Right now the US is held up as THE global pariah in terms of negative global environmental impact, as highlighted by the facts such as the US having 4% of the worlds population yet producing 25% of the greenhouse gas pollution, or the George W Bush administration’s utter rejection of the Kyoto protocol.
This is despite world-wide multilateral agreement by the majority of the governments of the world, the majority of the scientific community, and the majority of (non-polluting) industries and business communities, that we need to face up to these issues NOW.
I’m betting that the American people will respond by creating a technology led, business focussed, market based response to the serious issues relating to environmental pollution reduction.
This new wave of economic and socio-technical innovation will create more wealth and more jobs than at any previous time in US economic history.
I'm betting that the communities of US science, US business, US government and the people of the United States, will in their wisdom, use their considerable ''balls, brains, and bucks'' to make sure this happens.
I’m betting that this will create the next long boom, a Long Green Boom.
The United States is seen everwhere as the world leader in environmental destruction. Its pollution takes many forms, mainly derived from the high proportion of world resources (including energy) that it consumes. However, its destructive reputation is seen mainly in the emission of enormous quantities of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels by its huge and successful economic activity and regarded as pollution through the greenhouse effect.
The situation can only be changed by replacing energy production from oil, coal, and gas by the use of non-polluting technologies.
Already such production by the use of solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and other sources provides a small contribution to the nations energy supply and optimistic estimates suggest that up to 20% of national demand might be achieved by their use by 2020. This means that most of our energy supply would then have to come from a completely new technology. Unfortunately no such technology appears to be immediately available. A large programme of nuclear (fission) reactors would ameliorate the situation, but many would consider this as causing a still more dangerous pollution. Nuclear fusion is often mentioned as the final abundant and safe energy. I have every confidence that American science, technology and business are capable of leading the world in the development and installation of such a new non-polluting energy system, but do not believe that this can happen before 2022.
The lead time from scientific discovery through technological development to a substantial level of economic production is very long. I do not believe that fusion is as yet anywhere near to becoming a technology. It has unique development difficulties - it is not easy to convert the energy of the temperature of the sun to that of superheated steam. It will be argued that by devoting extraordinarily large resources to such a project, the lead-time can be substantially reduced. That may well be so, but experience with recent mammoth schemes such as the Manhattan project or ''man on the moon'' shows the difficulty of beating the time constraints.
In addition to the technical difficulties, there will be many obstacles of political, vested-interest and psychological nature to be overcome. The atmosphere with its carbon dioxide is the common possession of all mankind, therefore action by the US is of concern to all nations. The seemingly contemptuous rejection of the Kyoto protocol by the Bush government has already led through laboured attempts at compromise, to a general delay at facing up to the real issues... Such delays are likely to drag on indefinitely with a defensive US facing a large number of coutries including its allies, until Washington takes strong unilateral action.
Such action is unlikely to be decisive until the government understands that it is essential to safeguard national energy supply. Its urgency will also have to be accepted by the communities of science and business and endorsed by informed public opinion. I cannot believe that the warning bell will be rung until well into the 20 years of this long bet. For this and other reasons I bet that the US will still be top of the world environmental damage league in 2022.