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Arup’s Josef Hargrave describes four scenarios for our future

Words:
Jan-Carlos Kucharek

The UK Future Industrial Strategy group’s report Absolute Zero argues that there should be no UK airports by 2050. Does engineering consultancy Arup’s report 2050 Scenarios: Four Plausible Futures go as far? We ask its author

Credit: Paul Carstairs/Arup

Why has the Arup team published the report now?

Our specialist division has been identifying and analy­sing trends shaping the future of the built environment for 15 years, but we felt that now is a time of real uncertainty, upheaval and transition and we wanted to open a wider dialogue that analysed different pathways to the not-too-distant future and what those might broadly constitute.

So what are the scenarios?

We’ve depicted four divergent futures in the report: Humans Inc, Extinction Express, Greentocracy and Post Anthropocene. These range from the collapse of society and natural systems to the two living in sustainable harmony. All four are currently as plausible as each other – the point of the report is to ask ourselves ‘What do I see emerging?’, or ‘What are the consequences of the choices I make today?’

And which is it likely to be?

Post Anthropocene is the most desirable. Mean temperature rise stays below 1.5C and society, with its carbon quota, only consumes resources at a rate at which they can be replenished. Interestingly, younger members of the research team were attracted to the elements of Greentocracy, with a government that forces green regulation and heavily incentivises. The Humans Inc, ‘business as usual’ scenario is where we are currently, but I met a colleague from the Sydney office and the bush fires there have raised awareness and made that future something of great concern to its residents.

  • One of the four divergent futures mapped out by Arup, showing the consequences of decisions taken today. This scenario name says it all: Extinction Express.
    One of the four divergent futures mapped out by Arup, showing the consequences of decisions taken today. This scenario name says it all: Extinction Express. Credit: Arup
  • Post Anthropocene is the most desirable scenario. Mean temperature rise stays below 1.5C and society, with its carbon quota, only consumes resources at a rate at which they can be replenished with regenerative design.
    Post Anthropocene is the most desirable scenario. Mean temperature rise stays below 1.5C and society, with its carbon quota, only consumes resources at a rate at which they can be replenished with regenerative design. Credit: Arup
  • The ‘business as usual’ scenario of Humans Inc is where we are currently.
    The ‘business as usual’ scenario of Humans Inc is where we are currently. Credit: Arup
  • Greentocracy scenario with a government that forces green regulation and heavily incentivises certain behaviours.
    Greentocracy scenario with a government that forces green regulation and heavily incentivises certain behaviours. Credit: Arup
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Would you advocate to a client to build timber towers rather than steel ones?

We are always looking independently at innovations that push the sustainable design envelope and part of that would, for instance, promote timber construction. The Post Anthropocene would strongly advocate regenerative design that restores its own sources of energy and materials, and so would we. Right now, the priorities have to be about minimising carbon impact in construction, less waste and a circular economy as well as improving and restoring the ecosystem, and planning to enhance biodiversity

What’s your personal take on the research?

I don’t think we are quite following the Extinction Express narrative but we are struggling and we’re not on a positive path. I think we have to somehow detour via the Greentocracy to get to the Post Anthropocene. As a designer, I don’t have all the answers, but new paradigms like regenerative design are a start.

 

Josef Hargrave is an associate director of Arup’s Foresight, Research & Innovation Team. 

 

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2050 Scenarios: Four Plausible Futures

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