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Forecasting the future

Tom Boyd

As the two cartoons to the right so cleverly point out, things aren’t looking too good on planet earth right now.But are things really so bad?From where I sit, and from where most of you sit (or stand) reading this, it’s hard to imagine the world full of chaos, pollution, massacre and destruction illustrated on this page. I don’t know about you, but right now I’ve got my hot cup of yerba mate, my cozy fleece, some music floating benignly out my Harman speakers, and all the paper clips and staplers a guy could ever ask for. What more could we need?Well, as it turns out, our view from the mountaintop may be a little distorted. Maybe the smell of wildflowers has infected our heads. Or perhaps the constant sunshine has whitewashed our intellects, made us soft, made us just a little too darn happy to be able to discern the overwhelming problems of this world.Or has it?Enter the Vail Symposium, which is an organization dedicated to the idea that, if we are going to sit up here on the mountaintop, we should do it like Zarathustra, not the crew from “Animal House”. We should take our resources and connections and network them together, binding mind to mind and light to light, illuminating the Valley with clear thought and real answers to tough questions. In this way (so I have heard), we can use our good fortune and fortune of goods to good ends or something like that.So what does our future hold? What will happen in the world, and Colorado specifically, in the next 10 years?That was the question of the day at a recent Vail Symposium production, where a crew of panelists banded together to discuss seven topics: economic development, education, population, the arts, medicine, finance and technology.Rebecca Leonard, Eagle County’s planner, came to tell us that the population of the Valley is bound to grow to the point where our county’s carrying capacity will be maxed out. She had a graph to guide us, and the line that indicates population intersected (and then surpassed) the line that indicates how much land and how many resources we have in our county (oversimplified translation: more people equals lower quality of life).Which leads me to this conclusion: we need to curb our population growth. It could take 30 years, it could take 50, but we are headed in a direction that does not sustain. So we need to take care of this problem immediately.Next up: A brilliant local woman by the name of Jane Healy brought a series of concise, profound revelations to the podium when she discussed education. Healy said the brain is physically changing because of its interaction with digital technology. Technology was creating a new kind of thinker, one that thinks in a mosaic of broken visual pieces, not linguistically. Since language is the “coin of the realm,” in education, as she put it, our hi-tech classrooms are in danger of creating shallow thinkers who lack the ability to think reflectively.And she added this: “Leave No Child Behind will meet a rapid and well-received death. It isn’t working. It’s a mess.”Drew Bolin stepped to the podium to give us some startling news about Denver: Future Magazine has predicted Denver to be the next mega city, on par with San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and the like. Denver has, he pointed out, had the No. 1 best overall business climate over the past 10 years among major U.S. cities, and he expects tremendous advances over the next 20 years.And Pam Weinstein came to the podium to remind us that the Federal Reserve Bank, of which she is a part, will methodically and slowly keep track of all of our banking needs (not the most exciting element of the night, I must say).C. Wright Pinson, chief medical officer of Vanderbilt University, declared that obesity had surpassed smoking as America’s No. 1 health problem. He also gave us assurances (from “reliable sources,” as he put it) that congress and the U.S. government would come to their senses and allow for stem cell research to become properly funded within the next two years. This, he said, would be a seminal victory for national health.The bad news, he said, is that he didn’t see much chance of a national health care program to get off the ground because we, as American patients, are far too consumer-oriented to stand for such a thing.And let me add this: a lot of the people who don’t have health insurance, probably 25 percent, don’t have it BY CHOICE.OK, next up (stay with me): Adam Lerner spoke on behalf of the arts, humorously reminding us why the word “arts” is generally followed by the words “and leisure.” The question is, where is the leisurely pursuit of art headed? Say goodbye to stone statues and immobile paintings. Like other elements of our world, multi-media displays and creative, politically-charged stunts seem to be leading the charge into the new century.And then there was Leroy Williams, Secretary of Technology for the State of Colorado. Leroy may have had the toughest job of all, because technology was the “umbrella” topic of the night. Technology is changing education, art, economic development, finance and certainly medicine, and it’s Leroy’s job to make sure Colorado is leading the charge ahead.All in all, our panelists left me with a feeling that the future of our world is in good hands, and things, after all, may not be so bleak.But there was one category that was, unfortunately, left out of the equation: water.Planet earth sustains everything we do she gives us the metal for our microchips, the water for our drinking fountains, and everything in between.And we are, without a doubt, running out of water.So what will we do? How long will we turn out backs on the people who warn us of coming water shortages? How long will we sit in panel discussions nodding out heads at the coming problems before we learn to respect water, to conserve it, to use it wisely?Denver may be on its way to becoming a mega city, but that same glorious city made an arrogant error by lifting their water restrictions beginning Sept. 10 (“Don’t worry, folks, water as much as you’d like! We’ve got plenty of water coming from Homestake reservoir!)Build as much as they will, Denver will dry up and blow away like a leaf in the wind if the current powers that be continue to flout the power of water. Leroy made one grave error during discussions at the symposium, by indicating that our water problem can be solved with more dams. We cannot, I’m afraid, simply build more water storage to solve our problems Lake Powell is too thirsty to allow it.All these optimistic predictions for Colorado’s future are well and nice, but it is the earth and her water that will determine our final course of action. At the next symposium, I’m sure, we will tackle that issue from our mountain top. VTTom Boyd can be reached for comment at tboyd@vailtrail.com


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