Gazing into the Future, I See....

My three-year-old grandson spent the weekend at my house recently and it got me thinking about what the world would be like when he reaches adulthood, say 20 years from now.

by James Laughlin, Editor

My three-year-old grandson spent the weekend at my house recently and it got me thinking about what the world would be like when he reaches adulthood, say 20 years from now. Will it be a radically different place or will there be only the minor changes one might expect in an evolving world?

I know that proactive managers in the water industry look ahead 20 years and more, especially when it comes to water supply and infrastructure management. Societal forces, such as population growth or decline, aging and economics, should all be taken into consideration when planning for the future of a water system.

It’s easy to predict radical change, but difficult to plan adequately for all the scary possibilities. I think (hope & pray) that we won’t see anything too dramatic over the next 20 years. Instead, I expect to see a continued evolution of the forces that are already at work in our society and world.

Given that, here are some random thoughts about the future:

I think any young child in today’s America should begin studying Spanish as early as possible. No matter how you feel about the issue of immigration, I believe it will be an important skill to have in the next 20 years. Water system managers should take note and plan accordingly.

Twenty years from now the Baby Boomers (including me!) will be out of the workforce. They’ll be dealing with age-related issues and will have more time on their hands. Both sides of that coin could cause problems (or solutions) for water utilities. As Baby Boomers retire, the pool of available workers will shrink. I suspect at least part of the answer lies in increased automaton and the inflow of immigrant workers (See point 1).

Global warming will be a continuing concern - assuming the ice caps don’t melt, slide into the sea and cause global winter. My guess, 20 years from now it will be a little drier in some areas of the country and a little wetter in others. It might be a couple degrees warmer, or it might not.

Gasoline is going to get expensive. People will still be driving cars, but more folks will be using public transportation and those who drive will be driving fewer miles per day. As a result, the “footprint” of some cities just might shrink and inner city neighborhoods will be reborn as people move closer to where they work. This will put more stress on the oldest portions of water infrastructure. (By the way, the auto industry believes the number of cars on the road will nearly double in the next 20 years - but what do they know.)

Energy costs in general will rise and energy efficiency will be key to enterprise management. On the flip side, an amazing number of alternative energy sources and systems will flood onto the market over the next 20 years as creative genius and economics join to encourage development of alternatives to oil.

Given the state of American infrastructure, I plan to encourage my grandson to become an engineer. I’m convinced that will be a job with a future - unlike his current plan to become a conductor on Thomas the Train.

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