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A Prognosticated Future Vs. Blind Man's Buff

By       Message Anthony J. Gerst       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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The issue of climate change resulting from global warming is a primary concern. Environmentalists must learn to expound their issues in terms of economic plurality and national security, playing toward Wall Street and the conservative movement. If we as a species are to survive as a civil societal culture, all governments must address this issue. While we await this miracle, we should move forward as independent nation states, and not allow our societal, economical and environmental interests to prognosticate. Ask environmentalists to make a list of their top concerns and remedies, and you get different responses. There will, of course be overlap, we will look at four of these today -- the current configuration of communications, the electrical grid, infrastructure and water/wastewater systems.

The Obama administration has issued a national broadband plan including access for every highschool. The timetable for this program extends to 2020. Broadband communications are crucial to business in the 21st century. In 2009, the United States ranked 15th in access to broadband and 19th in speed of service. This interesting economic fact can be found in "Resilience Amid Turmoil: Benchmarking IT Industry Competitiveness 2009," by Iain Morris. From a study including 120 nations, for every 10-percent increase in broadband usage 1.3-percent was added to the GDP. With so many people in the nation needing work, wouldn't it be prudent to expedite this program? The likely increase in our GDP is a gamble which should provide investment yields, justifying the expenditure.

Why is the United States lagging behind in broadband usage? The FCC ruled that the Internet is an information service instead of a telecommunications service. The FCC attempted to reclassify this service, allowing them to enforce net neutrality and to open up the marketplace to third-party competition. However, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, came out in opposition to competition in providing broadband service, thereby protecting company monopolies such as AT&T and Comcast.

Today, our electricity is delivered by nearly the same technology that Thomas Edison used 100 years ago. By 2050, the U.S. is projected to have a population of 438 million, a 48-percent increase. Since 1990, our electrical demand has risen 25-percent and our construction of new power plants declined 30-percent, according to Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in "Rebuilding America the Time is Now," Aug 2007. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies and utilities continue to post record profits. It would appear the lack of new power plants was intentional in order to increase revenue shares.

The construction of a smart-grid, incorporating storage and transmission capacity of electricity over long distances, is a must. We should be pursuing this with the dedication we had for the Apollo Project. The objective is to free us from Middle East oil. The Stimulus Fund currently provides $3.4-billion for smart-grid projects, with $4-billion more to be invested. We should be installing high-voltage transmission lines now, creating jobs, while heavily investing in transmission and storage capacity. Projects exist across the nation that are developing smart appliances with grid-friendly controllers, the concept being that appliances could be fitted with microchips allowing power companies to better utilize electrical loads. With this technology, should a utility company be approaching overload, hundreds of thousands of appliances could be temporarily shut down, rotating among various appliances. Time could be bought for the system to readjust its supply, bringing in more power from adjoining utilities preventing brown and blackouts.

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Cybersecurity for our electrical grid is an issue of national security and should be taken seriously. Melissa Hathaway, the lead on President Obama's Cyberspace Policy Review and author of "Powers Hackers: The national smart grid is shaping up to be dangerously insecure," Scientific American Oct. 2010, pointed out, "The Department of Energy has only recently begun to address the security requirements. So far utilities have been so focused on tamping costs that they haven't been willing to pay for robust across-the-board security measures." The grid is already more open to cyberattacks than it was just a few years ago, since private power firms and public utilities have failed to install software against malware threats. The federal government has discovered tens of thousands of reported vulnerabilities in the nation's 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Legislation should be passed requiring all utilities to provide cybersecurity with their service.

Governors Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in 2008 created the bipartisan coalition, "Building America's Future." On Feb 3, 2010, Rendell, speaking at the Brookings Institute, stated, "If we don't do something quickly, by the time 2030 rolls around, America will be a second-rate economic power." This comment was regarding investments in American infrastructure overall; its application to the electrical grid notwithstanding. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) stated in 2009, an investment of $1.5- to $2-trillion dollars over 20 years was needed to update and expand our electrical grid. Closing the Bush tax cuts for the top two-percent of wage earners would bring in $55 billion a year. That figure extended over 20 years is $one-trillion-one-hundred-ten billion.

Regarding infrastructure, before the nation's inception, we were big thinkers and builders. George Washington had conceived of the need for a canal system that would link the East Coast to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Thomas Jefferson launched a national plan for roads and canals that would continue until Abraham Lincoln completed the transcontinental railroad. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would carry on, investing large sums of money during our nation's worst financial crisis, bringing electricity to rural Americans, building levees, dams and more. Dwight Eisenhower then initiated our interstate highway system. Indeed, we were a nation that looked forward -- not one reminiscing in the past. The ASCE proclaims it would take $2.2 trillion over five years to bring our aging infrastructure up to par, let alone the investment needed to secure the nation until 2100. A means of financing this would be by blocking all offshore tax havens for individuals and corporations, a move that is long overdue to address budget concerns and equity in taxation.

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China invests 9-percent of its GDP in infrastructure projects. From 2006-09 China invested $186-billion in high-speed rail, and announced in 2009 it would build 97 new world-class airports by 2020. Europe invests 5-percent of GDP in infrastructure yearly within the EU. These improvements enhance our competitors' means of conducting business. America only invests 2.4-percent of GDP in infrastructure. We should lower our investment in the military-industrial complex and transfer these funds to nation building at home. After all, our position as the world's top economic power is crucial. Historically, the top military power is the top economic power; it's the economy that holds predominance. It is worth noting the 2009 ASCE's report card on America's current infrastructure status. In the newly released book, "Third World America," by Arianna Huffington, we find, "The nation's overall infrastructure grade was an appalling D. The report noted a downward trend since 2005: transit and aviation fell from a D+ to a D, while roads dropped from a D to a nearly failing D-. Dams, hazardous waste, and schools maintained their lowly D grade, while drinking water and waste water remained mired at D-."

Water and waste water. Global corporate entities have already purchased water rights throughout the third world. I stand with many activist organizations around the globe declaring water is a basic human right. People should not be denied access to their daily fresh-water needs, based upon the inability to pay for a service. The EPA estimates we lose seven-billion gallons of drinking water a day from leaking pipes. Much of America's tap-water is pumped through cast-iron pipes that were installed during the Civil War. The New York Times , after analyzing the EPA data, reported that a major water line breaks in America every two minutes, somewhere in our two-million miles of pipeline. In order to correct this problem Steve Allbee of the EPA stated, "If you look at what we're spending now and the investment requirements over the next twenty years, there's a 540 billion-dollar difference."

I've written articles concerning the waste-water overflow of treatment plants from cities along the Mississippi River, pointing out they could not handle the increased overflow capacity of precipitation as projected by the Pew Center's data concerning climate change. Many of these processing plants rely upon sewer systems built before the Civil War. The last couple of years, newspapers have reported incidents in several cities where severe deluges have overwhelmed their sewer treatment facilities, resulting in direct releases of raw sewage into the Mississippi River. In 2004, the EPA estimated that sanitary overflows from broken or blocked pipes released 10-billion gallons of raw sewage into our waterways. The same report speculated that combined overflows were a staggering 850-billion gallons. These issues need to be resolved in order for America to maintain its predominance.

If we properly invest in the projects listed above, we will create a new economy; one where America once again builds things and leads the world in new green technology for export. By nurturing America's grandiose style, we could once again approach full employment in a relatively short number of years. Then we need to address the issue of water and waste water in this nation. The bottom 98-percent of wage earners within the Bush Tax Cuts stripped $195-billion a year from the budget which, over 20 years, would accumulate to $three-trillion-nine-hundred billion. We must gradually phase these tax cuts out while maintaining them for the lowest income brackets, applying this revenue to hydrological concerns.

Daily we are losing the ability to compete and to lead the world in environmentally sound business practices. The unemployment crisis facing this nation could and should be addressed by fixing our ailing systems of infrastructure. The means of accomplishing this exist without exploding the national debt. The problem is no political will to address the issue, and, yes, a revision of entitlement programs is needed without eliminating them. Tick-tock and into the future we go; as our species' place in that future has yet to unfurl, much depends upon our collective ability to understand that civil society lies in the cross-hairs of opulence and greed. Will the few condemn the many? Only time and our collective actions will tell.


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Anthony J. Gerst, is an author/columnist and activist. He resides near the confluence of the Iowa and Mississippi Rivers. His favorite author, Mark Twain, was an editor for the Muscatine Journal near where he lives. Mr. Gerst has offered (more...)

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