Is Technology Failing Us?

Some excerpts from a magazine article by Chris Turner on a new direction for technology:

The degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age, but the high-tech industry’s primary focus remains on creating gee-whiz gizmos and applications – not green technologies. If as much time, energy and resources were devoted to green tech as they were to wireless devices and’s we could rescue a dying planet. And then we could truly call this a revolution

…Here’s what’s being missed: a cluster of problems that I’ll place under the rough heading “environmental degradation.” I’d hate to imply that any one aspect of the process by which we are making our planet unfit for human life is more troubling than any other, but the one in particular — the one that should really be keeping our engineers and genius inventors up at night, working on solutions — is global warming.

…Can I take it for granted that I don’t need to tell you why the degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age? That it is the threat to our livelihood — the World War, the Great Depression, the would-be Nuclear Winter — against which we need to mobilize the full power of our resources? I would like to think I can take this for granted.

…I’d like simply to assume that you know that it — this degradation, this destruction, this systemic poisoning — supersedes the current or near-future state of any national economy. That it is an unfolding calamity far greater than a wave of new tensions in Sino-American relations or another round of violence in the Middle East. That it is not an “issue” the way, say, the balance of powers between federal and provincial governments is an “issue.” That it is a cluster of events — events resulting from human activity on this planet — that are demonstrably, measurably happening. That it is not, therefore, an ideological construct. That while it might be possible to assemble an argument or voice an opinion about clean air and water, and fertile soil, and a habitable climate, that these opinions are not right or wrong so much as utterly irrelevant. That, for example, the sun’s ultraviolet light, when it reaches the earth without being filtered through a layer of ozone, is capable of producing malignant melanoma in the skin tissue of any person, totally regardless of that person’s opinion about the relative importance of “environmental issues.” Can I take all of this for granted?

…There is a high-profile but somewhat superficial reason to posit the idea that green tech (for desperate want of a better catch-all term) could become the elusive Next Big Thing in the high-tech world. That reason is this: Both Bill Gates and Paul Allen have invested heavily in renewable-energy companies. Also, like the various communications technologies before them, green technologies have the potential to create an enormous re-ordering of the business world. “I believe fuel cell vehicles will finally end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine” — that’s how one starry-eyed evangelist phrased it.

…And because, most of all, these are the things we actually can’t live without. Peer-to-peer technology, the wireless web, Super Bowl commercials starring sock puppets-the relative merits of all of these are open to discussion. Here’s something that isn’t: the absolute, bottom-line necessity of clean air, potable water, fertile soil, climactic conditions favourable to human survival. It’s not debatable, not something to be put off till we all have more time, not a luxury or a lifestyle choice. Surely you understand that. This is the revolution we need.


via Will Pate