Technology: A Pointless, Misleading Debate

Are technology and the environment so opposite that we should think of them as exclusive as we often do political left and right? Are you either on the side of nature or that of the mechanical beast?

I’ve often been judged by both sides of the coin; AGW deniers have accused me of spitting the face of the industrial revolution which has largely made my life possible while the more heartfelt environmentalists accuse me of selling out to the junk heap of consumption. Either I’m a hair-shirt de-industrialist or no better than the grinding gears of gluttonous progress.

Of course, I can’t be both and I don’t really think I’m either.

What I’ve faced in these situations is a be-all-and-end-all attitude; one is supposed to be appalled by the results of technology or by the musings of disregarding it. Like all things resulting from the human mind, the circumstance is far more dynamic than that and such mindlessly simple grouping of such complex situations, accompanied by trigger happy slurs and insults are more ideological than reasonable.

How could anybody ever possibly group readily accessible medicinal products with the throw-away mentality regarding mobile phones or water sanitation with cosmetics? How could anyone disregard mass production that makes agricultural products, safety devices, even toilet paper cheaper and more widespread simply because it is also the process that churns out tons of quickly depreciating junk?

Technology isn’t the problem. Just as with efficiency – that some groups criticise unfairly (that I’ve discussed previously) – technology is but a tool that can be applied however the user wishes. It’s not at fault for simply being.

Both efficiency and technology are principles of survival. Efficiency and technological improvement are parallel to adaptation – whereby new tool kits developed overtime (through genetic variation rather than innovation, mind you) allowing for survival to make use of different pathways and to improve upon niche exploitation.

Criticising all technology because of the bad output alone or the call to disregard technology, rebutting with the good output as evidence is clearly naïve. Anyone of willing to concede that the situation is therefore not entirely black and white needs to let go of such simplistic definitions.

Technology isn’t the enemy nor is it the saviour.

The potential for both is within our own societies and I’d argue can only be best (or worst) applied through technology. It is, after all, through technological innovation that we are now so aware of the plight of our natural resources and ecosystems and it will have to be through technology that we will find answers as to how we preserve natural environments whilst provide resources required for our own species.

This will need to include efficient mass transport (for people as well as important goods and services) as well as a re-localisation (nodal developments), an establishment of connectivity between remnant natural environments, a dramatic improvement on recycling (and reclaiming) of disposables, telecommunication (potentially vastly improving education) and fresh water management to name a few.

Such things cannot occur without technological innovation.

As with efficiency, the real debate needs to be about technological application rather than about technology itself. For it to have any real world meaning, there will need to be a strong focus on what kinds of societies can evolve and prosper within such workings. For instance, if the consumption of quickly depreciating items (in other words, junk) were to be avoided, consumerist capital markets would be find it very difficult to exist. This may not be a bad thing; however wealth and power is still very much the ball in the market’s court. It’s wishful thinking to think such a system could be removed quickly and efficiently – it’s embedded in all that we do.

Perhaps such simplifications are aimed at avoiding the problem entirely, while keeping alive a sense of pro or con.

In truth, we face numerous questions that desperately need to be addressed. Simplifying the problem (or our activities) will not help. It’s gas-bagging at its worst.

Research, genuine and informed debate and development are required to provide the innovation both in our technologies and societal structures that is sorely needed if we are to make headway on the problems we face.


2 thoughts on “Technology: A Pointless, Misleading Debate

  1. All of the environmentalists I know are very much in favour of new technologies – particularly as applied to energy efficiency, renewable technologies, and (admittedly, not universally) nuclear reactors – my only reference to the existence of hairshirts is their participation in protest rallies. One must wonder, however, about those who are satisfied with considering generating power by burning stuff to be state of the art. What are we, cavemen?


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