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What I Would Do With 1.6 Trillion Dollars

So the USA is up to $1.6 TRILLION dollars for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And that’s just the dollars that have been spent, to say nothing of the human toll that these wars have exacted – on all sides. And though we may mourn more deeply for those we have lost to this fight, we cannot forget the innocent lives that have needlessly been lost.

The object of fighting any War is to gain security. In this regard, I did and still do believe that we have done the right thing in Afghanistan. The right thing is not always the easy thing, but to deprive Al-Qaeda of their Taliban protectors and to attempt to return Afghanistan to the community of nations is a noble effort. We harbour no doubts that Afghanistan was the staging ground for numerous attacks, including those of September 11, 2001.

I also believe that the USA had to hit back after those attacks. To sit idle or to engage in protracted diplomacy would have sent the wrong message to those who would wish harm to the USA and its allies.

But Iraq, well, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

When I saw Colin Powell, a man for whom I had nothing but the greatest of respect, give his speech at the UN Security Council on the eve of the Iraq War, I was in awe. Not only was the man whom many would consider one of the USA’s foremost statesmen of the day putting himself in the spotlight to relay to us what the American Administration knew about Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but over his right shoulder sat George Tenet – then director of the CIA. Well, I thought, if he’s got Tenet sitting behind him – by extension, putting his own reputation on the line – then that must mean that the very best intelligence available has been brought to bear on this. And they must be telling the truth.

A few short years later, we know that the evidence that Powell presented was entirely fabricated. Why, we’re not sure, but Saddam did try to kill Dubya’s daddy and Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, et. al. wanted to finish the job that Bush Senior did not. I refuse to believe that a man of Powell’s unimpeachable reputation knew that he was being hoodwinked, and I believe it had a lot to do with his departure from the State Department.

But, pulling back from the whys and hows, let’s focus on what the United States might have been done with this $1,600,000,000,000.00 …other than going to War.

Dependence on Oil

Let’s see. I remember reading something – perhaps in Scientific American or Wired – that said it would take roughly $100 Billion of government investment over 10 years to develop the remaining bits and pieces that are holding back widespread adoption of Hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles. Things like more efficient ways to make it, and especially a safer storage tank to put into cars to hold the stuff. There is no doubt that these things are within the technology that we have now or could develop if given enough resources (money) to pursue them.

Imagine that we didn’t care about Oil any more. Just imagine what it would be like to live in a World where North America stood at the cutting edge of the Hydrogen Millennium. We wouldn’t have to worry about emissions targets any longer, and the export of technology to other countries wanting to catch up would reap trillions in trade. Certainly we would all benefit.

So, $100,000,000,000.00 later, we have a Hydrogen Economy and we’re all non-polluting. Sheer genius, and all for 1/16th the cost of the wars up to now.

Now what do we do with the other $1,500,000,000,000.00? A lot, to be sure.

Cure the Sick

How about we throw $100 Billion at Cancer research and another $100 Billion at AIDS? If it’s enough money to convert us all to Hydrogen, it must be able to do some good against these killers. Of course, the cleaner air we’d all have from the Hydrogen power might well get us a head start, but I would think that if $200,000,000,000.00 couldn’t cure AIDS or Cancer it would surely give us a very great number of advances and other things we could use.

So now we’re down to $1,300,000,000,000.00. That money sure goes fast when you’re doing good work. Think how many guns, trucks and tanks didn’t get made while we were making the World a better place for everyone.

Speaking of which…

Making the World a Better Place

I think that if the World is ever going to really be a better place we need to better educate the people that inhabit it. And that means seriously reaching out to developing nations and giving – yep, giving – them what they need to educate their children.

A good start to that might be the OLPC project. Negroponte’s done an amazing thing here: He’s given the World the ability to put a computer in the hands of every kid on the planet. The only thing that holds it back is the cost.

So let’s order a Billion of them. If the project is ever to reach that $100.00 per unit cost that was originally touted, it will be when we’re building a billion of ’em. So the straight-up cost would be $100,000,000,000.00 for the laptops. Let’s double that to allow for bribing all the politicians and dictators in the World that don’t want this for their people, and then let’s triple it to allow for distribution, repairs and contingency.

So that’s $300,000,000,000.00. Not a small amount, but can you really put a value on educating the entire planet?

And we’re down to an even $1,000,000,000,000.00. That’s a nice round number, isn’t it? And in the process we’ve developed a Hydrogen Economy, very likely cured AIDS, Cancer and who knows what else, and we’ve given every kid on the planet a computer with which to propel themselves from poverty and enrich themselves, their families, and their nations.

And to think we could have been killing people the whole time!

Conquer World Hunger

There will be people out there that will say that spending 300 billion dollars on computers is the wrong thing to do in a World that’s so hungry. Well, I’m not going to get into the whole “There is enough food for everyone” argument, so let’s just toss another 300 billion at that.

Not all the billion kids we’d give laptops to are going hungry to begin with, and 300 billion would feed (at $24 per month) 1,041,666,666 kids for a year. Or 520,833,333 kids for 2 years, or 260,416,666 kids for three years, and so forth. However you slice it, it would feed a lot of kids for a long time.

So now we’re down to $700 billion dollars. I’m starting to feel a little poor, aren’t you?

Really Make the World Safer

Let’s pick the top 10 most distressed countries on the face of the Earth and offer $100 for every firearm turned in. Let’s spend 10 billion per country, meaning about $7.5 billion for buyback and $2.5 billion for administration, bribes and destruction. For $100 billion dollars we could rid the World of 750,000,000 guns.

I think that ought to be a lot of them, and we’re still left with 600 billion dollars.

So let’s get a little crazy!

Fusion Power

For all this Hydrogen fuel and everything else, we need massive sources of safe, cheap power. And fusion is the way.

Unlike Nuclear Fission, which all current power-producing reactors use, Nuclear Fusion does not produce harmful wastes. The problem with Fusion is the immense amounts of power that are needed just to start the process and contain it. Another problem is the fantastic amount of money that a real power-producing fusion reactor is going to cost to build.

The current pinnacle of fusion research is ITER. It’s supposed to cost about $7.6 billion to build and operate, and I think we should put $200 billion toward building two full-size reactors once we learn our lessons from ITER.

And that puts us down to $400 billion.


Climate Remediation

We’ve messed up the planet pretty badly. We’ve pumped trillions of tons of CO2 back into the atmosphere that Gaia herself took hundreds of billions of years to sequester, and we’ve done it all in less than a couple of hundred years.

There are some very smart people out there that have come up with methods of atmospheric CO2 capture. I say we give them what money we have left and see how far it takes us toward cleaning up our own mess.

I don’t really think $400 billion will be enough to do the whole job, but it should at least get the ball rolling in a major way. Perhaps these programs could be sustained through taxes on countries and companies that still emit CO2, but that’s a political decision…and I’m not a politician.

Let me know what you think

What would you do differently? Have I missed something obvious?

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