The world is awakening to the reality that we can’t go on ravaging our environment and natural resources and have any hope for a prosperous and healthy future. The cost and scarcity of the energy and water supplies we need right now, let alone in the future, has far surpassed the tipping point at which sustainable solutions are not only preferable, but essential. Developed economies are heavily-leveraged, lethargic, and losing market share and economic abundance to emerging economies. The explosive growth of emerging economies is putting tremendous strain on the infrastructures of these developing countries and wreaking havoc on their ecosystems. Value propositions based on concepts like bio-mimicry, cradle to cradle. zero waste, and renewable sources are needed in addition to continual improvements to the existing infrastructure. There are no silver bullets and a broad portfolio approach makes sense. The time required to implement new solutions is a major factor in the sustainability equation.
In a report issued in May, 2007, the US Energy Information Administration (the “Official statistics of the US Government”) projected the world’s energy consumption by sector and source until the year 2030. Among the conclusions was the estimate that renewable energy will be roughly 20% of the mix (conversely, a separate report from the EIA dated Feb 2007 suggests that the US will get less than 10% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030). Meanwhile, the UN Environmental Development Program released estimates in November, 2005 that suggested that $1.9 Trillion would be spent on renewable energy in the next two decades and that the carbon credit trading markets could reach $2 Trillion.The current mainstream perspective suggests that renewable energy will remain a niche market (though a growing one) for as far as the eye can see. This presupposes a relatively static definition of what renewable energy is – Hydro, Geothermal, Solar, Wind, Biomass, etc, and assumes that the field will remain what it is now – a premium priced sector dependent on government mandate or subsidy, and/or public relations value.
ASPO International, a network of scientists with interest in estimating the date and impact of peak and decline of the world oil production, reports there is a significant risk that global production of conventional oil could "peak" and decline by 2020. A UK Energy Research Council study , and others, have stated that the era of cheap oil is ending.
"Wells to wheels" analysis includes extraction of energy from the original source, transportation, processing, distribution, and point of use power production. This needs to be considered when evaluating efficiencies and emissions of the various energy alternatives The current attention on biofuels and electric vehicles is similar to hydrogen and fuel cells several years ago. The solutions being put forward typically include biases from the industry segments presenting them. It is possible to reach non-optimal conclusions and expensive solutions.
In 2000, the scientific community, which keeps track of the world’s water supplies, began predicting that one out of three people in the world would have to factor water shortages into their lives by the year 2025. However, it has already happened, according to a report presented in Stockholm during World Water Week in August 2007; the result of work compiled by 700 scientists from the International Water Management Institute. In China, according to the Ministry of Water Resources, almost two-thirds of China's 661 cities are facing water scarcity, and at least 100 are facing severe drought. In the Middle East scarcity of water resources is expected to create serious environmental challenges for the region. With the U.S. annual population growth of nearly three million assures coming water shortages throughout the country, as many in the Southwest are already experiencing. Of particular concern throughout the world, including the U.S., is the depletion of deep aquifers, known as fossil water.
Because of inadequate water supplies, and the limited infrastructure to deliver what is available, half the people in the world today lack the sanitation levels the Romans had. Half the hospital beds on earth are occupied by people with easily preventable diseases caused by impure water. In the past decade more children have died from diarrhea caused by drinking such water than all the people killed in all the armed conflicts since World War II. Access to clean water could save over two million lives a year.
In Mexico, only nine percent of its streams and rivers are fit for drinking and, because of its poor sanitation infrastructure, its underground aquifers are almost as polluted as its rivers and streams. Corruption and poor maintenance have permitted such severe seepage that two fifths of the available surface water is lost, and half of the rest evaporates in open canals. Similarly, in China, water pollution is literally threatening the country’s quality of life. China produced 71.7 billion tons of sewage last year, and up to 70 per cent was dumped into local rivers without being treated at all. The result: up to 90 per cent of the country's water resources are tainted to the point of being useless for healthful human consumption.
Drinking water and sanitation are actually only a part of the problem. Nearly 70 per cent of water consumption is linked directly to agriculture. By 2020 the world will be short 17 percent of the water needed to feed the global population. The depletion of the water table in almost every country of the world is already affecting harvests.
Increasing attention is being put on developing new products and approaches to supply clean and safe water globally, from advanced membrane technologies to atmospheric water generators.
The EPA has reported that the US generated 254 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste in 2007 with 24.9% recycled, 8.5% composted, 12.6% combusted with energy recovery, and 54% sent to landfills. Generation has increased by about a factor of 2 from 1970. The United Nations and other agencies estimate worldwide annual waste production at more than 1 billion tons, and some estimates go as high as 1.3 billion.
Plasma processing of municipal solid waste has potential to supply about 5% of U.S. electricity needs, while treating toxic waste. Organic waste digestion technologies are advancing rapidly.
It is clear that energy, water and waste are tightly integrated. Sustainability projects normally struggle through selection of options with a potentially large number of technologies, including solar, wind, hydro, biomass, hydrogen, waste-to-power, etc., to integrate into an effective solution. Possible outcomes include:
· High-capital solutions
· Overly-complex infrastructure
· Reproduction of the existing non-sustainable solutions
· Non-optimal balance of solutions at different levels
· Unwanted by-products
Process-Synthesis Superstructure methodologies provide a useful approach to selection of options in these highly-integrated systms.
It can be argued that health care is not sustainable. Medical expenses are rising faster than the costs of any other service. Forty years ago American medical spending was estimated at 5% of national income. Today it is estimated at 16.5% and still rising. There are many factors contributing to this situation, including unhealthy lifestyles, the medical insurance system, malpractice liability, and the cost of developing and commercializing new drugs, for example.
Technical innovations in medical devices, information technology, and new approaches to therapeutics have the potential to contribute positively to cost and quality of health care service. Medical diagnostic technologies are successfully advancing in several directions. Advances in genetics are providing steps toward personalized medicine.