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Readers Respond to the July/August Issue

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Joel Kotkin’s thesis [“Ready, Set, Grow”] is essentially a population Ponzi scheme. The argument that population growth inevitably spurs economic growth is untenable. What makes an economy strong is productivity, not a continual population pyramid in a world of finite resources.
Leah Durant
Washington, D.C.

Room for everyone?
Joel Kotkin states “the nation’s landmass is large enough—about 3 percent is currently urbanized—to accommodate” 100 million more people. Apparently he hasn’t traveled to places like Nevada or Utah, which are exotically beautiful but mostly uninhabitable. His vision of the future would have us standing shoulder to shoulder from coast to coast marveling at beautiful sunsets enhanced by pollution from the additional millions he happily anticipates.
Bob Kropfli
Golden, Colorado

Your July/August 2010 issue deserves to be read by everyone in our country. I was particularly impressed with “Ready, Set, Grow.” Yes, our country will face many problems in the next 50 years, but we are, by nature, an inquisitive and generous people. We have within our boundaries many of the world’s greatest learning institutions, which can instill in our youth the necessity to be open to new ideas even if they contradict previous cherished beliefs. I have visited science fairs and been amazed and encouraged at the curiosity, creativity and problem-solving abilities in our youngest grade-school children. They have already begun to prove themselves worthy as the next resourceful and innovative successors. Given the right tools and encouragement, they will prosper beyond our wildest imagination.
Alan Vigeant
San Marcos, California

High-Tech Skepticism
Though I don’t expect to be around in 2050, if the vision many of your writers present in your 40th anniversary issue is accurate, it should be pretty nice—provided one stays inside and lives on high ground. The picture of benign, even joyful and ever-increasing involvement of technology in human life is appealing. One wonders how true it will prove to be. Is anyone considering the vast potential of technology to be not just intrusive but also detrimental to our quality of life? (And I’m not even talking about advanced weapons.) Dare we assume that anyone who can wield technology will do so only for the common good? Will our definition of “human” have to change as technology advances? Will the human capacity for creativity be diminished? Will technology become our preferred form of contact with each other? Where will humans find simpler, more human ways to express themselves?
Karen Ferrell
Powder Springs, Georgia

Standing in the shadows of future developments in technology is the Law of Unintended Consequences. The possibility of all of us being “connected” at all times (whatever that means) could lead to not only a global family but Orwell’s Big Brother, 21st-century style. We have only to contemplate the negative sides of such innovations as TV, computers, the Internet and nuclear physics. As we know, every technological advance has been abused in the name of profits, privilege and power.
Sol Cohen
vallejo, California

Winning Isn’t Everything
While I appreciate President Obama’s efforts, as the leader of this nation, to express a hopeful outlook for the future [“Why I’m Optimistic”], I felt that some of his remarks were off-key. Why must we “outcompete nations around the world”? Why must we lead the global economy and place first in the energy race? This winner/loser kind of thinking leads to divisiveness instead of cooperation, waste instead of sustainability. We must find ways for all people to care about each other and help each other survive, and we must work together to preserve our only home, Earth.
Marileta Robinson 
Milanville, Pennsylvania

I found your anniversary edition full of troublingly optimistic, pie-in-the-sky solutions for our future. So scientists, designers, artists and “Yes, we can” politics will save our bacon? Among your “40 Things You Need to Know” was number 12: “The top U.S. social problem? Upward mobility.” What about weaning society from consumerism and instilling an ethos of thrift?
Andy Crites
Lewistown, Montana

Addicted to Lithium
People should not forget that most electric cars are not totally emission-free [“Charging Ahead”]. The energy to recharge those lithium batteries will be coming from electric-power plants, many of which are fossil-fueled and account for some 40 percent of our greenhouse gases. In addition, there are still questions about the possible strain on the power grid. And let’s not forget that a large portion of the known lithium reserves is in Bolivia and China. Do we trade our oil dependence for lithium dependence?
Kermit Heid
Salt Lake City, Utah

Environmental Zeal
This was one of the most disappointing issues of Smithsonian I have read. The world’s problems are primarily associated with population growth. Famine, inadequate water, inadequate energy supplies and so forth are all driven by too many people. How could you not recognize that and discuss how we might solve that problem—too touchy? Too politically sensitive? Not as “interesting” as saving wetlands or eating jellyfish?
Christopher M. Timm
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I am no eminent businessman, politician or scientist, but after reading your 40th anniversary issue, I too have a prediction: anyone reading this issue in the year 2050 will be both surprised and bemused by our current fixation, bordering on hysterical obsession, on the environment. The current environmental movement is rapidly morphing into a secular version of religious fanaticism, replete with its own brand of brow-furrowed fervor, self-righteousness and apocalyptic warnings of doom. Your 40th anniversary issue resembles more a Book of Revelations for extreme environmentalism than the balanced and informative Smithsonian I’ve enjoyed in the past.
Jerry Shores
Pinellas Park, Florida

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