By Glen Hiemstra, December 2003
Biggest Breakthrough in 2004
The car that is going to change the world will be introduced to the marketplace in 2004. It is not the future you might expect – not yet a fuel cell auto (5 years or so away from market), not yet a flying vehicle of some kind (15 years or so from market).
“Until a company stepped up and put hybrid technology into a form factor that people want, the impact would remain small.”
It is the Lexus RX Hybrid, the first hybrid SUV to come to market. It will change everything. Introduced to auto shows in 2003, and coming to show rooms in the spring, the Lexus RX hybrid will change the psychology of fuel efficiency. The early hybrids from Honda and Toyota, while successful, are, well, cute. But until a company stepped up and put hybrid technology into a form factor that people want, the impact would remain small.
Now Toyota, through its Lexus division, will win the race to market. Using their powerful “hybrid synergy drive” enables them to produce a V-6 gasoline hybrid engine assisted by four electric motors and synchronized hybrid operation that meets two critical performance tests. The V-6 will outperform an internal combustion V-8, with quicker acceleration and more power. At the same time, fuel economy will match a compact car, and pollution will be dramatically reduced. And a bonus is that noise pollution will diminish, as the car’s electric motors run silently.
American auto makers will race to catch up, but the operative term is “catch up.”
Biggest Story of 2004
The world will begin to truly notice the rapidly declining birth rates. Unfortunately, the reaction of most governments will be a knee-jerk one, the legacy of eons of uncertainty about the human future. This reaction is to encourage population growth, as though it were a sure measure of success (which it once was in ancient history). Italy offers 1000 euros for a second child, Sweden offers substantial benefits for having children, Scotland is preparing similar measures. Japan grows increasingly concerned at the prospects of a 30% decline in population by mid-century. And here in the United States, where birth rates have fallen to their lowest level since record keeping began in 1909, economists are calling for increased immigration to keep the population growing.
But why? Why should populations grow? When roads are overcrowded, housing prices out of sight, and wild spaces nearly gone, why do we need ever more people to continue “progress”? How does cramming more people into any given geography translate into better lives for those people, in the 21st Century. Is California more livable in 2003 with 34 million than it was in 1960 with 17 million? Is the Colorado wilderness more pleasant with 4 million people than the 2 million who lived there in 1970? Is economic well being and growth solely dependent on population growth? What alternatives might be created?
This debate will grow in 2004. Let’s hope there are powerful voices raised to let birthrates continue to fall.
(While Futurist.com has addressed declining global population for some time, this particular article is based in large part on material in a column by Froma Harrop, Providence Journal, December 17, 2003.
War on Terror Dwindles Down
The war on terror will begin to wind down, particularly if Bin Laden is captured in 2004. Terrorism as a somewhat random fact of modern life will remain, but the global war will have turned the corner. As author Tom Clancy has observed, terror attacks will come to be seen as insect bites rather than catastrophe. The hotbeds of terror in the Middle East will turn inward, more focused on internal progress and struggles.
Biggest Wild Card
In contrast to the above and no big surprise, the biggest wild card remains a major terror attack on the U.S., one using biological, chemical, or dirty nuclear weapons. This would deal a gigantic blow to the global economy. Not likely to happen, but possible.
The demographic spending wave in the United States, combined with fiscal stimulus, deficit spending, and disregard for long-term debt consequences will fuel a roaring U.S. economy, with the usual positive effects on the global economy. Look for a DOW of 12,000 and U.S. GDP growth of between 4% and 6%. U.S. job growth will be held down however, by high productivity along with outsourcing of information and service work to the global labor force. (Were the wildcard to happen, growth comes to a crashing halt.)
Biggest Opportunity Not Taken
2004 will continue to see the major economies of the world focused on finding, exploiting and protecting oil as their primary energy source, to the detriment of the environment, the geopolitical situation, and our long term future. We will continue to wait for a major effort to begin a nearly inevitable transition to a clean, hydrogen-based economy. Which nation will lead?
Biggest Opportunity Rekindled
Space exploration and development will re-emerge as a perceived major human opportunity. Interest will be motivated by Chinese initiatives in space and their designs on travel to the moon and Mars, by the arrival at Mars of several exploration ships, and by the likely winning of the X-prize in 2004. Interest in space travel in the United States will begin to re-generate, with a major announcement likely for a new manned mission in space, probably a base on the moon.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.