Technological “Solutions”?



Earth 2.0 – a technological fix to a human problem?

Originally, economists and conservative policy makers simply dismissed studies such as the 1972 Limits to Growth , naive in their belief that there was any danger to unlimited economic growth on a finite planet. Now, admitting it begrudgingly (due to 30 years of incontrovertible facts) these same types now naively overestimate the ability of human ingenuity to solve the ecocide facing humanity. Policy makers, it seems, are not only deaf to scientists but also to historians such as Ronald Wright and Jared Diamond whose research attempts to give a more balanced view of human “progress” by showing the uglier side of human progress as a litany of unintended side effects.

Technology is at best only one of the necessary components of a total solution. As politicians continue to ignore climate change, the climate crisis grows worse by the day and we close our short window for action. This puts us in the risky position of having to consider untried geoengineering solutions.  Monsanto’s harmful GM products now shown to have no effect on pests, Bayer’s Neonicotinoid pesticides harmful effects on Bees and hundreds of chemical toxins now found at birth in newborn babies continue to show us the huge impacts of progress traps.

Overreliance on technology for solutions is highly questionable when the fundamental problem is behavioral in nature. Our rapid depletion of resources and rapid rise in pollution is not so much a technological problem as it is a consumption one.  Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of the groundbreaking Limits to Growth study outlines an urgent five point plan which give us a chance against the global ecocide which the business-as-usual approach has led to. It is worth noting that a number of these solutions are not technological at all, but involve behavioral change:

  1. Introduce a one child policy in rich nations;
  2. Ban fossil fuel use in the rich world;
  3. Help the poor with clean energy;
  4. Significantly reduce the dominant investment paradigm of short-termism by establishing a supra-national institution with powers to implement the necessary changes
  5. Establish zero growth policy for wealthy countries

In characteristic pessimistic Randers style, however, he adds the caveat that he believes that world leaders will once again fail to act. His pessimism is based upon his recognition of the power of short termism coupled and a democratic system which allows these same people to game the system to obstruct the necessary change.

Capitalists the world over are promoting sustainability as the next big gold rush yet it’s highly questionable whether such an approach will work or if it’s simply greenwashing that will have little impact. Ever the technocrats, green sustainable capitalists will play the same game of promoting their goods or services to sell them, rather than to solve the real problem. The continually misdirected, short term profiteering at the heart of this approach can easily derail any authentic effort for scalable change.

Permaculturalists such as David Holmgren will argue that technology will not save the day, only dramatic reduction in overconsumption will, in a pathway called creative descent.

There is a way for technology to be of maximum service and be of the greatest service for change however, and that is open-source technology and manufacturing. The rapid developments in open-source manufacturing technologies offer hope to displace the capitalist, profit driven, short-term corporations that have destroyed the planet and replace them with open community manufacturing approach that can create resilient, circular local economies.