Forget Nostradamus or Edgar Casey. No one predicted our future better than Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of our nuclear navy. Over 52 years ago, Rickover spoke on "Energy Resources and Our Future" and he spoke with uncanny accuracy.
"Looking into the future, from the mid-20th Century, we cannot feel overly confident that present high standards of living will of a certainty continue through the next century and beyond."—Today’s polls and sober economic figures show our children will have a lower standard of living.
"...We can count on an increase in world population from two and one half billion today to four billion in the year 2000; six to eight billion by 2050. The United States is expected to quadruple its population during the 20th Century—from 75 million in 1900 to 300 million in 2000—and to reach at least 375 million in 2050." —This next census will confirm that the world approaches seven billion and will eventually peak at 9.5 billion.
Rickover analyzed alternative fuels and found them costly and inadequate. "A point will be reached before this century is over when fossil fuel costs will have risen high enough to make nuclear fuels economically competitive. Before that time comes we shall have to make great efforts to raise our entire body of engineering and scientific knowledge to a higher plateau. We must also induce many more young Americans to become metallurgical and nuclear engineers. Else we shall not have the knowledge or the people to build and run the nuclear power plants which ultimately may have to furnish the major part of our energy needs. If we start to plan now, we may be able to achieve the requisite level of scientific and engineering knowledge before our fossil fuel reserves give out, but the margin of safety is not large."
He nailed it! Nuclear power plants are now our cheapest energy source. But in spite of his warnings, we failed in education. Little of our engineering manpower is home-grown. We rely on foreign-born scientists and engineers to staff the Los Alamos research lab and our nuclear plants.
"We are no longer free, as was the pioneer, to work for our own immediate needs regardless of the future. We are no longer as independent of men and of government as were Americans two or three generations ago.... Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger taxes in the larger America of tomorrow," he asserted in 1957.
"I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants—those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to give America's youngsters the best possible education. We need the best teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger numbers of competent and highly trained men and women. This means that we must not delay building more schools, colleges, and playgrounds. It means that we must reconcile ourselves to continuing higher taxes to build up and maintain at decent salaries a greatly enlarged corps of much better trained teachers, even at the cost of denying ourselves such momentary pleasures as buying a bigger new car, or a TV set, or household gadget. We should find—I believe—that these small self-denials would be far more than offset by the benefits they would buy for tomorrow's America...."
"Ultimately, the nations which control the largest energy resources will become dominant. If we give thought to the problem of energy resources, if we act wisely and in time to conserve what we have and prepare well for necessary future changes, we shall insure this dominant position for our own country."
But America has failed to sacrifice, to raise taxes, and to invest in science and engineering education. The consequences he predicted are now appearing. If he was alive, he would sadly tell us: "I told you so."