2014 was better than 2013. 2015 has to be better than 2014. While that may be a personal wish, it is also a global one because some things continued to get worse in some topics while good news came in for others. Despite the cautions many send my way, I am an optimist. It is the only thing that makes it easy to go through life pretending not to panic.
We are in the first years of the Age of Graphene. Graphene is simple, ingenious, and we’re only beginning to understand it. Wonder materials come along and are incorporated into our lives, but none of the recent discoveries match the potential of graphene. Graphene is simply a sheet of carbon. That simplicity obliterates the failings of almost every other material. A sheet of graphene is a single molecule. Almost every material we use relies on chemical bonds for strength. Molecular bonds are much stronger. To restate an old example, an elephant standing on a pencil couldn’t poke through a sheet of graphene the thickness of a sheet of plastic wrap. So, it’s strong. The gaps between the molecules are so small that they are the best barrier. So, it’s watertight, airtight, and maybe even hydrogen-tight. The sheets are made of carbon, which you’ve probably heard that we have an excess supply of. So, the basic material, the basic element is cheap and readily available.
The list of potential uses basically covers everything that requires strength, impermeability, at low weight. My favorites are incredibly light waterproof roofs, resilient roads, and structures strong enough for any impact, including bullets. Cheap desalination has been suggested. Emergency shelters become simple. Throw-away becomes more expensive than built to last.
Solar energy has developed from a gimmick, to a way to power remote facilities, to an economic choice for ranches and farms, to an economical choice for sunny suburbs, to a direct competitor to conventional grid power. Feeding power back into the grid is becoming common. Disconnecting from the grid may be sparking a spiral in the decline of centralized power. As more houses create their own power, there are fewer using the central power plants. As fewer people use the central power plants, each person pays proportionally more. As each person’s costs rise, solar and other renewables become better economic choices, regardless of ideologies.
Economy and Markets
The stock markets are hitting new records. People are finding jobs. The number of homes at risk is declining. Obamacare is pulling more people into the insured ranks. The US dollar is strong. Interest rates and inflation are low. Each of those has caveats, but the picture would be far worse if the markets were down, unemployment was up, foreclosures were rising, and millions were left uninsured.
Ironically, the great exposure being given to racial and ethnic injustice is a positive sign. The debates aren’t just with words, but the words have been far stronger than the violence. Issues that weren’t being talked about are being debated, and leading to action. It won’t be easy to erase generations of suppressed emotions, but sooner is far better than later.
Just like with social awareness, there’s an irony. We are so much more aware of war that the total casualties are decreasing. We’ve always known war was bad, but it wasn’t until the US Civil War (aka the War Between The States), that the reality was visually revealed to the public. World War I proved the uselessness of treating people as pawns. World War II brought back movies within days. Vietnam brought back reality within hours. Now, atrocities are available on YouTube almost in real time. Our collective vote is No. Conflicts are smaller. Negotiated resolutions are more common. And we’re so appalled that we want even less. Good.
Frugality is coming into fashion. For some, frugality is necessity, just like in the Great Depression. For others, frugality is a choice based on their understanding of the world, our economy, and each other. While many maintain the mainstream, increasing crowds are minimalizing, de-cluttering, re-using rather than recycling or discarding. Car usage is down. Tiny houses fascinate many. Local shopping has led to better business for small businesses, and lower transportation impacts on the planet.
The list goes on, but you’ve probably read enough. There are enough positive things happening that there are reasons for hope. There are enough negative things happening that there are reasons for worry. That balancing act, that race between good and bad, is why I find enough material to feed my other blog, Pretending Not To Panic.
We are an incredible species that is only now learning about itself and how to live as a species on a planet. We are quick learners. I look forward to seeing what we learn, and what we do, that will make 2015 and every subsequent year better than the ones that came before.