21st Century Challenges

Barbara Young

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2007 is the year of “The Peaceful Pig.” Described as the most generous and honorable sign in the Chinese Zodiac, the pig has flawless manners and exotic tastes. In terms of the forecast for 2007, Christopher Renstrom (online astrologist) predicts a “fiery” year and one for the record books. Fiery years tend to be loud, dramatic and transformative, he surmises.
For those of you tempted to stop reading at this point, I implore you to bear with me at least for another sentence or two. This discussion actually concerns events that define historical periods. Think environment and conservation.
From my observation post, I see the creatures inhabiting our precious Earth, exploiting its natural wonders making louder noises about environmental stewardship. Before the question enters your mind, my answer is that as one of these creatures I, too, am responsible for preserving the environment. So, what am I doing? For one thing, I write about the matter as often as I dare. What are you doing?
As I perused an edition of The Wall Street Journal in January, the “Talking Tech” feature in the Business Technology section caught my attention. Entitled “Brainstorming 21st Century Challenges,” an invitation was extended in solicitation of brainstorming ideas concerning “grand challenges” engineers should set for themselves in the 21st century. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is supposed to announce the findings in September. I eagerly await the results. Interestingly, several years ago when NAE conducted such a survey targeting the 20th century, these were the top four challenges: electricity, the automobile, the airplane and clean water.
This brings me to my point concerning the environment and conservation, which was triggered by President Bush’s comments during his recent trip to a Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Kansas City, Mo. The president reminded his audience of his administration’s goal of reducing America’s consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over the next 10 years, which heavily relies on the production and use of ethanol. To be sure, this is a grandiose idea, but it is not without its downside. For one thing, a projected ethanol boom has become a bone of contention within the agricultural community. The heart of the issue involves a predicted rise in corn prices in the next few years – to unprecedented highs some say. Commodities analysts project the need for up to a billion more bushels of corn output every year to supply ethanol industry growth. Meanwhile, other experts predict the onset of urban riots in the global community in reaction to escalating food prices.
As President Bush said, ethanol is good news for corn growers, but no good for hog farmers being hit by high corn prices. The President left this on the table for the agricultural industry to chew on. The administration is allocating funds to finance research projects charged with developing new technologies that identify other natural resources that will work in ethanol production.
Seems we can expect a fiery, loud, dramatic and transformative year ahead.