National Geographic : 2001 May
CON SERVAT ION "EarthPulse SUSTAINABILITY Cleaner Living and Driving Technologiesfor a Greener21st Century How will we live and what will we drive in the next hundred years and beyond? Eco nomics and environmental concerns are bringing alternative technologies to the fore. The 1992 Earth Summit of the United Nations empha sized, worldwide, "the need for a development pro cess that does not jeopardize future generations." In other words, sustainability. In housing and transportation, the glittering demonstration models are easy to spot. Last year energy-efficient windows and solar roof panels, developed by such environmentally minded orga nizations as Colorado's Rocky Mountain Insti tute, adorned housing for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Electric cars have begun to whiz along U.S. and European highways. But will infra structure to support these innovations follow? Will super-efficient subdivisions succeed show cases? About 80 million residential and commer cial buildings use two-thirds of all U.S. electricity. Within ten years another 18 million structures will go up. How will they be built? Electric cars won't travel for long without an affordable and readily available system to plug them into. Hybrids use both electric motors and gasoline engines. A new generation of zero emission vehicles is already in the works. Fuel cell vehicles will run on electricity produced in an onboard system from hydrogen and oxygen. The Future Is Near "The Arizona desert is no place for the hard box walls of the ... Middle West and East." More than 50 years after Frank Lloyd Wright foresaw the need for a new approach, his dream has risen in Phoenix. A potpourri of sustainable innovations, the Environmental Showcase Home uses 60 percent less electricity and 55 percent less water than the average Phoenix home, and it's built from 90 percent recycled materials. Sponsored by the Arizona Public Service utility, the house features shades called sun sponges that reflect light back into the house. Solar panels generate power and heat water, and some of the insulation is recycled from newspapers. The carpeting is made from plastic bottles. Some 2,300 electric vehicles now travel California roads. Soon to join them will be Ford's Think City two-seaters, like the one below. Produced in Norway, the cars have a top speed of 56 mph and can go 53 miles before recharging.