Saturday 21 April 2018

Why we must get ready for life in 2050

THE foul weather has seen me battening down the hatches and contemplating the future. Big issues -- like how things will have changed by the year 2050.

Some of you may recall that Professor Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash was top of my winter book list last year. The US economic guru relates how, when passing through an airport on one occasion, he inquired if his publication was in stock. The sales assistant memorably replied: "That's certainly not a title you could sell in an airport!"

As luck would have it, my experience at Dublin Airport the other day was happier. I picked up a copy of Ireland in 2050 -- How We Will be Living by Dr Stephen Kinsella. This turned out to be the perfect read to help block out the arctic conditions outside and the hangover after the worst floods since the Ark.

The narrative begins on January 1, 2050. A broadcaster relates that the NAMA -- created in 2009 to clean up the effects of a property crash -- has finally just been wound up. Local authority inefficiencies have delayed levees designed to stop flooding in Dublin's docklands and Limerick City by five years. And, from there, University of Limerick economics lecturer Dr Kinsella sets forth his (far from dystopian) vision of what lies ahead.

Despite the present turmoil, you will be relieved to hear this economic expert refreshingly believes Ireland is now in forward motion. By 2050, our grandchildren will be at least twice as wealthy as we are, he expects. We may, however, have to wait 15 years for the property market to reach 2006-07 heights.

"I think we will see another housing and construction boom in Ireland in the early 2020s, as a larger, older population demands different types of residences ... " Dr Kinsella hazards. That's the "good" news. The bad news is that Ireland 2050 will be "an extremely unequal" place, facing serious threats from climate change, energy security and an ageing population.

"Because of the political choices Irish people have made in the past, and most likely will continue to make in the future, inequality between classes of people resident in Ireland will mean that there will be fewer choices for the poor as to where to live: the price of land -- and the price of property built on that land -- will be out of their reach," he predicts.

With other pundits running shy of predicting where house prices will be even six months hence, Dr Kinsella wisely avoids guesstimating the likely price tag of my grandkids' and your home four decades hence (I will have shuffled off my mortal coil and moved to an even more uncertain place by then in any case).

The only tentative clue I could find on possible future values was Dr K's suggestion that you may have to fork out around €25 for a cup of coffee in 2050.

That's 1250pc or thereabouts more expensive than today (assuming you're talking about a latte -- and what self-respecting yuppy doesn't these days). So do the maths yourself ...

Thanks to a larger and longer-living population, more than 7 million people may live in Ireland by 2050, according to the author -- a figure not seen here since the 1840s. It won't be uncommon to see men working well into their 90s and retirement thresholds will expand accordingly.

Climate change will, meantime, cause a further shrinkage of this island, due to coastal erosion, flash flooding and water shortages. So Ireland 2050 may resemble places like Algeria today with mild, wet winters and warm dry summers -- our green fields/livestock grazing becoming a thing of the past.

Insurance premia, the housing stock and people's behaviour will adapt accordingly, the economist expects: "If a family wishes to locate near a river, significantly higher insurance premia may force them to make other living arrangement choices, especially if the house (and the family) is older.

Remember, the houses constructed during the housing boom of 2002-2008 will be 40 years old at this stage, and probably in need of repair, renovation or demolition, so if they are close to rivers or in areas like north Dublin -- which will experience regular flooding -- they might be abandoned or demolished altogether as uninhabitable."

Dublin will be the size which Los Angeles is now. Locating in certain areas within the Dublin-Kildare-Meath-Wicklow-Wexford conurbation will be undesirable because of increased risk of flooding.

And expect to see the ban on buildings that are 32-plus storeys high disappear in the early 2020s as population densities in Dublin close in on Dutch and US averages.

But let's just all wait and see ...

Irish Independent

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