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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Finding a Future*


The next generation; from the eCycle website
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 6/8/2007
as "Technology, peace go hand in hand"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

It used to be fun to sit back and contemplate the future. I remember with great clarity those Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazine covers from the late ‘50’s predicting that the 21st century would be a technological Disneyland, a life free from the mundane and stressful, having conquered poverty, racism, and a host of political and social problems. Those gleeful futurists wrote with great flourish about automated homes, controlled weather, and every husband commuting to work in his private helicopter, leaving behind a picket-fenced Eden in the country.

These were quaint visions, the Leave It To Beaver culture recast into the Wi-Fi age. Of course, reality has been far crueler.

The loss of innocence began with the ‘60’s; lost even more luster during the gas crisis of the ‘70’s and culminated in the soul-draining drug-fueled glitz and glamour of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. We’ve seen violence and poverty explode across the globe and our own country become the torn field of a political and ideological battle, a war waged with a hateful ferociousness unequaled since the Civil War.

Against that background, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that our view ahead has become universally gloomy and pessimistic. The future, once a place of gleaming technology and bucolic lifestyles now is populated by visions of conflict, disaster, and privation. Now we have people predicting that our planet has only five years left. And while I’m inclined to doubt short-term predictions that are cast in round numbers, there is nonetheless the distinct feeling that time is indeed running out.

In some respects, predicting the future is a patently impossible task. Yoda once said about the future, “Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.” As the diminutive Jedi Master knew, tomorrow is built on the ever-swirling events of today as they continually unfold. And what was once a clearly defined path can be diverted by events into a blind trek through the wilderness, leaving us groping desperately for handholds to guide our way.

The climate is changing, whether you believe the cause lies with humans or with the natural processes governing the continuing dynamic evolution of the earth is immaterial to the acknowledgment of the obvious. I don’t know why we always expected it to be sunny and 72, but I digress…

Climate change is nothing unusual. At different times, our planet has been a roiling sea of molten lava and a solid sheet of ice. Scientists, such as P. A. Mayewski, and F. White, writing in The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change (University Press of New England, Hanover, N.H., 2002) discovered in examining ice cores dating back some 14,000 years that Greenland, for example, had sometimes warmed a shocking 7°C within a span of less than 50 years. More recent studies have reported that, during the Younger Dryas transition (12,900 – 11,500 years ago), drastic shifts in the entire North Atlantic climate could be seen within five snow layers, that is, as little as five years, all happening before humans began industrialization. Given that history, we will need to plan now to survive the shift in climate that is certainly on the way (if not underway already), and do so minus the polarizing political rhetoric. After all, long winters can only be survived by people who pull together, not apart.

Oil is running out. Even the most optimistic estimates give us 75 years. Without anti-matter, anti-gravity, high-temperature super-conductivity, photonic fusion, or similar far-fetched Star Trek technologies, the most obvious alternative is hydrogen. It is the most plentiful element in the universe, far more efficient than gasoline as a fuel, and burns cleanly.
I asked an engineer whether a conventional internal combustion engine could run on hydrogen. Her reply brimmed over with terms like “stoichiometric air ratios” and “second lean regions,” but the bottom line answer was “yes.” Such a move would functionally fill the gap between now and the expected date (some 50 years hence) when true portable self-sustaining non-polluting hydrogen fuel conversion plants and fuel cells become standard equipment in all vehicles. All that remains is devising the best way to produce and store hydrogen and finding some courageous business person willing to place hydrogen fuel stations around the U.S. Yes, it would be an expensive undertaking, but over the long term, such a visionary would find the world beating a path to their door and in the process, become “rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

Oh yeah, I almost forgot…the conversion of the world’s industrialized economies from oil to hydrogen would also render the Middle East and all its attendant miseries politically irrelevant.

Of course, technology is great. But if we can’t set aside our hatred for each other, any advance in technology will be moot. Therefore, the real question about our future is not if we can survive climate change, but whether we can survive each other.
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