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Emerging Technologies That Will Help Create The Car Of The Future

Ben Wattenberg: Hello Iım Ben Wattenberg. Is this the car youıll be driving soon? The topic before the house: Future Car. This week on Think Tank.

(musical break)

Ben Wattenberg: Ever since the first Model T rolled off Henry Fordıs assembly line back in 1908, the family car has represented personal and economic liberty for Americans. But its very success paved the way to three intertwined problems: congestion, pollution, and a dependence on oil.
By 1950, there was one car for every four Americans, enough to fuel the creation of a massive state and federal highway system and with it the modern traffic jam. The ratio of cars to drivers continues to increase. With more than 200 million vehicles on the road, highways grow more gridlocked every year. In the year 2000, 88 percent of all workers went to work in a private car; 56 percent of the driving in America is now done in congested traffic. Gas prices have become a national security interest. And although air quality has been improving since the 1970s, the role of auto exhaust in air pollution is still a subject of heated debate.
Corporate and university researchers are struggling to address these issues with an array of new technologies. Cars that communicate with each other and the roads they drive on. Dashboard internet monitors. High-speed public transit. And even an entirely different way of powering the family car.
For 100 years the internal combustion engine has remained basically unchanged. But the Bush administrationıs controversial energy plan shifts federal research dollars away from improving gas engines and toward developing the hydrogen fuel cell. Such a fuel system could yield a new kind of car with zero emissions.
Whatıs on the drawing board? To find out, Think Tank visited the National Fuel Cell Research Center here at the University of California at Irvine. We are joined this week by Michael McNally, associate professor of civil engineering and director of the transportation science program at the University of California at Irvine; Jim Motavalli, editor of E: The Environment Magazine and author of Breaking the Gridlock: Moving Toward Transportation That Works and Forward Drive: The Race to Build ŒCleanı Cars for the Future; and James Elliott Moore, professor of civil engineering and public policy at the University of Southern California and associate director of the National Center for Metropolitan Transportation Research.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us, and especially you Jim Motavalli who flew from Connecticut to California to join us for this discussion here at UC-Irvine. Letıs begin it this way, there is so much that is so exciting going on in the field of transportation. Letıs just go around the room, starting with you, Mike. Whatıs new?

Mike McNally: On the energy side, thereıs distributed generation, fuel cell technologies, and more ways to produce energy. On the transportation side, youıre looking at a lot of special niche markets that might be solved in terms of their congestion problems by new technologies, such as bus rapid transit, shared-use vehicles and the like.

Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Jim, whatıs going on?

Jim Motavalli: I think weıre in a really exciting period in history for technology that is going to change the way we view transportation. On the one hand, in the auto industry, we have these hybrid cars that are now on the market. Some of them will get seventy miles per gallon. And some really nice ones are coming out next year from Ford and from Daimler-Chrysler.

Ben Wattenberg: Ford is actually going to have an SUV as a hybrid.

Jim Motavalli: Right. Thatıll be the Ford Escape, itıll get forty miles per gallon. Weıre also seeing really big advances in the fuel cell technology. So the first fuel cell cars will be on the road next year, which is very dramatic. Theyıll be in very small increments--fifty or hundred--but they will be available.

Ben Wattenberg: Jim?

Jim Moore: Well, Ben, I think whatıs really exciting from my point of view is that weıre beginning to take management of road supply and the network seriously. Weıve got a number of new technologies that have been developed in the past decade. Theyıre a place that can help us. I think weıre going to see those technologies penetrating the market. That includes electronic toll collection and more intensive use of tolling..

Ben Wattenberg: Primitive taxation policy?

Jim Moore: Iıd prefer to think of it as a user fee.

Ben Wattenberg: As a user fee?

Jim Motavalli: We also call it congestion pricing, which means that you pay more for the highway if you use it during a rush hour. And thatıs one congestion reliever. Itıs worked very well in some places.

Ben Wattenberg: I notice that the phrase that always come up, and always sort of throws transportation illiterates like myself, is fuel cell.

Mike McNally: Thereıs been a tremendous over promotion of a lot of things in transportation with buzzwords. Keep in mind that the fuel cell is not creating energy with nothing. Itıs simply a more efficient way to transfer something like biomass fuel or oil into energy. And does so by doing away with some of the mechanical problems andŠ

Ben Wattenberg: More efficient than an internal combustion engine?

Mike McNally: It can be two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine.

Ben Wattenberg: What actually happens in a fuel cell?

Jim Motavalli: Youıre converting chemical energy to electrical energy. Hydrogen goes in, what comes out is electricity and water which is drinkable.

Ben Wattenberg: As opposed to gasoline going in and mechanical power coming out.

Jim Motavalli: Right. Itıs not burning anything. What youıve got simply is a chemical process that occurs inside the cell. And you have the each individual cell stacked up to give you more or less power. So what youıre looking at really is just an inanimate black box. Itıs not very exciting to look at but itıs exciting for what it can do.

Ben Wattenberg: Like driving a toaster?

Jim Motavalli: Yes. (laughs) Itıs about as exciting to look at as a toaster. But even though the technology of it goes back to something like1850, when the idea of it was first proposed, we only now have the technology to make it practical for a car.

Ben Wattenberg: And what is a hybrid car? Just so we get a few of these children off the street...

Jim Motavalli: A hybrid car has both a gas engine and an electric motor and it uses them in the most efficient way possible to get high mileage. And they work a number of different ways. Theyıre not all the same. We have several of them on the road now, mostly from Japanese carmakers ­ Toyota and Honda.

Ben Wattenberg: The Japanese, for a country that has been in a twelve-year-long recession and everybodyıs saying has lost it, theyıre still ahead of us in cars, arenıt they?

Jim Motavalli: Yes. And theyıre actually willing to subsidize their hybrid cars. Theyıre willing to lose money on every one they sell, and American carmakers have not been willing to do that.

Ben Wattenberg: Shame on them!

Jim Motavalli: Yes.

Ben Wattenberg: You think they should be?

Jim Motavalli: I think we should do what the Japanese are doing to help jumpstart the market. And I think itıs working in the case of what Honda and Toyota are doing. This year Honda will have a hybrid version of the Civic that I think will sell very well. Theyıre projecting like two thousand a month. These are still small numbers in the terms of how many cars we actually have on the road. ButŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Does a hybrid car cost about the same as its conventional version?

Mike McNally: Hybridıs cost more.

Ben Wattenberg: Hybridıs cost more?

Mike McNally: A Civic version costs five thousand dollars more, I believe, than the non-hybrid version of it.

Jim Motavalli: So itıs twenty thousand dollars.

Ben Wattenberg: Yes, but how many thousand miles do you have to drive to make back the cost?

Mike McNally: You probably will not make back the investment.

Ben Wattenberg: You will not make back the investment. So the reason for John Q. Public to buy it is to feel that heıs nice and green?

Mike McNally: That would be one reason, I would guess.

Ben Wattenberg: Is there another reason?

Mike McNally: There may be eventually some sort of a subsidy program that might bring tax incentives for doing so.

Jim Motavalli: Yes, thatıs one of the big tenets of Bushıs energy plan, that there are tax credits for hybrid vehicles, and for fuel cells too. I think itıs one of the best aspects of his plan, that eventually with enough state and federal subsidies you could almost get your money back that you paid extra.

Ben Wattenberg: So the progression is going to be hybrid cars and then fuel cells. Is that basically what weıre talking about?

Jim Moore: Thatıs a reasonable scenario but price is going to have to come down before theyıre going to penetrate the market or weıll have to see some sort of alternative incentive that affects the bottom line, of the sort that Jim brought up.

Ben Wattenberg: Why would it help congestion to make a more fuel-efficient car. It seems to me that would increase use and increase congestion, and the whole idea of this game is to decrease congestion.

Jim Moore: Well youıre right. That in fact itıs a double hit, because we fund road supply with gasoline taxes. Right. So if you shift away from the use of gasoline, youıre shifting away from the resource for building roads. Weıre driving ever more in ever more fuel-efficient cars. So weıre increasing demand and weıre reducing the fiscal mechanism we use to support supply. So even without fuel cells weıre going to find ourselves running up against more congestion and more contention for road space.

Jim Motavalli: Oh, I would take a little bit of issue with the idea that weıre driving in ever more fuel-efficient cars. The SUV has really given a hit to fuel economy in America. But I would agree with the point that this doesnıt solve our congestion problems. Fuel-efficient cars donıt. Theyıre still sitting in traffic. Theyıre still taking up the same amount of space.

Jim Moore: Economists have hammered away for thirty years on the idea that the really only systemic solution to congestion is congestion tolls. And for twenty yearsŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Congestion tolling?

Jim Moore: Exactly. I meanŠ

Ben Wattenberg: What about relocation of people?

Jim Moore: Thatıs one way to resolve congestion and it happens all the time. Thatıs one reason cities are decentralizing.

Jim Motavalli: Thereıs a great movement called new urbanism which is trying to do just that is to make cities more livable and to get people to move back into them. And I think itıs been fairly successful. I think when we talk about technology coming to save us in the transportation realm I think we have to talk about some of the new transit technologies that are real exciting. If you look at Amtrak, for instance, thereıs a lot of people saying that Amtrak wastes a lot of money, but the corridor, the high speed rail corridor between Boston and Washington, actually makes money as a stand alone entity. Itıs the cross-country routes that lose money. So I think if we were able to have high-speed rail corridors in a lot of America, youıd see a pretty dramatic switch to public transit akin to what they have in Europe. It isnıt the only thing we need butŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Well Europe is a little postage stamp place compared to America. I mean Europe is like the northeast, but if youıre living out in Des Moines and you want to get somewhereŠ

Jim Motavalli: Yes, but I think the way these corridors work is when theyıre regional. Like you could have an all-California corridor that goes between the principal cities of California, and thatıs been proposed. Thereıs been one proposed in the Southeast and in the Midwest. I think these would work very well regionally.

Jim Moore: If you count operating costs, yes. Only if you ignore capital costs does it turn a profit. But capital is unfree.

Ben Wattenberg: The right of way from Boston to New YorkŠ

Jim Moore: The right of way, the carriage, the tracks, everything. The capital that goes into constructing the facility and making it available, that cost exists too.

Jim Motavalli: Well I take the heretical position that itıs okay to subsidize transit. Itıs okay to lose money on transit. Since it was created, Amtrak has lost something like twenty-five billion dollars, which is less than weıve put into road improvements every year. So I donıt think itıs an enormous sum that weıve wasted on Amtrak. I think we should be spending more on Amtrak and we should building more high-speed rail corridors. And if they lose some money, I think that weıre looking at essentially a social good thatıs worth subsidizing.

Jim Moore: Well high-speed rail works in Europe because gasoline is terribly expensive because airfares are not deregulated.

Ben Wattenberg: And because the cities are fairly close together, so to speak.

Jim Moore: Right.

Ben Wattenberg: And they donıt have these big thousand mile trips. I mean they have some, but itıs notŠ

Jim Moore: Travel patterns are different. And if you think about North American travel patterns, automobile hangs on to a large share of long trips; planes hang on to a large share of short trips. There really isnıt a lot of space in there for high-speed rail to compete.

Ben Wattenberg: Mike, Jim [Motavalli] keeps coming back to what we should do. We the government, and itıs okay if we spend this money and, as Bob Novak likes to say, he and his ilk really want to tell us how to do things. Itıs good to live in cities, itıs good to live densely, we want these green belts, we want this, we want thatŠ

Mike McNally: There are a lot of intermediate grounds you can reach there. It doesnıt have to be all one way or the other. Sustainable transportation systems canıt exist everywhere. Rail cannot exist everywhere. And, quite frankly, heavy freeway traffic canıt exist everywhere. The automobile provides a level of mobility to individuals thatıs unprecedented. And, yes, there are many individuals that donıt have that access or have that mobility. We should deal with that problem not throw away the automobiles. If itıs pollution, letıs deal with the pollution problem not throw away the automobiles.

Ben Wattenberg: Now at Irvine here youıre doing some of those small things with these little rent-a-cars... Can somebody explain that to me?

Mike McNally: What weıre doing is weıre taking, in our case, electric vehicles, zero-emission vehicles, and putting them into whatıs called a shared-use station car program. And the way it works, in a nutshell, is during the course of a business day these vehicles are essentially a motor pool. So, you drive this car to the train station, you leave your car there, you hop on the train and you go somewhere else. Someone else arriving in the train station that you leave would stop and pick up that car, itıll be sitting there, and take the car home with him. Meanwhile, when that first commuter gets to his destination, out in perhaps the suburbs, thereıs another vehicle waiting for him.

Ben Wattenberg: And he just puts his credit card in and off he goes?

Mike McNally: Well, yes. You need the automobile accessibility associated with it. It has to be keyless entry, automatic charging, etcetera.

Ben Wattenberg: But that doesnıt have to be an electric car. They have that in Washington.

Jim Motavalli: Yes, we have, thereıs a program called ³Car Sharing²Š

Ben Wattenberg: Yes.

Jim Motavalli: Šwhich we now have in a lot of cities--in LA and in San Francisco and Washington.

Ben Wattenberg: And that could alleviate congestion to some extent.

Jim Motavalli: Yes. It makes it so you donıt necessarily need to own a car. You can have one at your disposal. Or if you need a pick-up truck, you can get a pick-up truck. I personally think, by the way, that we should be taxing gasoline a lot more and that a lot of the people who now do not list fuel economy as a priority to them would start getting very interested in it.

Ben Wattenberg: Are you--let me see how sarcastic I can get all at once--are you against poor people in all areas of life? Or just in this instance?

Jim Motavalli: Oh, I hope not (laughs).

Ben Wattenberg: You hope not. But you do want to increase gasoline taxes so that the four of us can continue to drive but people who areŠ

Jim Motavalli: You know, oddly enoughŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Špoorer than us, who want to commute thirty miles so they can have a half acre, theyıre gonna say, my God, gasoline is now four dollarsŠ

Jim Motavalli: Well, you know, these same..

Ben Wattenberg: Šfour dollars a gallon.

Jim Motavalli: Šthat same argument is made against congestion pricing in the tolls.

Ben Wattenberg: I agree.

Jim Motavalli: But I think these are the only things that are shown to actually reduce congestion and pollution is to get people driving less.

Ben Wattenberg: Well Iım sure thatıs right but if you put a gasoline tax of a hundred dollars a gallon, on it, you could really cut down pollution, congestion, transportation, liberty, the economy. Put a thousand dollars a gallon on it, you reallyŠ

Jim Motavalli: But in EuropeŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Što you, itıs great.

Jim Motavalli: In Europe... Obviously, gasoline in Europe doesnıt cost more than it does in the United States. The difference is all taxation. And itıs become basically accepted that thereıs a lot of taxes on gasoline. This is what fuels a lot of European governments.

Ben Wattenberg: But Europeans live in what Americans have fled from: apartments. Europeans--for reasons, Iım sure theyıre not genetic--but they like living in cities and they like living in little stack cells one upon another and saying you know, weıre non-conformists. We live in these little cubes on top of one another and the people who live out in this funny place called America, these are really these conformists idiots. I donıt get it.

Jim Motavalli: Well Iım not talking from the perspective of a European. I live in a suburban house.

Ben Wattenberg: I understand.

Jim Motavalli: I donıt live in one of those little boxes.

Ben Wattenberg: Iım picking on you, (Jim laughs) because youıre the easiest guy to pick on.

Jim Motavalli: I understand that. . But we realize also thatŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Iım trying to sell some books for you.

Jim Motavalli: Šif I was runningŠ

Jim Moore: Absolutely.

Jim Motavalli: Šif I was running as a politician on the platform of raising gas taxes, Iıd never get elected. Itıs one of those things you just donıt talk about. Itıs a difficult subject.

Ben Wattenberg: Are you for higher gas tax?

Jim Moore: I would prefer to do it with tolls, because it gives you more control ­ you raise as much revenue, right, but it gives you more control over how the revenue is raised.

Ben Wattenberg: Isnıt that also a problem for those who can least afford it?

Jim Moore: Well, one of the nice things about congestion tolls is they generate an ocean of toll revenues. Once youıve got the revenues, you can do what you want with them.

Ben Wattenberg: Including rebate them with a tax code on the other side.

Jim Moore: Absolutely. Sure. And we would always leave some general purpose lanes out there for people who want to pay with time instead of money ­ people for whom the value of time is lower than the people in the toll lanes.

Ben Wattenberg: How do you come out on that?

Mike McNally: I couldnıt be more opposed to all those comments just made. Iım totally against any form of pricing, independent of how easy it is to collect those tolls right now. I think though that transportation is a good thing, as I said before, for the kind of peopleŠ.

Ben Wattenberg: Youıre the peopleıs champion.

Mike McNally: I think people can do things a lot more efficiently. That doesnıt mean you have to impose a structure upon it. I think raising gasoline taxes should not be a social policy, but it should be in order to fund whatever is necessary in transportation systems. If itıs more roads, even if itıs other forms of transportation, but not to keep people off the roadways. Congestion is a sign that the system is actually working. People are moving because there are jobs. The economy is working. Weıre going places.

Ben Wattenberg: Letıs move along. Weıve talked about congestion. Letıs talk about source of energy.

Mike McNally: I think the move has already started toward distributed generation, for national security reasons as well as for just production reasons.

Ben Wattenberg: Towards what generation?

Mike McNally: Distributed generation. I think eventually that every building, every home, perhaps, in the future will have its own fuel cell sitting in it generating its own power.

Ben Wattenberg: From what?

Mike McNally: It all comes from some fuel; might still be something like gasolineŠ

Jim Motavalli: Probably natural gas.

Mike McNally: Šmaybe natural gas. It could be biomass, you know, left over clippings from your lawn, dropping banana peels into that car from 'Back to the Future' (science fiction film, 1985) . It can process these things. Fuel cells are used in the space shuttle right now. They exist. They work. The thing is by getting distributed generation you have a higher quality of production. In other words the fuelıs there when you need it. You donıt have to worry about power plants going down and being damaged.

Ben Wattenberg: How does all this play out on the pollution side?

Mike McNally: Well obviously you can produce energy more efficiently and have more of the amounts of fuel is going toward outlet as opposed to pollution.

Ben Wattenberg: Which is a hybrid or a fuel cell. Would theŠ

Mike McNally: Electrical vehicles, hybrids, fuel cells.

Jim Moore: I think that it has the potential to do a lot to improve air quality. I donıt think that itıs going to improve air quality much if itıs introduced under the auspices of industrial policy.

Ben Wattenberg: Industrial policy meaning top-down government assistance?

Jim Moore: I mean a bunch of agencies, academics, and power companies deciding that they know which innovations are more likely than people whoıve been building cars for fifty years.

Mike McNally: I think we have a tremendous problem in transportation and I think this is one of the things that suggests that there is a problem and that is that the public and private sectors interplay to provide transportation and thereıs no direct elections of anybody in the transportation area--you donıt vote for your transportation commissioners and things like that. Thereıs no real accountability. You get an awful lot of buzzwords coming out. People use the words gridlock, failure and success interchangeablyŠ

Ben Wattenberg: And the big buzzword is sprawl.

Mike McNally: Šand sprawl, and these are all words that carry a lot of political impact with them.

Ben Wattenberg: But sprawl is allegedly a pejorative and yet people opt for sprawl.

Mike McNally: Opt for sprawl.

Ben Wattenberg: Youıve got to say either youıre crazy or thatıs not so pejorative.

Mike McNally: Exactly. It depends on whoıs doing the speaking.

Ben Wattenberg: Just to close out this discussion, letıs go around the room this way now and let me ask you a question. Let us change the clock to move ahead twenty years. Instead of 2002, itıs now 2022. What will have changed?

Jim Moore: I think twenty years from now weıll have dropped many of the market barriers for market for transportation services. I want to see some jitneys (privately owned minibuses operating along a semi-fixed route) in the year 2020. I want to see it possible to compete legally with the Orange County Transportation Authority and Los Angeles County Metropolitan.

Ben Wattenberg: Are jitneys illegal?

Jim Moore: In most respects, in the United States, yes, they are.

Ben Wattenberg: I mean, you go to some of the Asian cities‹Manila particularly‹and three-quarters of the vehicles must be jitneys.

Jim Moore: Well itıs a political circumstance. We lack the political will in this country to back away from the special interests in the transportation sector, and allow genuine competition in that sector. If weıre really interested in helping poor people. And remember Iım being optimistic here. And Iım optimistic about helping poor people, we will allow private entrepreneurs into the transit market.

Ben Wattenberg: We have this strange situation in the United States, nobody else around the world believes it, but poor people have cars. The woman who comes in twice a week to clean my place comes up in a car.

Jim Moore: Itıs not the objective of every bus rider to ride on a bus that has a seat thatıs clean that came on time. Itıs the objective of every bus rider to own a car. As soon as they grab their piece of the American dream and move up a little bit, they will purchase a car. Because, you know, when it comes to valuing their time, poor people are not all that different from you and me. They value their time, too.

Ben Wattenberg: The year is 2022, whatıs going to happen?

Jim Motavalli: I think weıll see a much better mix of vehicles on the road. Obviously itıs still going to be cars. I donıt have a ³Jetsonıs² view of the future, that weıre all going to be in rocket cars or anything like that. Even if you went to 2050, most transportation in America will be by car, but by that time, I think, thereıll be a lot of fuel cell cars on the road. Maybe twenty or thirty percent of the mix will be hybrids and fuel cell cars by 2022. I also think weıll have rail corridors in a lot of American cities. I think weıll also have bus corridors, which is something I very much champion. Weıll have dedicated bus routes where people can go take a bus, and weıll have a route very much like a train and it wonıt be stuck in congestion. We have only a few models of this in America but theyıre building them. Detroit is looking at it. Las Vegas is building them. Vancouver, Canada, has a very good system.

Ben Wattenberg: Mike, in 2022, what have you got?

Mike McNally: I think some of their points are probably quite valid. I think this bus rapid transit concept is something that we should do to replace rail systems, which I think is an outdated, outmoded technology, particularly within urban areas. A bus rapid transit system can do anything a rail system could do plus more. I think the big change is going to be based on the fact that, as Jim pointed out, there are still going to be cars everywhere. People are going to be driving cars and still be living in suburbs. Itıs going be a distributed system where power generation will be distributed, where the system itself will be distributed, how you use it. You may drive a car to a bus rapid transit station, take that for a line haul commute, and have a car available at the end through programs such as ZEVNET (Zero Emission Vehicle ­ Network Enabled Transport), these shared-use station cars. When the car is your car when you have itŠ

Ben Wattenberg: Thatıs what you have here at UC-Irvine.

Mike McNally: Thatıs what weıre starting here.

Mike McNally: And that may only be a niche market, but itıs going to be an important niche market, I believe. I think that this idea of distributed control is going to become very, very important, where every car will become a computing node. Itıll be an Internet of sorts on the roadway with, you know, thirty million vehicles in California talking to each other, not just for collision avoidance, and that will take some of the control features away. Right now weıre running a control system in transportation where a car goes over a loop detector in the pavement and says, ³Iım here² or ³Iım not here.² And thatıs what works the lights. People always are amazed why we canıt get green lights in a row. Well, thatıs one of the reasons. We need cars to be able to communicate with each other, to say, ³Hey Iım coming. Hey, there are three more near me.² That sort of communication is part of this 'Cal-IT Squared' research project going on between UC-San Diego and UC-Irvine. I think thatıs going to be the future of the auto. Itıs going to be called Auto-Net, where auto does not stand for ³automobile² but ³autonomous.² Itıll be a self-governing emerging system of traffic.

Ben Wattenberg: I like that. Thatıs a good note to leave off on‹that we will all be more autonomous. Thank you very much, Mike McNallyŠ

Mike McNally: Thank you.

Ben Wattenberg: ŠJim Motavalli, Jim Moore. And thank you. For Think Tank, Iım Ben Wattenberg.

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