Grand Challenges for Engineering  -  Sep 20, 2014

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Jimmy Carter on the Needs of the Poor

Former president Jimmy Cartner describes what he sees as the greatest challenge the world faces.

Having been educated in naval and nuclear engineering, I have a great interest in the role of our profession in helping to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The safe and efficient use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will inevitably be an important challenge for engineers, as will the development of renewable forms of energy.  As a farmer and woodsman, I have a personal interest in the production of ethanol and bio-diesel fuels to replace the limited supplies of oil.  Although it is unlikely that there will ever be enough food grains and sugarcane to meet these needs, cellulose from trees can make this contribution and also help resolve the overall problem of global warming.  There will be numerous suggestions like these within the National Science Foundation to improve the quality of life in the more affluent industrialized nations, so I would like to emphasize another, even greater need.

At the turn of this century, I was asked to deliver lectures, in Asia and Europe, on "The greatest challenge the world faces in the new millennium."  My easy choice was that the greatest challenge is the growing chasm between the rich and poor, not only between nations but within them.  We are approaching a hundred-fold ratio between personal income within the ten richest and poorest countries, and we become increasingly separated, aloof, and unaware of one another as our quality of life diverges.

The Carter Center has programs in 65 of the poorest nations in the world, including 35 in Africa, and we are in daily contact with the people's deprivation and suffering.  One of the recent elections we have monitored was in Liberia, where more than half the population lives on less than 50 cents a day.  It is almost impossible for those reading this article to imagine how anyone can pay for food, housing and clothing from this income.  It is obvious that these people have nothing left for health care, education, human dignity, or hope for a better future.

My own hope is that the engineering community will devote part of its effort to devise and apply technological advances to meet some of the rudimentary needs of water, fuel, housing, health, and information.  One notable example is the recent development of long-term impregnated bed nets, which we will be providing early next year to every home in Ethiopia to control mosquitoes that spread malaria among the 50 million people in the endemic areas.

I'm sure that members of the National Academy of Engineering can identify many other specific needs to be addressed.



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Abhishek, India

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THIS article might really shape my future.

ndumiso mhlongo, snake park dooronkop

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knowing hw to drive without a starring

Sidney Clouston, Michigan, USA

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Dear President Carter First of all may I wish God's blessing on you for all of your good intentions and good deeds. I have developed a plan and have support from the Energy Commission of Nigeria, the Florida International University and we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the cooperation needed from and to each of us. We are working for several purposes to be accomplished to include the establishment of the Sustainable Energy Center of Excellence for Western Africa. I wrote a White Paper that suggests how we can uplift the Poor. I need not point out to you that Jesus said what so ever we do for the least of those we are doing toward him. I also feel for the helplessness and want to be a tool for God. They have given me a name in Nigeria that means Servant of God. I am like you Mr. President pleased to make the effort. The growing of feedstock in marginal rural land for Biofuels is the goal. There is and ought to be a demand for renewable fuels that is home grown for the most part and may be a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) product. Switchgrass roots live for years and decades and grow down as far as ten feet sequestering CO2. The grass can grow as high as ten feet and growing sequesters the carbon in the atmosphere as well and emissions from Biofuel. We can uplift the Poor and use the feedstock or products made to include Biomass electrical energy and Biofuels. We would welcome collaborations in our efforts. A note was sent to the Biofuels working group here. Best regards, Sidney Clouston cloustonenergy@aol.com

brittany, new jersey

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wow

Shana Carlsen, California

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The Aquatic Species Program Microalgae Biodiesel -- In 1978 Jimmy Carter launched The Aquatic Species Program to cultivate Microalgae for the production of bio-diesel from algae. Carter's research program funded by the US Dept. of Energy, operated over a span of twenty years in search of finding alga specie with large lipid content and thus created 1000 square metre pond systems. Why was the funding to Carter's viable research program cut by Clinton back in 1996? Shana Carlsen

EFEKALAM FIMBER CHIBUIKE, NIGERIA

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Could you please help me to become what i want to become in life because i have something to offer to the world. i am losing hope academically because the environment here is not conducsive for learning.i know i have potentials.i remain fimber.

Jorge Gaskins, Puerto Rico

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It is inspiring to see political leadership take on the largest issues of our world today. Telling us what we want to hear, the politicians do us the greatest disservice. To a large part, it is up to Civil Society to come up with the solutions. I personally vote for Bio-Lipids production from micro-algae as one of many promising technologies addressing (1) reduction carbon imprint of man; (2) producing renewable energy in the form of bio-diesel; (3) providing an extraordinary feed ration for aquaculture relieving the over-fishing pressure on the oceans, lakes and rivers; and not competing with present food-related agriculture.

Jean, Florida

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Housing for the poor in this country sucks. I am on Disability and have worked for the states of Ohio and Florida. I cannot even qualify Habitat for Humanity. WHO in this country is going to help me? Mr. Carter put your money where your mouth is.

George Schrader, Panama City, FL

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My own holistic study of our great modern society suggests that our infrastructure capabilities are not at all what they could be. That our most important and influencing infrastructures which I call collectively distributions are becomming ever increasingly antiquated. That our society is and has been standing on the verge of taking a most wondrous step in the mere management of these processes. A step of merely modernizing them through integrating them into a controlled environment. That will allow them then to take a far greater advantage of technological abilities. Not one exponentially increased efficiency or abbility but a whole host of them applied in a myriad of ways. Rooling up that highway and integrating our distribution processes suggest itself as truly revolutionizing our human abilities. It will convert the high energy and resource consuming properties into a long lived permanent structure. Not more structure but far less structure. One which will allow transport to become accomplished with on grid electric. An energy efficiency potential of 97%. Of course non petroleum dependent and with out its emissions. A fixed rigidly controlled pathway that can be completely accident and congestion free. Utilizing little more than known and proven technological abilities. It appears that we could not only remove the growing concerns over ecological and environmental well-beings but we would as well exponentially increase our own abilities in personal, public and commercial pursuits. Empowering the population with the very things they need. A dramatically reduced cost and unprecedented safety, speeds and ease of use. The very freedom we need in time, energy, and resources required in our pursuits of increasing wel-beings. The population does not lack in its want and willingness to work at achieving ever greater levels of well-beings. Its lack is the very efficient processes whose impacts do not threaten ecological and environmental sustainabilities. Whose energy and resource consumptions are in line with global applications. Sadly this ability seems to visionally exist yet still lays unrealized and supported by the significant interest it will take to bring it to a reality. Id love to share the concept. Anybody interested in ?

Tom Cowart, 11 Ann St E. Hartford,Ct.

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Mr. President Please consider my thought and if you think it is feasible and might have practicle applications then please promote the idea to whoever might be interested. Envision a commercial airliner,on take-off, being given a gentle assist to say between 25 and 50 mph by a modified catapult.How much less jet fuel would be used to get that plane airborne.Then think of how many take-offs are there world-wide every year and their corresponding reductions of air and noise pollution. I have been saying for thirty years now that someday you will be considered one of our greatest presidents.Now I am hearing conservative republican businessmen say that if our country had followed your plans for an energy policy that we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now.I paraphrased them but in a nutshell that is what they said.I thank you for your service to our country militarily and politically and as a social activist. Tom

M. Zabetian, California

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Others have commented on the need for infrastructure. Those who think of infrastructure first are long-term thinkers. Unfortunately, much of the world is run by people who are thinking short term - for whatever reason. Thinking short term is what leads to - power-outages because of decaying transmission grids - higher road, bridge and tunnel repair costs due to poor or short-sighted design, and lack of preemptive maintenance - loss of jobs due to poor long-term planning for education, health care and increasing costs-of-living - backlashes against the affluent (and affluent countries) due to the ever increasing separation between rich and poor - spread of diseases and threat of new ones, due to a resistance for spending money on health care at the same levels or even a reasonable fraction, as spent on defense (a disease could do far more damage to a society than a terrorist or even nuclear attack) I could go on. We, as a nation, and globally, need start thinking on a long-term basis, and see beyond the "next quarter's results". Yes, even Wall Street companies should start to think about where their future customers will come from, rather than maximizing profits today at the expense of those same future customers. In a possible future where many large cities will lose real-estate to rising sea-levels (Wall Street itself could be submerged), companies should consider forgoing some profits in exchange for a likelihood that they would still have a thriving business environment much like today's. I also would like to make a point that in the US today, we have lost much "American Ingenuity" to the ugly side of Capitalism. Capitalism is supposed to be about free-markets and letting the best companies succeed (with the best technologies and best practices). Unfortunately, some corporations have managed to divert Capitalism, as practiced, and have created an environment where they get preferential treatment and have gained monopolies. The situation is such that America can't come up with the best new alternative fuels, or the best new [electric] cars, or the best way to handle radioactive waste, or the best way to provide universal healthcare or the best way to provide for space exploration, or the best way to handle terrorism, or the best way to cure diseases.... The low-emission vehicles are alive and thriving thanks to foreign innovators, not because of US car manufacturers. The US energy companies see innovation in renewable fuels as competition and a drain on profits. Universal healthcare is positioned, by health insurance industry, as a threat to better care, instead of what it really could be - better care. Space exploration is stalled due to the huge cost of providing a space station for the aging shuttle to have as a raison d'Ítre, while the shuttle exists to be the space station's excuse. American ingenuity is approaching extinction, greatly due to the fact that ingenuity may threaten existing technology and practices, and that threatens existing mega-corps and their short term profits. That's when profit motivation squashes ingenuity, and America loses. While another country can capitalize on this fact, I believe that the world can benefit if we stop putting short-term profits ahead of innovation and ingenuity. We need a leader who can challenge us to recharge American Ingenuity. A leader who demands the best solutions, regardless of the threat to established corporations.

Scott Calisti, Boston

"How many of these political leaders have engineering experience, and are able to make intelligent decisions about renewing our crumbling infrastructure?" 

I spent my first career as a US Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer. It has only been recently that an issue has been made of the decreasing number of Representatives and Senators who have served in the military (fewer than 20 out of a total of 535), yet they are making life and death decisions for us in Iraq. By comparison, how many of these political leaders have engineering experience, and are able to make intelligent decisions about renewing our crumbling infrastructure? The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently outlined a radically aggressive agenda to address global warming issues; I would like to see a similar commitment from each of the major engineering societies.

James Trevelyan, University of Western Australia

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I have spent much of the last few years researching the reasons why poor countries, with cheap labour, find it so hard to compete with the wealthy industrialised nations, and how engineering seems to be failing to provide solutions in poor countries. Competition between wealthy countries has led to the enormous productivity improvements but at the same time is leaving poor countries far behind. At the root of this there seems to be a fundamental misperception: what appears to be cheap labour in developing countries is often very expensive labour when productivity and the cost of supervision is taken into account. When you think that labour is expensive, you think of solutions like experienced supervision, training, high quality tools and modern materials. These are all things that mostly don't happen in developing countries. For example, my recent research has shown that the real end-user cost of safe drinking water in Pakistan can be 20 to 30 times as expensive as in Australia, measured in dollars per 1000 litres. Engineering education programs are broadly similar around the world. However, the results in different countries are vastly different: through employing engineers in Pakistan and Australia I have learned that within five years of graduation their capabilities are far apart. What we all seem to have overlooked is that engineering practice depends on so much unwritten knowledge, passed on from one generation of engineers to another. This practical knowledge is mostly not available in developing countries, and judging from our recent research, has often not been properly identified. For example, we have discovered that engineers spend much of their time and energy gaining the willing cooperation of other people and coordinating technical work done by them. Yet, this aspect of engineering work does not yet seen to have been widely appreciated. We publish working papers on this as a web site and would welcome contributions. http://www.mech.uwa.edu.a u/jpt/pes.html.

Milton Hopper, Moores Hill In 47032

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Yeah Maybe we could bridge the rich-poor gap at home in the United States and get it right before we start bridging the gap in other nations.

WM. A. Montgomery, P.O. Box 24797 Middle River Md.

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Dear President Carter, I am an American first. However with the use of Solar cells that can be print cheaply, framed in glass, and a small battery back-up to power an eletric insect trap kill the insects. Therefore were the mosquitoes breed have small solar powered pumps to keep the water ciculating so, the eggs of the mosquitoes can't mature. Find a bird or insect that likes to eat mosquitoes. Try to introduce sterilized female mosquites to reduce the population. Have a great evening. Sincerely WAM

Wm Pryor, Solomon Islands

"While everyone wants to address the 'root' problems, there is little internal or external agreement on what, exactly, the root problems are. " 

The array of opinions generated by a this speech are testimony to the strength of the concept, and Mr Carter and the community here have had an inspiring reaction to challenges that could be considered overwhelming. In fairness to the developing countries that we are discussing, however, we should also acknowledge the fact that a room full of creative engineers will have a room full of creative solutions that range from the pragmatic to the surreal. While everyone wants to address the 'root' problems, there is little internal or external agreement on what, exactly, the root problems are. Should we evolve consensus in this area, we face the fact that there is little consensus on what the appropriate solutions to the problems would be - is it DDT or bednets? Tourism or off-shore banking? The problem is more than simply getting a government to agree to advice because every government in the world in inundated with such a wide range of advice that just wading through the reports would take a lifetime. Global democracy is facing a crisis in establishing a manner of: 1) holding leaders accountable for results, and 2) finding a way to feed advice into locally acknowledged priorities and holding external and internal actors accountable for the efficacy of their solutions. Recently, Time magazine reported that malaria, health care and clean water are fundamental global tragedies that could be very reasonably addressed. Yet these sectors actually figure very low in the national allocation of available resources in Liberia (from official and unofficial sources) and in the other countries in which I have worked - including the United States. The Carter Foundation's work in supporting effective democratic governance has been tremendous, of course, and I would only add to the above message by encouraging the specific linkage of quality engineering advice to effective decision making systems. This may go a long way towards creating the organizational support that Mr Huff and colleagues need to devote their time and energy as a country would have committed to a narrow list of priorities to which everyone - including the country themselves - could commit.

den , northeast

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right on tammy, couldn't said it better myself.

schneck, paris

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The next grand challenges for engineering would be to ensure compliance with regulations around the world.

vivian picker, CA

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more use of the timbers of the world for the use of cars ans trucks in the more affulent nations . Look for another source of fuel and/or energy .with energening skills.

James Jennings, Delaware, USA

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I believe that one of the greatest challenges for the 21st century will be sustaining global development in a sustainable way. I view this as two different, but related, challenges: sustaining development to improve the standard of living everywhere; and developing in a sustainable way so that the Earth continues to be comfortably livable. We need to find ways to sustain development and living standard improvement for all of the world's people. We also need to find ways to do that so that the world can sustain and survive.

John Daly, Rockville, Maryland

"Engineering the infrastructure to serve the worlds poor is the greatest challenge." 

Engineering the infrastructure to serve the worlds poor is the greatest challenge. Agriculture needs an infrastructure for water, energy, transportation, communications and mechanization that serves the poor. So too do the urban poor need an engineered infrastructure, including the basic services and an infrastructure for industry and services. Half the people of the world don't now have access to an adequate infrastructure, and engineering technology is not being developed that is appropriate to their economic, social or environmental needs.

Chris Barry, Maryland

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Among his other well-deserved awards, President Carter should get an official "I Told You So" engineering award for his prescience regarding the energy crisis.

Charles B. Scott, Winthrop, MA

"I agree that the engineering profession has a lot to offer the developing world." 

I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Ghana who twice came down with Malaria. Later I worked for Stone and Webster Engineering Co. in the Environmental Engineering Division doing Environmental Impact Reports and waste treatment system designs for nuclear power plants. I believe I do know what President Carter is talking about and I agree that the engineering profession has a lot to offer the developing world. The starvation and misery in much of the world should be unacceptable to those of us in the developed world. If my health holds up I would seriously consider volunteering again in five years when I retire.

Jerry, Huntsville, Al

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Mr. Carters referance to "impregnated bed nets" is misleading. What he is refering to are mosquito nets saturated with DDT. DDT is the proven most effective control for malaria, it kills the vector. Yet the nets are a late and sad compromise for an engineering problem that has been solved for decades. Nets are not nearly as effective as the widespread use of DDT(spraying). The radical environmental organizations associated with the United Nations have stopped DDT spraying while millions of poor Africans have died. Maybe the toughest engineering problem is getting non-engineers to use proven engineering solutions.

Leslie Dillon, Huntington, WV

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As is so often the case, I am impressed by your dedication to those that are less fortunate and their plight. Thank you, Sir.

Saleem Shaikh, Naperville, Ilinois

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an outstanding challange from an outstanding man. can you put me touch with an organization doing drinking water work in the world?

Tammy Johnston, Dallas

"...we are so struck with how to change what's happening in our own backyards, it's hard for us to focus on what's happening elsewhere (even though they are related)." 

I would like to learn more about the true differences in the economic disparities between the different nations and also within them. When I hear (read) that people in a place like Liberia make 50 cents a day to live off of, I immediately think "how much does it take to live "comfortably" in Liberia? I am under the impression that the "cost of living" in Liberia is quite different than say, here in Dallas, Texas. What is very apparent to me is the wealth gap here in the U.S. What is considered a "living wage" is far below what it actually takes to live even under the most modest conditions. And as a tax paying citizen to one of the wealthiest nations, I struggle to understand exactly where my tax dollars go in a nation with so many impoverished people. For most of us, we are so struck with how to change what's happening in our own backyards, it's hard for us to focus on what's happening elsewhere (even though they are related). I applaud former-President Carter for his efforts in fighting poverty and in supporting international peace.

Harold Huff, Texas A&M University

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As always President Carter is inspirational. I do however think our primary need is orginizational support for engineers to work on basic technologies for the undeveloped world. I know many engineers who would love to work on development projects even at much reduced salaries but cannot find the support to do it. The NGOs are not focused on infrastructure development. Infrastructure is what is needed and is what engineers do. Transportation, comunication, agriculture, energy systems, shelter, water resources, and related education are all major engineering concerns and yet there is no real support for building this infrastructure. Development of orginizations to deliver practicle engineering resources to underpriveliged or undeveloped areas is an absolute necessity.

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