I was recently most pleased and privledged to be asked to return to Waco to be the keynote speaker at the 60th annual Central Texas Regional Science and Engineering Fair where I had been its director during my tenure at Baylor University. Attached is my presentation for that event.
CTRS&EF @ 60
In 1961, as a result of taking a science fair project to the NM State Science Fair in 1960, I received the Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award. That was not the only reason I got that recognition as I had a deep interest in and an insatiable appetite for comprehending, pursuing the scientific method in just about everything I encountered. I applied it to a million and one or two questions I had about the environment, archaeology, paleontology, biology, physics and even building things. However, I must admit I had some real challenges with chemistry. The project, “A New Method of Projectile Point Classification and Site Survey”, that I took to that long ago State Science Fair was deemed to be the most “interesting” and “promising” at that year’s competition but there were no judges who felt qualified to evaluate archaeological research so the best they could do was offer me a scholarship. I say all of that to tell each of you not only how important that experience was to my future career in the sciences but also to encourage you, even if you don’t get the top prize at this fair or for that matter anything you attempt in life, don’t give up. I had 50 GREAT years in a profession that I enjoyed so much that I am still contributing to the various fields of scientific endeavor that have come across the thresholds of the museums I have had the privilege to be a part of during my lifetime.
2 BILLION Humans will be added to the planet by the year 2050…how does that relate to me, and you? Well, the Central Texas Regional Science and Engineering Fair will have just celebrated its 75th anniversary and since I don’t think I will make it to the age of 110, I can only say how I proud I am to have been a part of it way back in the 1900’s. You, however, will still be around and will be facing a much different world. Ever since humans formed tribes and started cooperative ventures we have been progressing and increasing as a species, creating multiple stages of civilization. Unknown voyagers began to colonize new worlds some 40,000 years ago by sea faring vessels that penetrated the oceans to reach distant lands. Ships continue to deliver almost all of the international trade goods for today’s markets following in the wake of the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan and his sailors who completed their epic journey in 1522. The first step in what we refer to as a permanent society, the seed of civilization, was the establishment of villages like Jericho some 11,000 years ago and cities resembling the Spanish contact and conquest of Mexico City with a population of over 200,000 by the 1500’s. However, it took a major leap in the evolutionary process to sustain this convergence of humanity. From hunting and gathering to horticulture to agriculture beginning in the Fertile Crescent some 12,000 years ago, to maize in Mesoamerica by 9,000 years ago, to rice in China 7,000 years ago and wheat in Europe 5,000 years ago allowing us to utilize division of labor to advance the species. But it wasn’t until 250 years ago that we saw the purposeful migration of the rural residents into urban concentrations and the development of cities as we know them today. With the advent of the steam engine came the industrial revolution and horse power changed from animals to machines. Factories began to produce a single engine that could do the job of 500 horses with the resulting trains requiring hundreds of thousands of rail lines and tonnages of steel that boggle the mind.
Today we have over 500 cities with a million or more people and in 2006 for the first time in human history there were more individuals in urban environments than in rural areas. One of the biggest reasons occurred in 1879 when Tom Edison capitalized on perfecting the light bulb with a bamboo and carbon filament affording him the opportunity to create the first electrical grid supplying about 50 homes with a current that some residents thought might spill out of the lines and electrocute them. Another major event that changed the world was the first successful oil well drilled by old Ed Drake in 1859 into a shallow petroleum producing layer. His discovery replaced the whale oil being used for lamps that was most fortuitous because of the dwindling whale population. The other primary use of oil at the time was for grease for wagon and train wheels, but after a gusher named for Anthony F. Lucas, on a small hill south of Beaumont, TX known as Spindletop in 1901 birthing the liquid fuel age by spewing over 100,000 barrels of oil a day it appeared there was a limitless supply of black gold. This event allowed Henry Ford to plan for and achieve his goal of an assembly line to mass produce an automobile that not only ran on cheap liquid fuel but was affordable to the masses. As a result there were 15 million Ford Model T’s manufactured from 1908 to 1927. Roads were far behind the number of vehicles being produced and it took quite a few years for the highways to catch up to the demand, in fact never have. Today there are over 8 million miles of paved roads in the U. S. with over 35 million globally and we are still increasing the arteries linking neighborhoods and nations. From 5 million barrels of oil being produced each day at the turn of the last century, it will, at the existing rate of usage, require 1 trillion barrels a day or 4 million per hour by 2050. Currently, there are over 125 million vehicles on U.S. highways at any one time and that is expected to grow to 1 billion worldwide by the middle of this century.
There was another seminal endeavor that was to link humanity. On a cold dreary day in December, 1903 on a beach on the Atlantic coast called Kitty Hawk in the state of North Carolina two brothers named Orville and Wilber Wright flew the first powered air craft for 12 seconds for a distance of 120 feet. From that meager, apparently insignificant accomplishment there are now, at this moment, half a million travelers in the air with over 40 million flights to 40,000 air terminals equating to 3 billion passengers a year flying around the globe. However, all these inventions are pale in comparison to punching a few buttons and have the accumulative knowledge of human history and even prehistory on a screen that can then be transformed to the written word. For those of us who are with you today who had to struggle with carbon copies for theses, dissertations and subsequent professional writings this technology is astonishingly awesome!
All of these advances required great amounts of infrastructure, in the form of power plants to produce the energy that the consumers desire. Every time, night or day, I travel the 100 miles from my home to Denver, I see train after train up to a mile in length carrying loads of WY coal south all the way to Houston 24/7/366 days this year for coal powered electrical plants. I assure you this resource IS finite generating 41% of our current energy usage, with 20% being created by natural gas and 10 % by nuclear power. From burning wood to heat water, then coal to make steam to propel engines, to incorporating petroleum into energy as well as 6,000 other uses including asphalt, plastics, rust protection, roofing materials, fertilizers, soaps, polymers, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, not the least of which are the vitamin and prescription capsules you probably took this morning, along with a whole host of other by-products. Of course we have now progressed to nuclear plants and now solar panels but we are still struggling with an answer to supplying heat for human consumption without over heating the planet to disastrous levels.
But that is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We, in today’s world have no real physical or mental concept of how cold, wet, dry or warm it has been in the past. 2/3 of all the land mammals died out at the end of the Pleistocene mammoths, mastodons, horses, camels, dire wolves, the giant bison, cats and bears. HOWEVER, the most recent results of the research being conducted in Greenland shows that we are warming at a faster rate than any time in the last 100,000 years….SO, whatever is happening is happening very rapidly and even for the doubters of climate change, human activity is beckoning a recompense for our actions. No matter how you interpret the changes, it will be far better for future generations to cease: 1.) adding exponentially to the population; 2.) continuing to degrade our fresh water supply; 3.) polluting our oceans and 4.) denying that humans are leaving a very heavy footprint on the earth. I was led to 2 of my degrees because I was experiencing a lack of respect AND knowledge of how wildlife was struggling just to break even. This was in the early ‘60’s, fortunately, for most game animals their situation has improved because of hunters and fishermen contributing to wildlife management and thus conservation and numerous nature oriented preservation organizations helping to educate a broader spectrum of the general public. The other degrees and purposeful concentration was devoted to anthropology and archaeology to understand past cultures and how they survived the extremes we are just now beginning to fully understand. Ultimately, my conclusion after 3/4 of a century is that it won’t hurt as bad if we adjust our addictions now rather than later when they are being consumed by insurmountable numbers.
From light bulbs to lasers, from the first 12 seconds of powered flight to supersonic planes, from 3 miles per hour for the first 98% of human existence to cars traveling upwards of 300 miles per hour and from the telegraph to the telephone to the internet we have, as a society, advanced the evolutionary process to being completely dependent on technology and interdependent on one another. In other words, we have progressed to the point of having the greatest social complexity our global civilization has ever known. What does that mean for you? In my mind it means that you not only have the opportunity AND ability to change the world BUT the challenge and obligation to confront and solve the problems Homo sapiens is facing. You need to redefine politics, resolve the new conflicts and conquests, address the degradation and dwindling of our natural resources…using your ingenuity and compassion to make sure your children and grandchildren survive in the best possible manner.
I appreciate the chance afforded me to return and address you, during this 60th edition of the Fair and hopefully encourage you to take the scientific method you have applied to your projects and make it relevant in your lives. My purpose was not to scare you with the evidence of what I and previous progenitors have placed on your shoulders but to inspire the genius that is in each of you to broaden your perspectives, objectives and humanitarianism for future generations. Be sure and thank the Board, the Director, the President, the Office Coordinator, the Judges, the sponsors, the hosts, the in-kind contributors, those providing the special awards and even, “anonymous”, whoever that may be, and lastly, two other individuals, Dr. Bob Baldridge, who came to this Fair as a student in 1963 and went on to get his Ph.D. in Biology and has even taught some of the judges here today becoming a major factor in challenging Fair contestants for decades and finally, David Lintz, this makes the 50th year of exceptional service to this Fair giving of his time and talents to make it successful, year in and year out and therein lies the example for each of you to return and contribute in whatever ways you can to ensure not only its existence but the quality that has been established. Maybe you will be invited back to address a future generation of young scientists someday, THANK YOU!