Future historians will write of this present period that it was the time when America freed itself up to do what it does best–innovate, create markets and bring new technology to the world.
For far too long the world has been dependent on American consumer spending, military predominance and the status of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Asia has exploded with wonderful and dramatic growth on the back of our consumer spending, Europe has financed a rich retirement because they didn’t have to have a credible defense program due to our nuclear shield, and the world financed our debt because we have never defaulted on one. I wish it hadn’t taken a depression and a financial crisis to change things, but it really is the best thing that could have happened to us.
It’s very much as if necessity is forcing us, finally, to put down our toys and do what we are best at. What a mortal pity…
It frees us to invest in the future rather than worrying about keeping so many bubbles inflated–stock markets, housing prices, quarterly performance for companies, etc.
The future will be determined by nanotechnology, biotechnology and robotics, each of which will be to this century what electricity was to the last. It is a list to which we now have the flexibility to add green technology. The current green fad–wind–desperately needs to have a tech refresh. We are putting windmills in the wrong position and configuring them inaccurately. They are still maintenance heavy and performance lite. We are littering the landscape with windmills without doing the planning necessary to back them up or get the most bang for the buck from them.
To a lesser degree the same is true for solar–we’re doing better there, but not nearly well enough.
What we are certain to see over the next two decades is an explosion of innovation that will radically change the landscape–literally as well as figuratively, as fewer mountaintops are removed and wind and solar farms reconfigured for efficiency. New buildings will change on the outside, and older buildings on the inside, as programs like Homestar reward common sense efficiency savings and building certification programs such as LEEDS reshape exterior architecture for commercial construction.
Blue sky plans for wave and tidal energy will get a boost, as will my pet favorite, ocean thermal energy conversion. We already have contracts signed for energy delivered from space, and home energy management networks are being designed so that we can use communications efficiencies to manage our energy consumption.
Our CO2 emissions have decreased by 10% over the past two years, and only a third of that is because of the recession. Greater use of natural gas and more efficient use of fuels caused the rest. This will continue, even as our economy recovers, and then we’ll sell on the innovation to the rest of the world. China may produce more solar panels than we do, but it will be our intellectual property that drives the revolution. We made a decision decades ago that this was how we wanted our economy to be structured-to be the brains, not the manufactuers, to the world. It’s going to happen in green technology, just as it will happen in the other core technologies that will shape this century.
It’s going to be fun, exciting and occasionally frustrating. Sound familiar?