Chapter 7 – Alma votes

After Alma cast her vote she joined with some of the other local councillors and community leaders at the cafeteria. Conversation dragged on, subdued, they fled themselves to small talk – the weather, some town gossip, cooking – pointedly avoiding the issues they had just voted on. Still most of them could not bring themselves to go home either – first regional results should be published shortly.

For the last year they had discussed ad nauseum whether to increase the production and use of electricity closer to pre-transition levels. And under what conditions this should – or shouldn’t – happen. And how and where the electricity should be produced and distributed, and who should police this.

Big questions that were sure to divide even the closest friend or family group into more or less opposed camps with different ideas – or none at all – on what should be done and how.

The past had taught humanity that electricity and its production and use, which included the mining for Earth’s diminishing treasures, needed to be sustainable or even regenerative, ecologically sound and not too resource-intensive, as well as equitable, efficient, and safe.

That had proven to be a very long list of must-haves and with hundreds of multi-disciplinary project teams engaged, they were slowly achieving things.

But oh was it painful, Alma thought, chin in hand, studying her tea cup. Necessary, sure, in the global community they had created since the 20’s. But painful nonetheless – people still loved to argue, cling to old hatreds or rivalries, and stick to their positions to avoid losing face. It was still excruciatingly difficult for people to see each other’s points of view.

AI was extremely helpful in all this. Algorithms were excellent at picking up general sentiments in that part of the populace actively taking part in discussions, but of course they still needed to be fed with all kinds of supplementary data, including the opinions of those who lived off-grid.

And whatever the algorithms came up with was ferociously argumented against by one group or another – which was good in terms of sensitising the AI, yet not so good in terms of seeding endless cycles of arguments that went nowhere and created more division between people.

Well, that’s where Alma and her colleagues came in – to listen, learn, educate, and build bridges.

Generally, most people sat somewhere in between the diametrically opposed opinions of the “the Moderns,” who were usually city-dwelling technology developers and users and “the Archaics,” who were a varied mix of all cultures and backgrounds, many of whom lived with very little or no power in remote regions.

Most people in cities and towns around the world wished for a larger personal electricity budget. They wanted to be able to travel more, use their powered devices more, were tired of shared kitchens and being put on electricity rations at inconvenient (to them) times.

But there were many problems with power production that humanity had not cracked yet, and a repeat of the out-of-control conditions of Old Society was to be avoided – most people did agree to that. Responsible management was vital, but the reality of that often hard to live with.

Plus, scarcely three decades after the transition from Old Society the world was simply still dealing with more important problems, such as the continued management of radioactive materials, recycling of massive amounts of plastics, chemicals, and other waste, the cleanup of oceans, sufficient ethical food production, the coordination of humanity as a single yet infinitely diverse organism, and and and…

Apart from all the operational concerns, the strongest claim against the “increase of electricity reliance” was that it made human beings weak, soft, and too entitled and over reliant on technology. A little was okay to keep some progress going and make life in density bearable, but too much was simply not beneficial for human beings. Rather, the people of 2050 must be vigilant and remember their inner strength and resourcefulness by focusing on their inner light and not fully on externalities as they had done in the past.

Alma did not disagree with the Archaics, but then there were some compelling Modernist arguments. In her many talks with the people from around Maleny, who she represented as one of ten community councillors, she found that most were sitting somewhere between the 2 camps. The area was rural so the situation was different to cities – many of them had off-grid solar or wind systems with batteries, shared large properties and could do some of their travel on horseback. But then there were others – those with relatives in distant places, engineers, night owls, and technology addicts.

This was by no means the last vote on the issue either – it was a preliminary vote on the representative level to test the global mood. In the end, big issues like this one were to be decided by regional referendums. But to get there, more precise, region-specific questions had to be formed, questions that would be answerable by yes or no. In other words, they were still very much in the qualitative part of the process.

They were all searching for the best way forward. Sure, some people wanted the expansion more than others, but they were applying history’s learnings that told them how easily progress could tip over into crisis, and so they had to explore, ever so slowly. They all agreed that it had been an exhausting year and had taken up too much precious time that was really needed for other, more truly community-focused issues. Well, they all lived in hope that this latest round of votes would at least reduce the amount of time they had to spend talking about it.

If only the scientists hurried up and made magnetic field and fusion technology work already! Alma thought for the millionth time and finished her cup of tea.

She looked around and saw a familiar figure through the large windows of the cafeteria. Alma’s heart jumped when she set eyes on her stepson. He was greeting some of Maleny’s Indigenous elders who were sitting in the shade in front of the building, exchanging handshakes, shoulder slaps, and hugs. It had been over a year since they had seen each other. He had been travelling and lived mostly off-grid, so even phone calls and emails had been rare.

Kevesh had joined their family as a twelve-year-old after losing most of his family during the Dark Years. Rocco and him had grown up like brothers and were close friends up to this day. Alma smiled to herself remembering the many evenings their family and friends had spent jamming together in lounge rooms and around camp fires. Kevesh had a calm, gentle strength of body, mind, and spirit, cultivated since he was a teenager and became interested in the ways of Wisdom Keeping and Shamanism. That was also when he had started shadowing Alma in her facilitation work at Tahirih and in the Council, leading to them becoming trusted colleagues for the last 20 years.

As she looked at Kevesh again she took in every feature, weighing what changes she might perceive in his being, and realising how much she had missed his presence.

Vesh was tall, well-proportioned, with a dark tan and even features partially covered by a full beard, the gold-brown long hair tied back in a messy ponytail tied by a leather band. What could be seen of his features reflected the multi-cultural blood flowing through his veins – Indigenous Australian, Maori, Persian, Skandinavian, West-African, Indonesian. Kevesh’s clothes were somewhat crinkly, handmade linen, probably hemp. His spectacular eyes, one green, one brown, were usually guarded, deep ponds of soulfulness; at present they were sparkling with amusement as he said something in reply to comical Billy, who sat with his broad back to Alma. A moment later the group erupted into laughter.

Alma jumped up from her chair.