Reasons to be cheerful – 8 big ideas to change the world in 2018

Forget Trump's tweets, messy Brexit talks and the wild winter weather. There are reasons to believe great things are possible in the year ahead. So pick your head up off your desk and get optimistic

1. BUILD YOUR OWN COMMUNITY

The community-led housing movement has been slowly gaining momentum in the UK, and with the recent commitment of £240m of government funding, 2018 is set to be the year it really takes off. Community land trusts (CLTs) are leading the way, helping small groups of engaged residents obtain land or secure a long-term lease on a site.

A CLT has the advantage of being able to dictate the terms of rent or sale conditions for new homes, like in London, where CLT homes in the east end have been sold at one third of market rates. Baroness Bakewell, chair of the National CLT Network said there was now an exciting opportunity to grow the community-led housing movement “from hundreds of communities building homes, to thousands, and build a proper market for the sector”.

2. EAT SEAWEED

A growing number of scientists are getting excited about the possibilities for the humble algae that washes up around rocks on the beach. Growing giant seaweed farms could absorb a great deal of CO2 and help de-acidify the oceans. And according to recent research in Australia, feeding seaweed to cows can drastically cut their harmful methane emissions.

If our taste buds can adjust, kelp farms could help feed the human population too. Professor Tim Flannery believes it could “play a large role in solving one of our most dire issues – climate change (and) supply huge volumes of high-quality seafood”.

3. PLUG INTO BATTERY POWER

The potentially epoch-defining shift to electric cars has been painfully slow and protracted, with the limits of battery power holding back a consumer revolution in automobiles. That is about to change. Elon Musk’s company Tesla has demonstrated a new level of capability, launching the most powerful lithium-ion battery in the world in South Australia, where it helps pump electricity around the grid. The 100-megawatt battery was built in only 60 days.

According to the latest research by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, a new wave of cheaper, lighter batteries could dramatically increase battery storage capacity in cars, boosting the range an electric vehicle can travel from 125 miles to 375 miles. Tesla aims to make 10,000 Model 3 electric cars a week in 2018. So it could be the year electric finally goes mass-market, and we begin to wean ourselves off oil dependence. Not a moment too soon.

4. FIGHT FAKE NEWS

Lies are, sadly, among life’s inevitabilities. But there are good reasons to believe 2017 was the year people got thoroughly sick of the deluge of fake news on the internet and the tide began to turn. Countries like Italy and Israel are now teaching school pupils how to spot bad information, and how to source the good stuff.

New start-ups like Crisp and Digital Shadows are helping companies and public organisations tackle hackers and understand misinformation campaigns, allowing them track where stories are coming from. And in the wake of US investigations into Russian election meddling, Facebook and Twitter are finally beginning to take the role of moderation in the political sphere more seriously. Now we just need someone to take Trump’s Twitter account out of his hands.

5. CAST A NEW SOCIAL SAFETY NET

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is gaining momentum. The potentially revolutionary idea is this: an unconditional welfare payment given to every citizen, without means testing, without any requirement to work. No Jobcentre assessments, no Atos tests, no guilt trips about scrounging off the state. With the rise in automation, the payment would provide a permanent structure underpinning everyone’s lives – allowing us to do more voluntary work and care for an ageing population.

The apparent impracticality of the idea means it has its critics. If it covers the basic costs of living, how much UBI money would be enough to incentivise work? And yet a growing number of economists are taking it seriously. Finland has begun a pilot giving people about £480 a month. Scottish ministers are conducting small trials in Glasgow and Fife, as is the government of Ontario, Canada. Expect more tests, more studies and more enthusiasm about the basic income in 2018.

6. LIFT OFF TO SPACE

The aerospace company run by Elon Musk (that man again) made incredible advances 2017, successfully sending its Falcon 9 rocket booster into orbit before bringing it back down smoothly on a landing pad, potentially bringing down the costs of space travel by achieving re-usability.

SpaceX plans for a Martian colony
SpaceX recently released their plans for a Martian colony

So you would not bet against SpaceX achieving at least one of its big goals for 2018. It wants to send two private citizens on a trip around the Moon late next year, and also plans on sending its new Dragon 2 spacecraft to the International Space Station – new ways to prove the effectiveness of its Falcon rocket technology. Musk’s company also wants to do a five-mile test run for the 700mph Hyperloop train in California next year.

7. BE A GENE GENIE

Last summer, biochemists in California made a huge breakthrough with the gene-editing technology “CRISPR,” a system that allows targeted modifications to DNA sequences. Amazingly, they were able to remove human papillomavirus (HPV) tumor growth by applying a gel carrying DNA coding to the cervixes of 60 women.

While the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley, California, is aware of the dangers in tinkering with our genetic make-up (lead scientist Jennifer Doudna says CRISPR could “control human evolution”), the medical benefits of the research could be immense. The biochemists hope to conduct gene-editing tests in 2018 to treat cancers, sickle cell anemia and some forms of blindness.

8. PREVENT POVERTY

The Big Issue’s founder Lord John Bird is set to make even bigger strides in his mission to prevent the root causes of poverty. His Creditworthiness Assessment Bill – legislation aimed at helping renters get fair access to credit – continues to move through the House of Lords. Bird is urging the government to weave poverty prevention into the work every department in 2018.

Big Issue Invest, The Big Issue Group’s social investment arm, is set to make 2018 the year the brilliant, life-changing work of social enterprises and social businesses goes mainstream. The new Power Up Scotland Programme will help grow early-stage social ventures in Scotland, with £750,000 available to lend over the next two years.

For more future-proofing thoughts and the big tech ideas set to revolutionise 2018 – check out this week’s Big Issue, also featuring McMafia star James Norton and our 2018 artist of the year, Otis Redding.

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