Technology won’t save us from climate change
Keith A. Spencer
August 31, 2019 6:00pm (UTC)
It’s not hard to save the planet. But not if we insist on enriching entrepreneurs on the way.
If the Roman Republic understood the conditions that caused climate change, they could have easily put a stop to it. That’s because all you have to do to halt climate change is stop using fossil fuels and plant a huge number of trees. Together, these acts would reduce the surfeit of man-made carbon dioxide currently tainting the atmosphere and wreaking havoc on our planet.
That idea — that an ancient civilization with no electricity and no technological-industrial complex akin to Silicon Valley could solve climate change — might sound sacrilegious to the sophistic entrepreneurs and their journalistic lackeys who invest in these kinds of things.
Climate change is a political problem with a political solution. The Roman Republic had, at its peak, a well-organized, representative government capable of large-scale public works project, like the Roman aqueducts or the vast Roman road system that stretched across North Africa and southern Europe. If the political will existed among the citizenry, the republic could certainly organize itself to solve the climate crisis.
With a reorganization of society and industry, we could easily do as the Romans. Yet our civilization has been collectively hypnotized by the tech industry into believing that everything can be solved by more gadgetry and more money thrown at the tech sector.
Silicon Valley fixes things, or rather, pretends do: first, by inventing problems in the first place, then issuing their own “solve.” It’s not a model I would apply to the thorny issue of the survival of all life on Earth.
I have no doubt that if we let techno-capitalists tackle climate change, we will end up with a similar situation: world governments will contract out carbon capture to a group of tech behemoths whom we will pay forever to rent their equipment and keep things in a stable state. If they fix the problem and remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, their services will become useless — and their shareholders and investors certainly wouldn’t like that. Better to keep the problem intact as long as possible to wring dry the public sector for all eternity — ironically, fixing the problems that technology, largely, created. It’s the perfect grift.
Utopia or dystopia?
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, several ideologies and movements, such as the cyberdelic counterculture, the Californian Ideology, transhumanism, and singularitarianism, have emerged promoting a form of techno-utopia as a reachable goal.
Progress in science and technology always evokes hope and fear in society. Science fiction, by combining the rigour of science with the imagination of fiction, plays a big role in expressing these feelings. Dystopian novels like A Brave New World or 1984 have captivated readers for decades. One of the most enticing aspects of this fiction is the premise that one could be living in a dystopia and not know it. More recent examples, like Spike Jonze’s film Her, further blur the lines and force us to ask where technology is taking us – and where we want to take technology.
At its core good science fiction rests on good science. This is why its predictions are often surprisingly accurate: Jules Verne in the early 19th century envisioned a propeller-driven aircraft when hot-air balloons were the height of aviation. In the 1960s, Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the iPad, Isaac Asimov predicted online education, and Ray Bradbury foresaw the Mars landing. It is just a matter of time until “Samantha”, the seductive computer voice of Her, will also be real.
The automated economy
“We are at the brink of another Industrial Revolution”, argue Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in The Second Machine Age. If the first Industrial Revolution was about creating more effective power systems, such as the steam engine, the new generation of machines will also assume cognitive tasks.
Could that mean John Maynard Keynes was right? As Elizabeth Kolbert recounts in The New Yorker, his book, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, published shortly after the Great Depression, predicted that technological progress would lift our “standard of life” so high that by 2028 money would be of secondary concern. “Our grandchildren,” he mused, would work about three hours a day, “and even this reduced schedule would represent more labour than was actually necessary.”
The second machine age could destroy jobs, erode the middle class, create a new “digital social Darwinism” and deepen inequality. To counter this, Brynjolfsson and McAfee suggest we should learn to race with rather than against the machines. If we learn fast and work hard, progress will make us more productive, not less busy. But why not aim for the utopia of Keynes?
The robot revolution
From self-driving cars to delivery drones, robots are leaving the factory floor. Compared to the size of the industrial robotics market, service robots are still niche, but rapid advances in machine vision, tactile sensors, autonomous navigation and other technologies make them better and better at dealing with unpredictable environments where they have to respond, react and collaborate.
When rethinking climate change, how will economies and societies determine where technologies will take us – and where we will take our technologies?
Shifting away from capitalism is needed to invest in the correct technology at the right time, whilst achieving; ethics, organic growth, stability and productive control!
Rethinking technological advancements and innovations being applied to combat climate change must in the first instance look at innovation derived from understanding fully the science within the environment in which the technology is applied and enhance the project engineering to improve; co-efficiency of performance, economic efficiencies and improved environmental impact through more innovative designs. Rather than merely trying to improve just the product engineering and technological advancements, whilst chasing letters after each other’s names for vanity purposes within the capitalist model.
I am currently involved in research and developing with Centre of Renewable Energy Sustainable Technologies at Loughborough Universities the following- ‘Research Study’: Propulsion from Ion energy for merchant and commercial shipping.
Objective: Try to investigate a possible solution to apply an Ion energy turbine to produce new green ship propulsion.
Basic idea: To investigate a new propulsion system for ships in order to fulfil CO2 emission requirements for the transportation sector, by making use of salt water to create ion energy. Rationale: Attaching a wind turbine on a ship doesn’t sound economical because it will create drags and the total weight of the ship will be dramatically increased. So most likely, a ship will require more energy, rather than energy being produced from the turbine. But an energy generator based on Ion might be a good option that avoids creating drag and is less weight, which could propel a ship through water.