Rounding up: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 18

I opened this series on the note that an individual who once wasted a fair amount of my time actually had something interesting to say. We both have concerns regarding how reliant our species is on fossil oil, coal and gas. His concern was that taxing carbon will take us back to pre-industrial societies and famine. My concern is that doing nothing about our addiction will take us back to pre-industrial societies and famine. His argument is that climate change science doesn’t merit concern. Mine is that it is too troubling to ignore.

To explain my concerns, I chose to avoid the IPCC and hockey stick graphs as there is small yet noisy group that obsess over these, climate models and Al Gore. I’m not sure when these individuals decided that they were climate experts let alone even scientists – largely it seems that they read a few books on some “swindle” and figured that paraphrasing facelessly would earn them respect (more a question of their character and personal needs rather than adding anything beneficial to science). As I’m not a climate scientist and have seen many excellent blogs and web sources out there to explain much of the climate science (better than I ever could), I chose to avoid much of the depth others have provided, simply to provide concise snippets with a number of references included to give an introduction to a much larger associated problem (than just anthropogenic global warming).

In that way, I provided some physical responses of a changing world; temperature trends, ocean acidification and sea levels. The world is warming, oceans pH is decreasing and sea levels are rising. We may be discussing small changes so far (as some try to use to wave off such concerns), however, I then I went on to show some evidence in biological indicators of change; species distribution, timing of biological events, de-calcification, and a look into this continuous change into the future.

With all this in mind, I talked about peak oil, gas and coal and how over the coming century, regardless of all else, oil will become ever more expensive, with gas to follow and coal left, not only to provide an important role in steel production but also to pick up the pieces of business-as-usual mentality. This view, I hoped to make clear, is not a sustainable future and will only increasingly become difficult to maintain.

Looking at the consumer, I’ve tried to explain what has happened, largely since WWII, on the back of cheap and abundant energy; developed nations have become fatter, used energy inefficiently, population has exploded, the need for “stuff” has ever increased, sprawl has  taken ever larger areas of land, congestion has meant copious amounts of emissions are wasted crawling along free ways, and, food increasingly comes from poorer nations at the expense of the local environment and exploitation of cheap labour (and at the cost of farmers closer to home); waste of useful material is a prevalent part of a complacent lifestyle. Whatever the new source of energy is, if it is as abundant as nuclear advocates assure us, we need to be wary of how we manage such energy – especially in relation to landscape and natural resources.

However, I truly believe that an answer can be found that allows for; species resilience to changing climate; open space management and increasing population; agriculture on low oil and gas; better waste management; fitness and social health; and an ever increasing standard of living for all of our species while protecting biodiversity. It all starts with thinking differently. A changing world needs changing ideas. For governments to first invest in nodal TODs infrastructure, business and personal investment can follow to make the most of a bustling multi-use metropolitan. To encourage an upward growth can allow for a disintegration of sprawling areas, which can then be redeveloped into working farms, rehabilitated native bushland, stylised parks and other open space entertainment. It should be achievable to have all the wealth of inner-city lifestyle, minus the chemical and noise pollution, cheap food and a quick and easy ride to a number of open space activities. You should be able to walk to work and have a short bike ride to somewhere open to kick a ball with the kids.

It’s not about regulation and condemnation, but encouragement and investment. It’s not about killing industry and a reduction of money flow, but changing industry and developing cash flow never before seen. It’s not about tapping off all fossil fuel use tomorrow, but using it where we need to and preserving supplies for industries that don’t have an immediate choice (ie. flight, shipping and steel). It’s not about telling people what they can’t have, but showing them how they can have more by doing things differently.

We have the chance for a much more prosperous society; but only through innovation.


6 thoughts on “Rounding up: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 18

  1. Innovation. I think you’ve hit one of my sore spots with this series.

    I’m constantly irritated by people saying that we will eventually find a way to deal with the problems we’re creating. Why eventually? People are just as clever and imaginative now as they will be in a generation or two or three. And there are heaps and heaps of opportunities around us.

    We don’t even have to be especially creative. There are many instances of ideas that were abandoned decades ago only because the prevailing notion was that oil (or something) was the best or cheapest approach. Blowing a bit of dust off a few patents and trying them out might be a good way to get started.

    As for waste and extravagance. One gardening writer made the clever point that fertility and productivity are not limited by the amount of *stuff* in the world. We have all the atoms and molecules we will ever need. Fertility is about ensuring the fastest possible circulation and re-use of nitrogen, phosphorus and the rest of them. Nothing that was ever fertilised (organically or any other way) should ever go to landfill.


    1. I totally agree with you. However, I’ve found that most people think in a way that was reflected by my sister when she was a teen. She once said to me that she doesn’t wear sunscreen because, by the time she developed cancer, there will already be a cure. She has, of course grown up and is a lot wiser than than she was then. But this seems to be part of the root to our sluggish response to things.
      I quite honestly agree with you – we could quite easily have a much more sustainable world within a couple decades and each step will be noticeable stepping stones along the way. However, we need desperately to change how we think, and I feel the best way to do this is to pander to idea that we can be radical and inventive. If you provide incentive and encouragement, you can achieve many smaller steps that will lead us to a huge reduction to not only emissions, but species loss and an increase in food and water security.
      Massive changes to lifestyle choices (ie a reduction in sprawl) and how we see our waste (hard waste and waste water) can achieve wonderful things.
      Fossil fuels were never really the cheapest and certainly are not used at all efficiently (internal combustion engines have barely improved over the past century for instance). It was a combination of good advertisement and government encourage that built that industry.


  2. Very interesting ideas. I definitely agree but I think there’s a sugar-coating here. People will have less than do now, given that we do adapt this innovation. I mean, you talk about sprawl and inefficient energy usage… Why can’t we put it bluntly, this “innovation” is to make it so that we are doing less – we don’t use as much and ultimately will adapt to not to want or need as much.

    Indeed, I think reduction of GHGs and sustainable energies are feasible… but all of things will be rendered useless unless there’s an majority that adapts to the notion that we don’t need as much (and that it ultimately could ruin us). That’s just my take. We’ve got to be willing to sacrifice so much more than convenience and I think innovation will only take us so far.


    1. This certainly is sugar-coating.
      There are two things that I’ve constantly run into; a fear of reduction/limitation and governments having too much control. A lot of the critics of AGW that I debate with end up falling to these two fears the more I push the science at them. These two fears cannot be addressed by the science; their more social disorders.
      Instead of seeing higher density and mixed-use TOD developments as a reduction (ie. of personal space), I try to highlight the increased access to many services. Instead of seeing the removal of most personal vehicles from most build up areas as a personal loss (great advertising has led to one’s car being a major status symbol), I try to demonstrate the easy of life without it, the possible access without it, the freedom without it (and availability of shared use vehicles when you want to travel elsewhere).
      I try to argue that change is not a loss, but an increase in opportunities and freedom. I suspect that I’ll develop on this foundation in future posts (one I’ll definitely discuss very soon is the changes possible in agriculture which can counteract the loss of younger generations of farmers).
      I personally feel these things are the most pressing changes required; 1) a reduction of CO2 emissions, 2) reduction of sprawl, 3) establishment of both native areas (rehabilitation) and local farming near closer to major populations, 4) greater concern over species loss. Incentives, I hope, are the key to change (psychological mostly) to make effective changes to our our species relates to natural resources.


  3. I don’t know why people think it’s always *less*. I don’t know what area you’re in, but the bus service near here has moved to one of those 15 min guaranteed zones. My husband has no fear about setting off to the city whereas we always had to consult timetables before to see if the car was needed – or if a breakneck run would be needed to catch the only bus for 50 mins.

    Most people who own cars would happily use them less if reliable public transport would substitute. And email plus webcam plus phone plus assorted other technologies make it less necessary for “reps” to constantly drive around. Transport is always needed for delivery of goods, but other activities associated with trade can reduce their travel requirements.

    Some of these protestations about changing to newer technologies and strategies sound a bit like the old buggy-whip manufacturers complaining that their high quality items were declining in sales. We now know that those displacing technologies were not the best – we could have gone with the solar and steam options rather than the FF – but the horse driven economy was never going to continue.


    1. i’ve lived in a few regions of Adelaide and on top of that i have been turned down for jobs as has my partner simply because we didn’t drive at the time. Public transport is poor at best in Adelaide. I don’t know if it’s improved in the past 2 years as i’ve avoided them, although i do know that the train service has stopped (but will probably start again in the near future) in the hills.
      I agree that if it suited the needs, most people would use it. I’m a fan of transit orientated development planning. I’m not advocating new tech – just a move to electric trains. The source energy can then be changed as it suits.


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