Imagine a scene from the Virgin Islands of the year 2030.
Maria put on the new headset her parents had given her for her 10th birthday, adjusted the controls on her bike, and pedalled across the Atlantic Ocean towards her cousins’ home in India. She looked forward to meeting them and her family in Guyana in real time one day. Remembering her father’s warning not to attempt too much too soon, she paused over Africa and went home for lunch by a slightly different route.
Maria’s father had told her that her birth year was marked by change throughout the world. Before 5G had enabled virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and holographic projection over high-speed connections, it had been like watching the future unfold in slow motion.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic brought such challenges as social distancing, travellers had paid lots of cash (before the United States introduced the digital dollar) to travel with strangers who might make them ill so they could stay in one place to watch sporting events or concerts for a few days, risking bad weather, cataclysms or even political upheavals. However, the writing was already on the wall for mass tourism by that time.
Back then, budget airlines and cruise ships competed for the patronage of thousands of extra passengers every year by building bigger planes and ships, needing longer runways and larger port facilities. In response, environmentalists began to call for declarations of the carbon taxes being levied on their fares to be printed on passengers’ tickets like health warnings on cigarette packets, and cruise lines were fined billions of dollars for polluting the air and water at their ports of call.
Maria’s father managed the International Family History Centre and Language Institute, next to the BVI National Archives in Paraquita Bay. Routine DNA tests had confirmed the VI’s top place in the world per head for racial diversity, with origins in West Africa heading the list, and she had been excited to discover that she had inherited a few strands of Amerindian DNA from her Guyanese ancestors.
Objections to the Institute’s construction on prime agricultural land had been resolved by the rediscovery of the Amerindian camp in Paraquita Bay that Professor Peter Dewitt had excavated in the 1970s. The government later decided to establish an Amerindian museum there, complete with a virtual reality viewing studio, but its proposed site would have to be closed for an environmental impact survey under the revised planning laws.
Low death rate
After the VI had suffered only a very low death rate from Covid-19, a series of horrific road accidents with multiple fatalities led the government to propose banning from public roads all pedestrians, bikers and cyclists in what was nicknamed the Bare-heads Act. Its opponents appealed to the Human Rights Commission, established before the new Constitution could be agreed.
Support for the government’s proposals came from an unexpected quarter. A Chinese manufacturer seized on the worldwide popularity of VI channels to promote its revolutionary slim-bodied two-seater electric vehicle and a bus designed to permit for social-distancing. The government waived import duties on discounted models of both and benefited from the advertising revenue, promising to cut a network of new tracks for exercise.
The rapid rise in purchases of EVs, with their batteries rechargeable at home overnight, led to increased sales of the apparatus to produce electricity at home from wind, waves and solar panels — and work for their installers. Homeowners bought mini-desalinaters and farmers’ irrigation costs were greatly reduced. The increasing redundancy of internal combustion engines meant the VI no longer needed to import large quantities of oil, as it became self-sufficient in power and water.
At home, Maria found her engineer mother preparing for an international Zoom conference, where she would give a talk on “Reforming VI planning and traffic laws to meet the needs of the four pillars of its economy.”
Her fundamental review of the laws had been aimed at identifying, preserving and exploiting the VI’s entire resources by designing an environmental survey which would need to be conducted before planning permission was granted for any development in the territory.
It built on a land-use policy that established zoning for domestic housing; community services (including religious); light industry; financial services; tourism; agriculture and fisheries; and telecommunications. These would establish the existence of mineral deposits (like copper); wildlife (for conservation); plants (to establish their medicinal properties and so on); and historic sites. Plans for the latter, she advised, should be discussed between government experts and the landowners for local history research and resources to meet the worldwide interest in history channels.