Urban sprawl is seen around the world as a by-product of our growing populations and corporate-run, capitalist economies. We have more cities than every before and the cities themselves are expanding to keep up with our growth at huge cost to the environment.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve lived in an urban environment at least once in your life. You might be sat at a computer next to a window plagued by pigeons while sirens scream by in the distance as you digest this very sentence. But if, like me, you found it all just a bit too much and decided to retire somewhere less dirty and crowded, you now read this from the quiet confines of the countryside where you can hear the trees sway and the birds sing.

It’s a shame really, because cities really do have so much potential. So much excitement and opportunity. But often there’s a dark side in the form of smog, noise, light pollution and quite a lot of loneliness.

We’re faced with an interesting challenge as we cruise on through the 21st century. In the western world, old folks are living longer than ever before. We’re also seeing a decrease in infant mortality and overall a better quality of life than we saw in the 1900’s. That’s not to say that we don’t now face a different set of problems (cue: climate change, air pollution, loneliness, depression, obesity etc.), but in terms of years spent alive and roaming the planet, there has been a definite increase.

And that’s great. And inevitable. We humans are thrilled with a project; a conundrum; a challenge. If there’s a way we can find a cure for something and make our lives better in some way, we’ll damn well persist until we’ve achieved it. It’s a beautiful thing, really. The forever quest to utopia.

But the problem is that we’re not improving our habitats as quickly as we need to, in order to support an increasing and ageing population. By habitat I’m referring to that which we – humans – live in. Our neighbourhoods. Our communities. We’re running on old-school logic in a modern world that needs more and better. And what does it come down to, at its most basic level? The economy. That’s the crux. That’s the awkward thing that no one wants to talk about, so of course I’m going to touch upon it here. It’s what I do.

A capitalist economy worked for a while. It got us to where we are today and in many ways I’m incredibly grateful for that. But it’s also limiting in so many ways. At its core, a capitalist economy is based on the owning of resources. Every business is created and run with a profit motive, offering goods or services in exchange for monetary gain. The problems come when the distribution of important resources required by the masses are controlled by only a select few. Sometimes we refer to this collective as “the 1%”. We might be dealing with a free market, but wealth distribution is anything but even throughout society. This, of course, is what results in a class system. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single good thing that comes from a class system.

In this current, capitalist regime, the emphasis is on jobs. Everyone’s got to have a job they can work at so they can make an income to spend on those things that they need, along with (wait for it) those things that corporations convince us that we need (cue: advertising). The more we spend, the more debt we find ourselves in, the more money we need, the harder we work, the more we spend to comfort ourselves. It’s an almighty viscious cycle.

The rich get richer and the poor die trying.

In a capitalist economy, the ulimate goal is to maximise profits – at whatever the cost. This may have worked for a while. But the thing is, it’s now 2018 and we’re at crisis point with our environment (you know, that thing that GIVES US LIFE?!) We’ve supported economic growth without considering the repurcussions. It’d be easy to put it down to a lack of education which, sure, was indeed the problem 100 years ago. But we have a whole host of incredibly bright and competent scientists around the globe throwing the figures at governments to no avail.

By this point you might be like, “OK, yadda yadda yadda Kat, what alternative is there?”

To which I respond, “Well, DUH, a resource-based economy!” (Cue: The Venus Project)

In a resource-based economy, the highest levels of technology are fully utilised and the resources we need distributed to all. At present, the very best technology to increase efficiency of transport, housing, crop growth, education, healthcare and all other areas of society only have one barrier between being put to use and remaining in a research facility: capital.

I’m not saying it’s an easy feat. It sure as hell isn’t. To breakdown everything that we’ve come to identify as normal and replace with something that isn’t such a struggle is bound to induce messy transition period. But it’s an absolute necessity worth striving for if we are to have any hope of a happy and healthy future.

The result is a city lifestyle that isn’t bathed in toxic air or filled with money-driven crime. It doesn’t have sky-high rent rates or inefficient public transport and endless traffic jams. The result is cities that are actually, well, pleasant, because there’s no pressure to own anything and have status because the concept is redundant. They boast all the perks of living in such a high concentration of people: the culture, the cuisine, the opportunities and amenities, but none of the cons.

I don’t know about you, but that’s an environment worth striving for, I think.

If this sounds like something you want to work towards too, I suggest starting here. And when you’re done with that, consider focusing your time and effort on living as sustainably as you can while operating in our current economy. Reduce your waste. Support businesses striving for circular economies. Work towards financial freedom so that you can make better decisions. And above all else, talk about it! Share this information with others and educate yourself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

I was a sucker for The Matrix trilogy back in the day. I grew up wanting so desperately to be Trinity. The combination of badass choreography, epic shots of Zion and time aboard the ship all made for such brilliant cinematography. But then there’s the concept of the matrix itself. Bizarre idea, but plausible? Sometimes you can be sat at your 9-5 wondering about the meaning of life and feel as if your time is wasted. But the idea that we’re strapped into a big machine that’s using our life-force energy? Surely not. Until well, it might be.

Elon Musk is one of my heroes. I’d say he’s in my top 5, to be specific. His brain fascinates me, truly. But what I respect most about him is that his heart is in the right place. You’ve got a genius that wants to improve the world. From his epic plans for underground highways to SpaceX, his creativity sees no limits on earth or in air. And to be honest, although I’m pro-saving the planet that we do have, he’s thinking 10 steps ahead about how to cope if it does meet an eventual doom. Sad time. But realistic, I guess.

So he’s amazing, we all know that. But his latest mission is to get the UN to ban the use of automated ‘death’ robots – machines built to kill. A terrifying concept that’s not only doable, but likely, in this day and age of extreme hostility. Isn’t it sad that we even have to be having these conversations? That our world’s great minds have to even be wasting their time discussing a future ban on machines created purely to destroy. What a waste of a creation to begin with. What a waste of time, effort, and resources. But the truth of the matter is that humans tire, machines do not.

I guess it makes sense. And in fact, it’s smart thinking from the likes of Musk and Google’s Mustafa Suleyman. Calling for a ban now, from scientists who have seen the capabilities of AI, is a wise move. I was saddened to read that the UK objected to said UN discussion. Surely we’re better than that? The Foreign Office told the guardian that they see no need for a specific ban on AI because international humanitarian law already covers that area. Strange, don’t you think? If they’re so concerned about the people, why not leap at the chance to offer extra protection? Why not support by default?

It went on to essentially say, ‘hey guys, don’t worry. All military operations will always be under human control, so there’s no need to panic.’ Still strange. And to be frank, stupid. You’ve got to stop and think, how did we get here? It’s 2017. But then you look around at who’s supposedly running our countries and it all makes sense. When the UK is being run by a coward and the US by a small child in a man’s body, it all makes sense. It suddenly becomes clear exactly how we’ve got to this point where these kinds of conversations are having to be had by our world’s greatest minds.

AI is a brilliant thing. I think it will save us, in many ways, from the mundane tasks that we really don’t need to be doing. If this frees us up for truly human, creative pursuits, then that’s awesome. But as long as we have bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds prevalent, it’s no wonder we’ve got to plan for the worst. We are constantly treading water. We’re doing the delicate dance of keeping the peace amongst those who crave war.

The greatest thing the humble ‘nobody’ like you and me can do is to talk about these issues. Make your peers aware of how real a possibility ‘death robots’ are and how we need to think ahead and prevent the worst. AI can increase the efficiency of our agriculture, bring us automated transport and smart homes. Let’s make these the primary areas of focus – not the death and demise of humans and subsequent Matrix.

What are your thoughts on Artificial Intelligence?

Photo via Unsplash

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I’m a big thinker, right? And I’d say my brain is at capacity most of the time. I’m constantly mulling over how I can improve things. Not just the goings-on of my inner world through various mediums of self-improvement, but also the outer one. From a vegan diet to living plastic-free, I’m on a constant mission to try to do my best with what I have. The world needs to change and I’ve dedicated my life to helping that come to fruition. But there’s an extra element that’s thrown into all this. Guilt. And it eats away at me from time to time.

Let me back-pedal a bit to talk about my time in university. Whilst there, I was a key member of the Amnesty International Society – a society that I still very much support. Nowadays, however, I do so from the sideline rather than actively. When I was heavily involved, my perspective was rather different to how it stands today. When day in, day out, you’re following the stories of the most broken of humanity, you are grateful for simply having a roof over your head and food in your belly. And freedom, of course. Just having those basic things is incredibly wonderful. If you get choice added in too, you’re flying.

But as I say, time went on and I left university and began placing more and more focus on environmental issues. The causes I was fighting for were marine habitats, rainforests, native woodland, animals facing extinction, coral bleaching and microplastic pollution. It became less about the people and more about the environment. If I think about it logically, without a planet there are no people and so of course these are worthy causes to be fighting for. But as I sit here with a regular income, enough money to pick and choose my food, my clothing, my lifestyle, I can’t help but feel an element of guilt.

Millions of people around the world – including many on these wealthy British Isles – can’t afford the luxury of choice. They can’t afford the time to even think about being able to shop in fancy food stores that offer aesthetically-pleasing vegan foods and household cleaners and beauty items that are made with an array of delightful natural ingredients. Their priority is getting food on the table for hungry mouths that need feeding. Their priority is being able to afford the rent each month. Their priority is being able to make it through each day. Living on the breadline is no place to be.

So I can’t help but feel guilty when I preach about how we should all be eating vegan foods and living waste-free as much as possible when in truth I don’t understand what it’s like not to have the choice. I don’t come from a wealthy family and in fact growing up I witnessed the stress that a single mother goes through trying to put food on the table for her kids. Her priority was keeping her children healthy and happy. But even with this, I don’t know what it was like to be her. I can’t fully understand.

My dilemma is not wanting someone living a polar opposite life to my own to look at me and see naivety and an unachievable goal. It makes me sick to think that I could evoke anger in someone over my lifestyle choices, values and priorities. It’s this fine line to teeter along, with compassion for humanity on one side and an inner environmental warrior on the other. I don’t yet know the best way of figuring all this out. And in truth, I might never. (To clarify: no one has raged at me. This is purely hypothetical.)

But one thing I do trust in is my gut instinct; as should we all. It guides us. The reality is that there’s no way I could compare my life to that of a low-income single mother with 4 children where the fight for survival is first priority. I’m not living that way – fortunately. So all I can do is what feels right to me, based on the scientific evidence I have ready, with wthe resources I have. If I can afford to choose the most ethical foods to eat, not consume plastic that ends up in the oceans and write about my lifestyle choices in the hope that it might influence someone else who can also make those choices to start living differently, then why not do it? It seems logical…

I’m part of a whole generation wanting to do life differently. We want to live more harmoniously with our planet, improve our infrastructure using renewable energy and live lives that place emphasis on creativity and passion rather than the mind-numbing and mundane. I frequently refer to it as ‘the vagina lottery’ because we don’t know what kind of family we’ll be born into. All we can do is the best we can based on what we know.

We don’t all fight for the same causes and in a way that’s actually kind of great. If some of us could keep doing the great work for humanity while others clean up the environment, we should have a sound future ahead of us. Perhaps that’s all I need to trust in; the fact that we’re all different for a reason and it’s best to just embrace it, even if it does seem flawed. We need each other; that’s the simple truth of it. We’re stronger together.

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