Thursday, May 24, 2007

Don't Tell me Technology Will Save Us, Please!

Let me first apologize to those who may find this piece a bit over the top, polemic and bleeding heart. From time to time the idealist in me pushes me to rail at the injustices we inflict upon ourselves as a species, upon the other species with whom we begrudgingly share this planet and upon this, our home planet, all in the name of the pursuit of profits and power. If I bottle up that frustration it taints everything I write so I find it more productive to say/write my feelings, vent my frustrations, get it over with and get on with my normal routine and work.

Peak oil is upon us, or just around the corner. Global warming will continue to worsen as there are no foreseeable energy options that will allow us to replace our profligate use of fossil fuels. Global dimming, which has been weakening the impact of global warming over the past several decades, is now on the wane as we have declared war on the visible air pollutants responsible for it, clearly achieving a hollow victory in the process. This will allow the full impact of anthropogenic global warming to become very apparent over the coming decade. But please, please, please don't tell me that technology holds the solutions to these or other global problems, that technology will save us. Don't tell me about hybrid vehicles, EVs, carbon sequestration, bio-fuels, bio-diesel, tidal power generation, thin film solar, the hydrogen economy, nuclear pebble bed reactors, clean coal, GTL, CTL, LNG, space mirrors, genetically modified GW-resistant plant species, scattering particulate matter in the upper atmosphere to neutralize global warming. Don't tell me that Monsanto or Dupont or Cargill will genetically engineer some new grain seed that will double global grain production and save billions from starvation. They've done enough damage with their GMO monstrosities to last forcountless generations. It is our pursuit of and overuse of technology, including our flagrant abuse of genetic technology, that has driven us to this cliff in the first place. A problem cannot be its own solution.

Tell me, instead, that people are learning that we must reduce our energy consumption. Tell me that politicians are ready to negotiate our lifestyle, with our blessing and support. Tell me that the global bullies will not invade or economically destroy more poor, weak nations that just happen to have fossil fuel resources. Tell me that multinational corporations are ready to put the health of the earth and the survivability of our future generations ahead of their greed for short-term profit. Tell me that we are embarking on a cooperative global effort to reverse the trend of the past century and steadily reduce the global energy consumption per capita to pre-industrial levels. Tell me that governments throughout the planet are cooperating to dismantle the personhood of corporations and the easily abused economic and political power that grants them. Tell me that all air conditioners and furnaces are going to be sold with governors on them to restrict the temperature range in which they can be set. Tell me that the electric can opener has been banned. Tell me that the 48" television has been banned. Tell me that all goods being transported over 100 miles are going by rail. Tell me that all municipalities embrace mixed residential/retail zoning. Tell me that governments have declared a moratorium of indefinite length on highway construction. Tell me that municipal public transit is free, subsidized through punitive urban road tolls. Tell me that we as a species have experienced an epiphany and are moving toward embracing simplicity rather than sinking ever-deeper into the abyss of complexity that has so disenfranchised the majority of the world's population. Tell me that New Yorkers or Torontonians understand and accept that fresh, field-grown tomatoes in February are no longer an option. Tell me that the right to control the global food supply has been stripped from corporations and that the right to produce food has returned to being an inalienable human right. Tell me that the corporate-friendly Codex Alimentarius is dead and that people have the inalienable right to grow and use their own medicinal herbs. Tell me that we are going to stop poisoning and destroying the natural fertility of the soil that we so desperately need to grow the food we need to feed our dangerously growing human population. Tell me that we are going to look to the plant kingdom rather than the feedlot for the majority of our protein intake. Tell me that the average person on the street understands that the earth's resources are finite and we are rapidly depleting them. Tell me that the rights to control the planet's fresh water has been stripped from corporations and that the right to clean water is again an inalienable human right. Tell me that the average person finally understands that exponential population growth is not sustainable. Tell me that a big-screen television is no longer included in anyone's definition or list of needs. Tell me that there is an international political effort to require environmental cost to be built into the cost of every product. Tell me that the average person understands that our collective energy use grants us all an equivalent of 300 wage slaves per person. Tell me that the average economist and energy analyst, let alone the average person, understands the peak oil implications of entering a period of perpetually shrinking global economies, signals the end of the growth of the money supply. Tell me that people in general realize and understand that peak oil is not going to be like the oil crises of the 1970s and '80s.

There is no question that we are a very adaptive, inventive, creative, innovative species. We've proven it over and over, especially over this last century. We could even create (perhaps we should) a monument to our creativity, place it outside the United Nations maybe, show it on the morning sign-on of TV networks and stations throughout the world. We are the greatest! Now, can we just move on? Can we strive for wisdom maybe? We seem to be a little light in that department. Where is it written that every piece of technology we can imagine should be invented? Why should the majority of our labours be devoted to the development and production of so-called labour-saving devices? Shouldn't the first question an inventor ask be "Is this needed?" or "Does this invention improve the long-term survivability of our species or the health of the planet?" Why should the first application of so many technologies and breakthroughs be in the development of weapons? If our lifestyle will be unsustainable twenty or thirty years in the future is it not also unsustainable today? Do we have to prove that we are the only species capable of destroying this planet by doing it? Is our species ego that fragile? Maybe that's another monument we should erect in front of the UN; "R.I.P. Here lies Man, the only species capable of destroying this planet, and we proved it!"

Sorry. I just had to get all of that off my chest.


Jay Rhizor said...

Since I can't tell you that any of the things you'd want to hear are happening, let me tell you what I do.
I now telecommute to work, drive only when necessary. I stopped doing direct mail advertising. Now I just have my webpage. Instead of printing and faxing as this industry still does, I now fill out online and e-mail.
I have over a half acre that I stopped cutting in certain areas. I call them crop circles, signs. I have a garden and grow all that I can.
I have a perrenial garden that feeds birds, bees and butterflies.
I no longer buy products. I recycle everything. I put out a half bag of trash a week.
My goal is to have no trash.
I use air conditionig sparingly, and am planting more shrubs and trees for cover.
My daughter and I walk to the park and to get ice cream. She could walk to school and church but her mom forces her to commute 22 miles each way now that we are getting divorced.
And one of the biggest things I did was stop funding my future-x-wives consumption of idiot and unesessary chinese products.
I am such a pain that I enjoy data-dumping all of this and more on any unsuspecting person and have found out there are more people like myself than I first thought.
I am part of the new revolution, the rejection of consumption and murder for oil mentality.

Richard Embleton said...

Perhaps you forgot about chlorophyl. One molecule of chlrophyl contains either 5 or 6 atoms of oxygen, depending on the type of chlorophyl. Chlorophyl is a liquid (plant equivalent of blood) and the oxygen used in the formation of chlorophyl is derived from water, no expansion or contraction needed.
Richard Embleton

auntiegrav said...

Jay: stuck in two worlds. Don't it suck?
Richard: Great rant. We have spent the last 100 years replacing people on small farms with oil. Now we have to figure out how to put the people back. Technology is killing us, our System of Systems doesn't care as long as there is enough credit to kill people, and most people are too comfortable to do anything until the TV shuts off.
"I'll kill a man in a fair fight; or if I think he's gonna start a fair fight; or for money; or if there's a woman. But EATIN' people? When does THAT get fun?!"
--Jayne "Serenity"

auntiegrav said...

P.S. I tried to go to your comments from my Linux machine and there was some kind of error. I guess that's a blogspot problem, but it only happened on your blog. Something to do with HTML or JAVA or something? I don't know.
See? I'm persistent. I rebooted in Windows just to talk to you.

Otoiyuk said...

Beginning in 1961, I spent the better part of 25 yrs. living with Eskimos and Indians of northern Alaska. This included working with informants who had literally seen the end of the stone age when Western technology began replacing traditional tools in the latter half of the 18th Century. Can we live without all the modern conveniences we now call necessities? Yes, and ultimately we will. However, it will be a quantum leap backwards, and many will fail to make it. Those who do will come to marvel at the enormous store of knowledge and wisdom that sustained pre-industrial societies. Regaining those skills and environmenal insights will be far more important to human survival and history than any technological achievement of the past two centuries.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece, thanx!

Maybe I can shed a little light in all this ...
In Europe there are movements that "fight" against the GDP:
The keyword of these movement is Decrescita felice (Italy) Decroissance soutenable (France), that badly translated is Happy/Sustainable Degrowth.


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