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Fresh Hope: Balancing Optimism and Reality

Jan. 25, 2023
EDITOR'S NOTE: It took just 66 years to go from Kittyhawk to the Moon. As bleak as some modern problems are, it's still probably unwise to bet against human ingenuity solving them.

As the new year gains momentum and our wish lists of resolutions now hopefully include some early successes, it is hard not to feel at least some optimism as we head toward spring.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, as ASHRAE’s Bill Bahnfleth reminds us here, and most nations may not be moving fast enough to mitigate the global climate crisis, as USGBC’s Liz Beardsley warns in the December episode of HPAC ‘On The Air’ online. And, of course, the economy may or may not be on the verge of a recession. But still… there are many reasons to feel encouraged this winter as AHR Expo returns to Atlanta where attendance is expected to approach pre-pandemic heights.  

Indeed, ingenuity will be on full display there, as HVACR manufacturers from all over the world will showcase their wares. Ten booths will already be boasting 2023 AHR Expo Innovation Awards and another 20 will note their honorable mentions. But virtually all exhibitors will be talking about how their products can help make our lives, both at home and at work, healthier, happier, more productive and more sustainable.

That’s a big change from the smoke-filled, (mostly male) exhibit floors of 50 years ago.

Meanwhile, across the halls at the Georgia World Congress, ASHRAE’s Winter Conference will also be discussing our industry’s biggest challenges and how to solve them. As noted by some of the 10 voices featured in our What’s New? What’s Next? cover story, some of that problem-solving this year will be driven by incentivized federal competitions like DOE’s Cold Climate Heat Pump Challenge and EPA’s Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. Both programs have prompted considerable industry action.

Similarly, just in December, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory excitedly announced that six decades of research had just yielded the first controlled fusion experiment ever to achieve “scientific energy breakeven,” a giant step toward clean fusion energy.

That’s potentially a very big deal. And still more reason for encouragement. So often, as our mainstream news cycles and social media now are dominated by childish name-calling, we can forget that there are still plenty of serious people working on serious problems. And many are in our industry.  

I recently heard radio host and author Thom Hartmann say on his nationally syndicated show, “If we can go from Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight to landing a man on the Moon in just 66 years, then I truly believe we can solve just about anything.”

Anyone who has listened to Hartmann before knows he is no Pollyanna. He is a realist who never sugarcoats history or current events, so I was really struck by his analogy. And his optimism. I had not thought of that extraordinarily compressed time span before in the brief history of aviation.

His mix of optimism and realism also reminded me of what former Carrier exec and USGBC co-founder Rick Fedrizzi had told me on one of our first podcasts in 2021. “I don’t care how bleak things may look,” said the current chair of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). “Come the day that we give up, we should all be ashamed of ourselves.”


At this moment in 2023, as we look ahead on a new year that promises more innovation, research, development, and tangible progress, that bleak day mercifully feels a long ways off.


About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].