Monday, October 27, 2008

USA 20 Years from Now ...

” The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.”

America has reached a big milestone in its history. Last week the last fuel refinery in the US was closed and all the workers in the Texas Petrochemical Refinery were offered a redeployment package. With the training that they have been going through in the past couple of years, all these people are hopeful to establish a new career elsewhere. Although the fuel production from oil and subsequently the fossil fuel emission is coming to an end, there are still some refineries that use oil to produce necessary ingredients for plastics. The scientific methods developed to recycle plastics have helped reduce the plastic production significantly. Most cars now have solar cells built in their body that absorbs and stores solar energy. More than 50% of the cars in the country are using solar or electricity as their main energy resource and the other half are hydrogen cars. About five years ago the only US car manufacturer offered to replace gasoline engines with hydrogen ones at no cost. Starting Jan 2030 no gasoline car will be allowed on the streets of major cities. It is astounding to see how far America has come in the last years. Majority of states are now establishing laws to reduce the amount of plastic-base components. In the last few years scientists have bumped up their activities to come up with an intelligent material that replaces plastic and can recycle itself into the environment with no impact. Many reckless and irresponsible behaviors in the past few decades have had an enormous irreversible impact on the global environment. During the last few decades, the sea levels have raised significantly that eventually forced some cities like New York city to abandon many areas of the city and the city center which used to be Manhattan has moved about 10 miles inland. Food shortage still remains a big concern for the world. Since the scientific researches in the last twenty years proved that use of many chemicals to produce more crops can result in many health issues for people, the focus in the last ten years has been to move more toward organic products. With the increase in the life expectancy and better health services the population of the world will reach 8 billion in the next month. Cure of cancer and AIDS has been some of the biggest achievements of scientists in the last century. It is remarkable to notice the changes world has been going through in the last 10-15 years. Many lands that used to be used for farming are now filled with skyscrapers. The advancements in the technology has helped many deserts to become crop producible but the water shortage for these lands is what many scientists are trying to address. To optimize the use of water in the farms, most farmers now have intelligent drip systems that minimize the use of water. In order to mitigate the risks of food shortage, congress is drafting a bill that can make more lands available for farming.
Many scientists believe that with the improvements that started about two decades ago the world is still trying to find its new equilibrium state. The extinction of many wildlife species has resulted in a dramatic change in the ecosystem. One of the major changes in the US in recent years has been the culture of consumption. Looking at the start of this century one would notice that US has dropped out of the list of top 50 polluters of the world. This has been a result of effective policies and change of culture that has been adapted. Americans have also been able to better distinguish between what they really need in their life vs what they want. With the enhancements in the public transportations use of personal cars for daily commuting has significantly dropped in the last decade. Availability of public transportation at almost no cost, lack of parking spots in many populated areas and heavy traffic have led most people to limit their use of cars in most urban areas of the country. Diversity is still a big success factor in the US economy. Even the rural areas of the country now consist of different ethnicities. In twenty years (by 2050) the Hispanic population of the country will exceed the white population. It was not long ago that people used to immigrate to US in order to seek and build a better life. The recent report by the US Census Bureau shows that the number of Americans immigrating to other countries has increased rapidly in the last ten years. The same report indicates that the main reasons for the immigration of the Americans are to get away from the industrial world and also to look for better economic benefits. In most urban areas of the country, the non-white population of the working people exceeds the number of white workers. More than 40% of the country is now bilingual in contrast to 9% of the population in 2005. Many areas of the country that was once considered to be rural are now urbanized. The proportion of the developed land base has almost doubled to 10% in about 20 years (in contrast to 5% in 2005). The population of Los Angeles metropolitan area has quadrupled in a quarter of a century.
The increase in the urban area population and also the diverse culture of the people living in these areas has posed new challenges to the city officials. To name some transportation, food and environmental concerns have been a few of these. With the recent improvements in the public transportation city officials have been able to effectively address the transportation. Use of green resources such as hydrogen, solar and wind and limiting the use of personal cars has also helped better control the traffic and also carbon footprint on the planet. Food that is still being produced mainly in the heartland and west coast is shipped to the cities using green transportation means. People have become more conscious and pay more attention to what they eat and have chosen a healthier life style. Most homes in the urban areas generate some of the energy they use employing solar cells that are installed on the roofs. By state law in many different areas, all newly developed houses are now required to comply with the new rules to use the insulations that have smaller heat transfer rates in the roof and walls. This will result in less energy loss from the building.
Recycling has also become an important part of everybody’s life. The teachings at schools to recycle more effectively are now paying off. People keep plastics, papers, glass and metals in separate containers and each one of these items gets recycled and used in one form or the other. Many cities even recycle organic materials and process them to produce fertilizers which will be eventually used in farms. Use of bottled water has dropped significantly and people tend to use reusable water bottles.
The technology advances in the communication systems has allowed many companies to offer their employees telecommute several days of the week. This has also helped reduce commuting between work and home. Comparing the size of cars with what it used to be less than two decades ago, one can notice how smaller the cars have gotten. Although this has required a serious effort to change people’s culture, it surely has been worthwhile since they consume less energy and also better fit into the big city lifestyles.
Reducing the use of fossil fuels to produce energy has been one of the biggest milestones our country has achieved in the past two decades thanks to the great researchers all around the world. Many major metropolitan areas now have solar panels installed in different locations. Even some small towns are now replacing the asphalts on the street with a new material that can absorb energy from sun and transform it to electricity. Use of tidal energy has also become very common in many coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These cities can now produce all their consumed energy through wind, solar and wave resources.
The recent developments in the electricity storage technologies have also helped power plants to store energy and feed it into the system when needed. Using these technologies some solar power plants can still feed the stored electrical energy into the system even during cloudy days. Many urban residents are also using thermal reservoir for heating and cooling of their homes or the water. These reservoirs simply store the heat during the day with a minimum energy loss. This energy can be used during the night to heat up the water or the house. The same concept applies to cold temperatures. Also with the new conductive materials the energy loss during electricity transfer has dropped significantly. Many medical research activity conducted all around the world showed that wireless transfer of electrical energy by creating magnetic fields can have a negative impact and put human’s health and wellness at risk.
Nuclear power plants remain a major source of electricity production. The number of these plants has increased significantly in the last twenty years. However, due to the nuclear waste disposal issues, the negative impact of radiation on human and also the high risk of explosion or leak of radioactive material these power plants have not gained the popularity as was expected. Hydroelectric energy remains a major and reliable renewable energy resource. However, its share compare to the other energy resources is still slim since the flowing water resources are limited. Steam-electric power plants account for some portions of the electricity generation. These units now mainly consume clean-coal technology. A new proposal by government requires all fossil fuel based plants to be replaced by a renewable energy resource by 2050.
America has been through lots of challenges during past decades. Several initiatives and years of hard work by many different individuals and communities have helped US to totally abandon its dependence on foreign oil and also reduce the CO2 emission significantly. With the steps taken in the past few years the global warming trend has finally reversed and everybody has become a better citizen of the world. People have become more aware of the man-made threats to the nature and world and act more responsibly. Now it is our generation’s term to pave the road for the next generation and hand them a world better than what was handed to us. There are still challenges to face. These challenges are not only maintaining the world but also trying to improve it and make it better for the generations to come.

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