May 10, 2013
The Omni Future Almanac was published in 1982 — a year when America would see double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. Despite all this, the authors of the book were generally optimistic about the future of the nation. Technology, they explained, would solve many of the problems facing the country. In conjunction with this, the American people would surely worker smarter and simplify their lives, all while improving everyone’s standard of living.
From the book:
By 2000, most Americans will be experiencing a new prosperity. The problems of shrinking energy supplies and spiraling costs will be offset by developments in computers, genetic engineering, and service industries that will bring about lifestyle changes that will in turn boost the economy. Basically, Americans will be able to simplify their lives and spend less money supporting themselves. Indeed, energy conservation will force Americans to become more resourceful fiscally and to spend less on many items.
But what about prices of the future? That double-digit inflation stoked fears that prices for common food items in the future would skyrocket.
The average price of a pound of beef in the year 2010? The book predicted it would be $22.75. The actual cost? About $3.75.
The prices of a loaf of bread? They predicted it would hit $8. Actual cost? About $2.50.
But which single commodity did they predict would level out in the 21st century? Somewhat shockingly, gasoline.
That’s right, the book predicted that a gallon of gas (which cost about $1 in 1980) would peak at $4 in 1990 and then level off to $2 not only in the year 2000 but maintain that price into the year 2010 as well.
But those staggering prices for basic sustenance doesn’t look quite so scary when you consider what they thought the average American would be paid.
A secretary of the year 2010? $95,000. A factory worker? $95 an hour.
Of course, wages for secretaries, factory workers and public high school teachers haven’t even kept pace with inflation. But at least a subway ride isn’t yet $20.
February 26, 2013
A new nuclear power plant hasn’t been built in the U.S. in over 30 years. But in the 1970s nuclear power was still in many ways a low-emissions dream of the future.
In 1975, nuclear power accounted for about 4 percent of the electrical energy generated in the United States. But some people at that time were predicting that by the dawn of the 21st century, nuclear power might supply over 50 percent of electrical energy needed in this country. (Nuclear power currently produces 19.2 percent of electricity in the U.S.)
In the early 1970s, plans were set into motion which would have seen eight to ten offshore nuclear power plants built by 1999. Each power plant was envisioned to produce 1,150 megawatts of electricity, enough for a city of about 600,000 at the time.
The plan was devised by Offshore Power Systems (OPS), a partnership between Tenneco and Westinghouse. In 1972, a New Jersey utility company contracted with OPS to build an offshore nuclear power plant in Jacksonville, Florida, and tow it to New Jersey. The $1.1 billion contract to build the plant was even signed at sea — aboard a yacht just off the New Jersey coast. The power plants would have been gigantic barges anchored a few miles off the American coastline, starting with Brigantine, New Jersey.
Why build a power plant at sea? Nuclear power plants require a tremendous amount of water for cooling and moving nuclear power plants offshore provides easy access to water without raising the ire of potential protesters on land.
Gordon P. Selfridge’s 1975 paper “Floating Nuclear Power Plants: A Fleet on the Horizon?” notes the concern over access to water:
Since nuclear power plants have a tremendous impact on the surrounding community, problems and confrontations on land have contributed to the impending move offshore. Physically, the plants consume enormous amounts of water for cooling and steam production and emit low-level radiation. With reference to the “once-through” cooling water necessary for the plants’ operation, one study has projected that the demand for such coolant will encompass over fifty percent of the entire runoff from the continental United States in only twenty-five years unless the plants are moved offshore. The possible ecological impact of running half our river water through nuclear power plants has led many to conclude that such plants would be better built in the coastal zone.
News reports from the time indicated that officials expressed a desire to have less of an impact on the environment, which is a more pleasant way to say that it’s probably not good to have half of the nation’s water running through nuclear power plants. Officials were concerned that states friendly to nuclear power (like New Jersey) were running out of vital riverfront property on which to build plants — at least without angering environmental groups. From the September 19, 1972, News Journal in Mansfield, Ohio:
The stated reason for building the offshore power plant was to minimize its impact on the environment, but officials privately admitted that the move to the sea was motivated by the fact that New Jersey may be the first state in the United State to run out of riverfront property for power plants.
“This is the only reason for putting this plant in the ocean,” said Edward C. Raney, a Cornell University biologist and a public service consultant. “It’s the only way to justify the expense of locating at sea.”
But the project met with delay after delay, most stymied by growing public concern over the environmental impact and risk of accidents with nuclear power plants. In 1976, then-candidate for President Jimmy Carter called for a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in the United States. Public opinion was already turning against nuclear power in the mid-1970s but the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979, permanently altered the way that Americans perceived nuclear power.
In 1982, a federal nuclear licensing board gave temporary approval for the OPS program to go through in New Jersey. But by then OPS was barely hobbling along. In 1975, Tenneco had withdrawn from the project leaving just Westinghouse at the helm. And by the early 1980s all of the utility companies with which OPS signed contract had long since cancelled their orders on account of the delays.
Over the next decade OPS began liquidating everything and laying off most of their staff of 1,500 in Jacksonville. In 1990 Westinghouse sold what was then the world’s largest crane — 38 stories tall, and built for $15 million — to a Chinese shipbuilding company for a measly $3 million.
Today, environmentalists who once shunned nuclear power are giving it a second look. But with the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, the world is again concerned about the very real potential for accidents — especially when it comes to shared resources like the ocean.
Selfridge wrote in 1975 (even before Three Mile Island) about the difference between an accident on land and one in the ocean: “A similar accident at sea, however, would have a far more devastating effect. A meltdown at sea would not create its own glazed insulation chamber. The poisonous reactor core would melt through the barge and descend into the hydrosphere where the radioactive core would contaminate thousands of cubic miles of ocean. Some radiation would be released to the atmosphere, the rest would enter the marine food chain. Radioactive contamination of the entire northwest Atlantic food chain for hundreds of years from one meltdown is a conceivable scenario.”
February 15, 2013
There’s nothing hotter right now than starting your own libertarian-minded community from scratch. Or at least threatening to do so.
Glenn Beck imagines building a community/theme park somewhere in the United States called Independence Park which would celebrate entrepreneurship and sustainable living. Others envision Idaho as the perfect spot to build a fortress-like libertarian utopia called The Citadel, where “Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans” need not apply. Still others — like PayPal founder Peter Thiel – are drawn to the idea of floating cities in the ocean, a libertarian dream of the future called seasteading.
But all of these dreams pale in comparison to the grand utopian vision of a 1978 film called Libra. Produced and distributed by a free-market group based in San Diego called World Research, Inc., the 40-minute film is set in the year 2003 and gives viewers a look at two vastly different worlds. On Earth, a world government has formed and everything is micromanaged to death, killing private enterprise. But in space, there’s true hope for freedom.
The film explains that way back in 1978 a space colony community was formed using $50 billion of private funds. Back then, government regulations were just loose enough to allow them to form. But here in the year 2003, government regulators are trying to figure out a way to bring them back under their oppressive thumb through taxes and tariffs on the goods they ship back to Earth.
The video starts with a rather ominous voice-over as the camera pushes in on a picture of the earth:
Let’s face it. Your world is falling apart. Politicians engaging nations in wars against the will of the people. Increasing worldwide poverty and starvation. Inflation, high unemployment, staggering crime rates. Skyrocketing costs of nationalized health care. Overpopulation. Inability to meet your energy needs. Bankrupt cities, bankrupt states, bankrupt nations and morally bankrupt people.
We then see that this is New York City in the year 2003.
Needless to say, the film’s vision for 2003 isn’t very pleasant — at least for those left on Earth. The Earth has an International Planning Commission, which naturally feels threatened by the idea of “uncontrolled energy” being harnessed by the people who work on Libra. The people of Libra seem happy, while those on Earth cope with the world government’s dystopian top-down management of resources.
The film follows an investment banker and a world government official who both travel to Libra on a fact-finding mission. The investment bankers are looking to invest in solar power and space manufacturing industries at Libra, while the world government senator is trying to figure out how he can rein in the renegade capitalists of Libra.
On their journey to Libra in a space shuttle, the characters watch a film which explains how the space colony works. Here in space, the film explains, residents are free to “work, raise families and enjoy living.”
The illustration on your screen shows the exterior design of Libra. Residents live in the central sphere. A rotation rate of approximately two revolutions per minute provides a gravity-like force which varies from zero gravity at the poles to full earth-like gravity at the equator. Inside the sphere, the land forms a big curving valley rising from the equator to 45 degrees on each side. The land area is mainly in the form of low-rise terraced apartments, shopping walkways and small parks with grass and trees. A small river flows gently along the line of the equator. You will notice the small scale of things. But for the 10,000 population there is more than adequate population.
Later in the film viewers get an interesting peek into what daily life is like when a resident shows the investment banker her Abacus computer.
The Abacus is a bit like Siri – if Siri only knew how to read you a copy of Consumer Reports. As the resident explains, “Abacus is one of the most popular consumer-information computers on Libra. These computing systems will give and receive information when you want it, where you want it and in the style you want it.”
The Libra resident explains, “Now if you have any questions about products or services — anything from toothbrushes to a doctor’s qualifications, it can probably react to you better than I can, in any one of four languages!”
On second thought, Abacus is actually less useful than Consumer Reports given the fact that it doesn’t make a recommendation for what it thinks is the best product or service.
When the investment banker asks which wristwatch he should’ve purchased, the computer begins chanting, “freecision… freecision… freecision…”
The woman explains that on Libra the computer won’t make any of your decisions for you, lest you become one of the mindless drones back on Earth: “Abacus won’t make it for you! It can’t decide what’s best for you! That’s your freesponsibility!”
“Freesponsibility…” the investment banker says mulling over the concept. “That’s not a bad word.”
“I know,” the woman replies. “It’s what’s been attracting more and more regulation refugees from Earth.”
Ultimately, the biggest concern of the corrupt world government revolves around cheap energy being produced which competes with their stranglehold on regulating the world’s energy supply.
The senator goes on international TV to debate Dr. Baker from the Libra space colony. Dr. Baker is a sort of uber-Galt who preaches the gospel of free enterprise and makes a fool of the senator during their debate. By the end of the film we’re left to wonder if the senator is a believer in world government anymore. With a long gaze into his eyes, viewers can imagine that he will soon join the others as a “regulation refugee.”
You can watch the entire film over at AV Geeks.