As wealth continues its transfer from industrial to emerging nations, if war does not return the world to a dark feudalism well before political, economic or physical limits are reached, at some point the entire world could reach a balanced standard of living. What GDP would the western world would have to accept to achieve a balanced world economy? Calculations, using today’s technology and known resources, suggest that a balanced living standard would be about one quarter the output of western nations today. For the sake of citizens of wealthy nations, who like I feel entitled or at least hopeful that we will maintain our material well being, I am rooting for innovation and exploration to vastly improve that balanced trajectory.
Futurists state that resources such as energy, water, and food may be among the factors that will limit the entire world from achieving the wealth frontier boundaries that have been set by western society. America can and should innovate to keep these barriers from limiting a higher world parity. In creating solutions, we can build national core skills and provide jobs for Americans in the process.
While an economical solution to drawing and storing mass energy from the sun does not exist, and while the world still fears nuclear, innovation should unlock today’s yet unknown energy solutions to keep energy from being a limiting factor. Wind and solar electricity cost twice that of coal and natural gas, and electric grids are limited in areas of the United States that could produce most efficiently. However, as the oil era wanes, our future energy shortfalls are eminently more solvable than a shortage of sperm whale spermaceti seemed to America as the era of blubber energy was forever expiring.
Current technologies exist today to extend water capacity, to conserve water usage, and to create potable water for much of the world. As an example, today’s power plants release 70 percent of consumed fuel as inefficient heat back into the environment. Cogeneration plants can capture much of this wasted energy to convert the world’s seas into potable water. In a world filled with sun and water, the future brightness of tomorrow’s innovators should solve energy and water shortages.
Even as America is touted as the bread basket of the world, the future will look back on our modern technologies as unsustainable just as we look back on the industrial pollution of the 1960’s as an unsustainable abuse. The world will question why we didn’t see how our food production processes were depleting soil, relying on too few strains of genetically produced seeds, and altering humans’ ability to resist disease from our livestock antibiotics. However, globalization will create the need to transfer the best parts of America’s food production capabilities to other countries and to cause the world to restrict rich soil areas to food production, easing at least short and mid-term food pressures.
I am most concerned about the byproducts of innovation as a limiting factor. For instance, what are the effects on codependent species such as bees and birds of immersing an entire world in communication waves? What will be the effect of weakening the collective immunity of the world through pervasive use of antibiotics and antivirals? And while no-one has definitively linked the explosive acceleration of both number and scale of natural disasters to global warming, what will be the tipping point that creates an unstable environment for mankind?
These issues require a forward focus. America can capitalize on solving tomorrows economic, environmental, and world sustenance issues before they become crises. America can create national core skills the unite the world before our common sustenance needs divide the world into civilizations competing globally for antiquated solutions, or worse that plunge the world into a war of survival.