together, but when the founders of our village decided to resurrect the village of Crackaig on the Isle of Mull, they decided that it should be Gaelic-speaking, so it’s now a requirement for moving to the village that you learn the language and use it when interacting with people. Fortunately language-learning is so easy these days – the linguist minions are just sublime language teachers.

At 10 o’clock the car stopped at the dairy farm, and we got out. The car zoomed away, either to park or to drive somebody else somewhere. My grandparents keep telling me that they used to drive cars themselves when they were young. It sounds like a really dangerous and wasteful way of going about it. Computers are obviously much better at driving than humans, and in those days every household had one or more cars, which meant that they spent most of the time being parked. Crazy.

Dairy farm duty is generally pretty easy. The minions do practically all the work, and all we need to do is basically to walk around and talk to the cows – humans can sometimes use their intuition to spot a problem that the minions have overlooked.

This was not one of the easiest days, however. It was time to say goodbye to two of the bulls and hand them over to the butcher minions. I walked with them up the hill, and then the minions led them away into a shed and did their stuff. The minions have perfected bovine psychology, so the bulls didn’t seem to feel any anxiety.

I’ve read that lots of people were going vegetarian or even vegan towards the end of the capitalist era. It was mainly a reaction against factory farming, however, so once people started repopulating the villages and producing almost all their food locally, they started eating meat again. This was reinforced by the realisation that microplastics were destroying the environment, and this led to a complete ban on the use of synthetic materials in clothing and footwear, and having access to leather thus became more important again.

The late capitalist society must have been pretty mad. Instead of feeding your food waste to your animals and letting your cows graze on unproductive stretches of grass, they threw the food waste into landfills and then grew cereals for the sole purpose of feeding animals which they kept in huge factory-like farms. Apparently they even killed many male calves at birth because it would be too expensive to raise them.

In our village most of our clothes are made out of wool, hemp or flax, and we mainly use leather shoes. That’s fairly typical for Scotland, but of course different materials get used in other countries.

I walked home after farm duty and then sat down to enjoy Bob’s delicious mushroom omelette.

Afterwards I stepped into the VR room to commence the work meeting. I’m part of a small team working on carbon capture technology to roll back global warming. We have created a virtual Greek olive grove as our work environment, based on Plato’s Academy. Lots of other people keep telling us that you want walls, chairs and blackboards in order to work efficiently, but we disagree. Sitting on blocks of marble dressed in a toga while munching on olives is great. To make it even more realistic, we’ve decided to adopt Ancient Greek as our working language. Yes, it’s mad, but we need a lot of creativity to come up with better ways to capture carbon, and creativity and madness are of course closely related.

It’s strange to think that schools for so long were mainly places to learn facts and techniques, when today they’re places to bring out everybody’s innate creativity. Of course you need a certain amount of knowledge and skills for your creativity to kick in, but at the end of the day computers are much better at every known task than humans – however, they’re still pretty bad at coming up with the new and surprising answers, and at dealing with new situations. So of course that’s what we humans have to focus on now.

After work I started getting ready for dinner with my girlfriend, Salome. I was going to bring her some flowers from my greenhouse, but in the end I quickly 3D-printed a pair of golden earrings for her using a traditional pattern from Guatemala.

Salome and I were going for sushi in a neighbouring village modelled on a traditional one from Hokkaidō. A lot of people said at the time that a traditional Japanese village doesn’t really belong on the Isle of Mull, but I must admit that it’s really nice to see something completely different without travelling more than 10 km. In fact, the idea is spreading. More and more villages get the builder minions to rebuild everything in some exotic style – just on Mull we’ve now got places that look like they belong in Bavaria, Viking Scandinavia, Māori New Zealand, and the Shire (from The Lord of the Rings books).

Over dinner we discussed whether we should go on holiday to Paris at some point. The old centre is supposed to be stunning, but like all other former cities it’s surrounded by enormous areas of crumbling ruins that still haven’t been converted back to villages and farmland.

At least the former cities aren’t dangerous in Europe. However, in many other parts of the world they never nationalised the land like they did here, so people who didn’t own any land were left practically destitute when the value of labour dropped to nearly zero after capitalism collapsed. They’re now typically living in the skyscraper ruins and trying to make a living selling personal services (mainly sex) to everybody else. It’s horrible, and we’re so lucky in Europe where we introduced a universal basic income early on and then nationalised the land and gave everybody the right to borrow a plot for the rest of their lives.

Of course it would take a while to get to Paris – flying is completely prohibited for holiday purposes – but we could sail there or take a sleeper car, and that’s good fun in its own right.

We took a boat back to Salome’s village. Life on Mull is pretty good.

Drain bird

A bird we helped out of our drain today
A bird we helped out of our drain today, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
A couple of days ago I was standing outside the kitchen door when I suddenly heard some weird noises from the drain, like something was moving down there, but whether it was a rat, a snake or an eel was impossible to work out.

I got hold of Phyllis and some of the kids, and we all tried to figure out what it was, but it was impossible to see anything apart from some obscure movements.

Finally, however, the creature made a very bird-like squeak, and we decided to help it out. I managed to put a stick down the hole, and soon after a very dirty and wet blackbird emerged from the drain.

It looked utterly miserable (see the photo!), but after a few minutes in the sun, it started looking for worms and began to look much more normal, and after another half hour it disappeared.

It might have got eaten by a cat, but I do tend to think that would be preferable to starving to death in the sewers.

Fossil fuels

C02 emissions since 1850 (red); exponential growth (blue); cuts to hit climate target (dashed). Source: The Guardian
C02 emissions since 1850 (red); exponential growth (blue); cuts to hit climate target (dashed). Source: The Guardian
There was a really interesting article about fossil fuel in The Guardian recently.

The author points out that in spite of everything we’re doing (renewable energy, emissions trading, etc.), CO? emissions are still rising at the same rate as before — have a look at the graph on the right. As it says in the article: “For whatever reason, cutting carbon has so far been like squeezing a balloon: gains made in one place have been cancelled out by increases elsewhere.” The dotted line shows what the world needs to be doing to limit temperature rises to 2°C — there’s just no way the red line (the actual emissions) are going to fall like this over the next couple of decades.

The article doesn’t offer many concrete solutions, but I think it’s very important to realise that we aren’t currently actually doing anything to limit the rise in CO? emissions.

Putting your kids inside the cage

Stumbling upon a python
Stumbling upon a python, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
During my recent trip to Denmark with Léon, Anna and Amaia, my mum and I took Léon and Anna to Randers Regnskov (while my dad looked after Amaia, who had got a chest infection).

As always, it was a great experience, so much better than Eden.

If you don’t know the place, the idea is to take a zoo and a greenhouse, and then take the animals out of the zoo and put them and the visitors into the greenhouse together. This means that monkeys, parrots, leaf-cutter ants, pythons and bats might suddenly be sitting on your shoulder (the really dangerous animals, such as rattle snakes and Komodo dragons, are still locked up).

Furthermore, you can help feed the animals at specific times, and Léon loved feeding the bats just as much as Anna enjoyed feeding the manatees.

Apart from the winter months, you can fly directly from Edinburgh to Billund (home to Legoland and the Lion Park), which is about 80 miles south-west of Randers, so it’s really quite easy to get to.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the photo — it really is a live python next to Léon!

Eat insects to save the planet



Fried Locust, Bangkok
Originally uploaded by cchen

EUobserver has published an essential article today about the necessity of eating insects to save the planet.

It quotes a Dutch academic who believes that ‘insects are the sustainable, healthy and environment friendly foods of the future. “There are so many benefits to the eating of insects compared to conventional livestock, and, nutritionally, insects are exactly the same as conventional meat.”’

It appears that there are now several insect farmers in the Netherlands, concentrating on three species: ‘There are about 1,800 edible insects in the world. But for “scaling up” it has to be possible to raise the insects easily, which leaves mealworms – the larvae of darkling beetles – crickets and locusts.’

Insect products might soon be coming to a supermarket near you, given that there is a ‘team of four PhD students with €1 million for research focussed on extracting protein from insects. This is something of a holy grail […] as it would give all of the goodness of insect protein without the off-putting exoskeleton visuals.’

In case you’re getting hungry from reading this, the article even provides a recipe: ‘the novice insect-eater should start off with insects in a wok with rice and soya sauce, with garlic, pepper and salt: “This is really good.”’

Bon appétit!

It’s all the UK’s fault



The Salt is Coming
Originally uploaded by elgringospain

Danish media are reporting that stocks of road salt are running low:

“Britain is the big culprit. They use too much [salt]”, says Per Nygaard.

He justifies this with the country’s road network, where A roads are narrow and bad. This means that in his view, all it takes is just a little bit of snow on the roadside before they begin to use road salt.

“They pour salt on by the bucketload. Their demand is enormously high,” explains the manager of Brøste [a salt distributor].

How do you fit in six bins?



six types of recycling
Originally uploaded by absentmindedprof

East Renfrewshire have now decided that we need to put food waste into a separate bin.

This means that we need to fit six bins into our kitchen:

  1. Compostable waste (fruit, veg and egg shells)
  2. Other food waste
  3. Metal and glass
  4. Paper and cardboard
  5. Hard plastic
  6. Everything else

(I’m excluding from this list batteries, medicines, electrical equipment and other items that shouldn’t be thrown into the normal bins at all, but which still need to be collected somewhere in the house until we find the time to go to Ikea or the recycling centre.)

However, it’s starting to be a problem to find enough space for all the bins, even though we have a relatively big kitchen.

Of course we could pop outside whenever we’ve eaten an orange or finished a pint of milk, but that’s not very practical in the long run.

How do other people fit in their bins?