The Future

The Future: Looking into the Crystal Ball

by: David M. Jones

If we look a generation ahead, say 20 to 30 years, what we should see is a fully coordinated statewide plan encompassing the stewardship of all our natural resources and life supporting systems of clean air, soils, and water. The unique and extensive biological diversity of this state would be represented through key protected areas harboring both rare and endangered species and large intact representative habitats. These would not be isolated islands, but connected through both natural and working “farm and forestry” maintained landscapes, so creating a linked natural network from the mountains to the coast.

Residential and commercial development would be largely contained within the currently existing city boundaries. Development would be much more compact than it is today and within easier reach of all essential services (from schools to fire departments to retail stores). The major cities would have efficient, reliable, light transit systems, which would link bus and rail elements. Walking and cycling to homes, work, and services would be facilitated. Private vehicles would be generally lighter, but safer and on average demonstrate double the fuel efficiency that we see today. Vehicles would run on a mixture of energy sources, not only traditional mineral oil, but also vegetable oils and ethanol from both forestry and farming origin. The first generation of hydrogen-powered vehicles would be operating.

Small, highly-productive horticultural-based farms within an hour of city markets would supply most of our fresh fruit and vegetables. Large scale arable farms would both supply U.S. basic food needs and export cereals and some vegetable protein, mainly to Asia. A proportion of this arable farming product would go into the production of biofuels, but much of that would also come from forestry byproducts.

Housing and commercial development would be closely linked to available water sources, reducing the need for interbasin transfer and seasonal rationing. Industrial and domestic machines and processes would be designed to use less water. In many instances, water would be recycled through separate systems with partially processed clean water and dirty water being reused for irrigation and washing down purposes. Major surface and ground water sources would be constantly monitored with strict protection against, runoff siltation and excessive use of agricultural and domestic fertilizers. Eighty percent of N.C. households would be on some form of local or regional sewage treatment. The outfall from rivers into our estuaries and coastal waters would support, not compromise, a vibrant and sustainable fisheries industry, with clean inshore water and full, constant public accessibility to beaches and the coastal waterways.

Industrial and domestic energy use would be largely electricity-driven with the majority of power still coming from coal and natural gas but through new clean burning and filtration technologies supplemented by updated nuclear units. Thirty percent of the state’s energy would come from a mix of biofuels, wind, hydro, solar, and other alternative generation methods. Air pollution would go down to 10% of current levels and greenhouse gases less than half the current releases, despite the increase in population. Total energy use would remain at current levels, despite the population increase, through a portfolio of energy-saving technologies.  

The organization of all these changes would be based around a small number of “super regions,” mainly designated to relate to their geographic, climatological and biological features rather than the existing “political” structure of counties, cities and “economic development” entities. Three major city regions—Raleigh/Durham, the Triad, and Charlotte/Mecklenburg—would contrast in their management with more rural regions each one of those related to the specific needs of the mountains, the Piedmont, the coastal plain, and the coast itself.

Most of the environmental management changes would be driven by a linked system of financial incentives, such as for land acquisitions or easements, community-planned development, encouragement to farmers and foresters to maintain working lands, and lower taxes on more efficient fuels and fuel-burning vehicles. The installation of energy and water-saving devices and the protection of key biodiverse areas on private lands would also be incentive driven. The whole system would still be largely market-driven, but with strong community-oriented protection with an eye to overall communal wellbeing, especially as it relates to pollution control, energy wastage, and inappropriate planning.