Laurence of Commentary has written two quite interesting pieces on environmentalism and technology (Let’s do the time warp and What’s wrong with technological solutions). Both pieces are worth responding to. Unfortunately, they’ve also attracted the usual utterly idiotic comments. For example, in response to the earlier piece, Colin Pretorius writes I have no time for Luddite environmentalists and I don’t buy into the peak oil thing.
What can I say? I don’t actually know any Luddite environmentalists; most environmentalists are accused of being supporters of utterly impractical, revolutionary new technology, such as, gasp, windmills, or solar power for energy generation, not current, outdated technology propped up by vested interests. And while there’s disagreement as to when peak oil will be, but anyone who disbelieves the concept that oil is a finite resource and that its production will at some point peak has a serious problem with logic.
In response to the later piece, we have more hot air, this time from Hard Rain. His style is fiery, rhetorical, calculated to incite, and void of facts of logic. He writes: What is truly disturbing to me is how such a blatant fallacy as anthropogenic emissions-based global climate change is taken seriously at all by anyone.. He continues: Any form of skepticism regarding the popularized ideas of “global climate change” is met with scorn and malcontent, as if skepticism and questioning are not formative parts of the scientific method.
Unfortunately people respond to this bullshit in the rest of the comments, and avoid the more interesting original point. It’s called feeding the troll. And I guess I’m making the same mistake.
This kind of thinking is comparable to the priests of old, grimly hanging on to their comfortable way of thinking that the earth was flat, even after Galileo had demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that this was not the case, and had had his findings long since accepted as scientific consensus. The so-called skeptics of today are the priests of old, defending vested interests, or falling into the psychological habit of denying, filtering out bad news.
Luckily the innovators are normally ahead, and in the flat earth case navigators could move on, ignoring the views of the ignorant, not wasting time trying to prove something to those who’d never accept.
So leaving aside this nonsense, let’s try and move one, and respond to Laurence’s original point.
His point in What’s wrong with technological solutions was similar to what he made in the earlier, but less convincing.
In my opinion, saying we’ll be able to improve things by terraforming other planets, or mimicking real volcanoes by blasting tens of thousands of tons of sulphur dioxide particles into the stratosphere every month to reflect some of the incoming solar radiation, two of the ideas mentioned, are worthy of scorn.
Especially when there are quite simple solutions staring us in the face. Stop chopping down existing forests. Restore old forests. Reduce carbon emissions.
Reducing emissions can be done in a number of ways, and this is where the disagreements start. We can walk to work instead of drive. I personally see this as a great lifestyle improvement. I used to live where I worked, now I’m about 100 metres away, and it’s fantastic not to have to drive. A win for the planet, and a win for me. Others see this as a terrible imposition, and prefer to enjoy their freedom to spend all day stuck in traffic belching out smoke as they inch forward.
We can build better houses that don’t leak most of their heat (or let it in), so requiring much less energy to keep comfortable. Mud huts, for example, are undeniably vastly superior in this regard to cement houses.
We could use solar and wind power to generate electricity, currently viable technology, instead of getting neighbouring countries to build coal power stations, and import the power, as South Africa is doing.
I don’t mean to say that implementing and gaining political, cultural and economic acceptance for the changes is simple. But, fundementally, what’s needed is simple.
All of the technological solutions are much more viable than nonsense (for now) of terraforming other planets. Ideas like that are harmful in the sense that they assume some central authority (whether government or the market) will come to the rescue, and that we don’t need to make any changes ourselves.
The world seems to be divided into two, those who think (or demand) that they can continue to consume as they wish (and the organisations who’d like to perpetuate this myth), and those who realise they’ll need to make changes.
As the Antidote points out, the stop what you’re doing principle is unavoidable. Laurence concedes that this may be the case, but remains too hung up on the Antidote’s supposed contempt for technological alternatives. The contempt is for pie-in-the-sky solutions, not current, viable, technologically solutions that we should be implementing as fast as possible.
Change is unavoidable. Conservative minds, those slower to adapt to new situations, and new opportunities, are the ones pining for the past, hoping things won’t have to change too much.
They will change. And I’m confident, encountering the visionary people I do all the time, that it will mostly be for the better. Not painlessly, not linearly, but for the better nonetheless.
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