Monday, March 20, 2006

Engineering the future

Off soon to Turkey for the eclipse.

The next accessible total solar eclipse will be in China (right across Shanghai) on July 22, 2009. With luck, it will be my first trip to China, and maybe my last TSE.

We can expect extraordinary things from China in the coming years, but for the time being consider these statistics from the State of the World 2006 report of the Worldwatch Institute (and summarized in Scientific American):

Gross domestic product per person: China $4,600, United States $40,100.

Barrels of oil used per person every year: China 1.9, United States 25.3.

Kilograms of grain consumed per person in 2005: China 292, United States 918.

Ecological footprint (areas with significant photosynthetic activity or biomass accumulation) per person in hectares: China 1.6, United States 9.7

If and when China and India increase their consumption and ecological footprint to equal that of the United States -- and by what divine right are we allowed to be richer than others? -- the planet will groan unbearably under the load. It will take some extraordinary ingenuity on behalf of scientists and engineers to keep this from happening, and just when we should be encouraging children to study these disciplines, the present tendency in America is in the opposite direction. Oh, well, the Chinese and Indians will pick up the slack.