Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Exciting times

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:32 pm, October 22nd, 2022

I’ve mostly been using the journal for travel logs over the past couple of years, but the other day I was thinking about all of the news that I’ve gotten excited about this year, and realized how much cool stuff has occurred. Since it’s easy to focus on everything wrong in the world, here’s my list of a few things that have gone very right lately.

  • The Infrastructure Act. Signed into law in November 2021, this law adds $550 billion in new spending for transportation infrastructure, energy infrastructure, water infrastructure, and broadband infrastructure. I’m an engineer by training, so any time I see infrastructure projects I get excited, but this bill in particular excites me since the US has been under-investing in infrastructure for decades, and infrastructure is an investment that tends to pay for itself many times over in the long run. And for those with concerns about the cost, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that if we’re OK with spending $740 billon for just one year on the military, a once-in-a-generation investment of $550 billion for infrastructure isn’t too extreme.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act. In non-political speak, this bill is The One About Climate Change and Health Care. With a surprise change of heart from Joe Manchin after they renamed “Build Back Better” to “Inflation Reduction”, the biggest investment in clean energy in US history became law in August 2022, putting $391 billion towards electric vehicles, wind, solar, batteries, grid modernization, and other climate change mitigation, while also updating Obamacare to extend subsidies, fix some warts, and allow price negotiation with drug companies. Carl Sagan testified before Congress in 1985 about the dangers posed by climate change; four decades later the country is slowly beginning to do some of the things that he recommended when I was an elementary school student. That depressing fact aside, in the words of a former vice president, the IRA is a big <bleeping> deal. Much like how the American Recovery Act of 2009 resulted in solar and wind becoming the predominant forms of new energy generation in the country, the IRA is going to vastly speed up the transition of the transportation sector to electric, moving much of the supply chain and manufacturing for that transition to the United States in the process. There have already been announcements of about $40 billion for fifteen battery manufacturing facilities in the US since the start of the year, and more is almost certainly coming. Were I a betting man, I would wager heavily that in ten years we’ll look with disgust at cars that belch smoke, and that batteries and cheap solar will have completely altered the electric grid; this act is definitely a BFD, and I couldn’t be more excited to see its effects over the coming years.
  • The CHIPS Act. The CHIPS Act was overshadowed by the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, but this bill is another one to be really excited about. In the 1990s the US made about 37% of the world’s semiconductors; today that number is about 12%, with the majority of the world’s production now occurring in Asia. This $280 billion law includes $52 billion for adding chip manufacturing capacity in the United States, with most of the remaining money to be used for R&D and science programs. Again, as an engineer this type of investment seems like a smart way to spend tax dollars, and companies like Intel and Micron have already announced billions of dollars in US chip fabrication plants. Technology is the future (barring a Terminator-style robot apocalypse), so it’s good to know the jobs and facilities to build that future will be in my home country.
  • Space! After massive and frustrating delays and cost overruns, the James Webb space telescope launched on Christmas day 2021, and started beaming back amazing images six months later in July 2022. As an engineering feat this telescope is absolutely mind-blowing, and much like Hubble, it will change our understanding of the universe during its operational lifetime. Meanwhile, SpaceX just launched its 48th flight this year, has put over 3500 Starlink satellites in orbit, has made re-using rockets seem routine, and their flights sending astronauts to the space station aren’t even newsworthy anymore, despite the fact that no other company, and only a handful of nations, can put humans into orbit. Not to mention their soon-to-launch Starship rocket, which will be making trips to Mars before the end of the decade. Aside from the 1960s, there has been no more exciting time in human history to be a space nerd than right now.

There’s obviously more to cheer – floating wind turbines are finally becoming a thing and will be deployed off the California coast, marine reserves in the Pacific are helping fish stocks recover, beavers are being used to fight drought and wildfires, etc, etc. There is plenty of gloom and doom out there, but the past year has left me excited about the future.

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