Demetriou: Urbanization Poses Security Challenges
The future will be urban—both on Earth and possibly up in space, general session keynote speaker Steve Demetriou, chair and CEO of Jacobs, told attendees on Tuesday.
Currently, more than half the people on the planet live in an urban environment. But the United Nations projects that two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by the year 2050. Three million people are now moving to cities every week.
“Urbanization is a global trend,” Demetriou told attendees. “And rapid urbanization brings a host of challenges.”
These challenges include the aging infrastructure of cities and competing resource demands such as affordable housing for all, combating pollution, managing water supply, and addressing various security challenges, both physical and digital.
“The challenges ahead will be the most significant of our time,” Demetriou said. “Solving for those—turning them into opportunities—demands bold thinking.”
One of the biggest challenges will be water management.
“There is no new water on the planet, and much of the water on the planet is not drinkable,” he added. “When city populations double or triple, their water resources do not.”
He offered an example based on a project in the U.S. state of Virginia that involved his company, Jacobs. The Potomac Aquifer is a source of water for many in the surrounding community. But it is a limited natural resource—communities use groundwater from the Aquifer faster than it can be replaced.
On a daily basis, residents and companies send roughly 150 million gallons of wastewater to the regional treatment agency. But with the use of additional rounds of advanced water treatment, drinking-quality water is now being produced from wastewater.
“Today, their state-of-the-art facility is already recharging the Potomac Aquifer at a rate of 1 million gallons per day, ensuring a sustainable source of groundwater,” Demetriou said.
Earth is not the only planet that needs resource management, he added. Jacobs, which besides construction work also provides global technical and professional services, is partnering with NASA on scientific research aimed at advancing human space exploration.
“Our scientists are already looking at the feasibility of a future lunar city,” Demetriou explained. “They are evaluating properties like trafficability and boulder distribution.”
In these projects, geologists are using meteorites, moon rocks, and soil samples to identify the existence of minerals that can be used to make fuel and materials to support a long-term human presence in space. The moon and Mars are both possible sites.
Someday, sustainable colonies there may be possible. But going back and forth may still prove difficult, even with advanced forms of transport, because Mars is 140 million miles from Earth. “And that’s just one way,” Demetriou said.