Saving the World By Dishing Up Technology with a Side of Cut-It-Out

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Photo by t3rmin4t0r via Flickr CC

An op ed in The Guardian by environmental writer Merrick Godhaven brings up a good point: Technology will not necessarily save us from global climate catastrophe - it takes a major shift in human consumption mentality along with it. That's a fairly undeniable statement. And to underscore it, we're looking at The Guardian's 20 top world-saving technology choices, and pondering just what non-techy action is needed to balance it. In The Manchester Report, The Guardian took the top ideas for environmental technologies and picked the 20 best that could keep the world from burning up. However, Godhaven responds that while these ideas are great and all, they alone won't save us: "Merely swapping technologies fails to address the root causes of climate change. We need to choose the solutions that are the cheapest, the swiftest, the most effective and least likely to incur dire side effects. On all counts, there's a simple answer - stop burning the stuff in the first place. Consume less."

Energy Generation Ain't the Be All End All
The Manchester Report choices are top-heavy on energy options. Five of the top 10 selections are energy generation techniques, from nuclear to tidal. A solution for making power generation more effective is simply using energy smarter. As is often noted by thinkers from Saul Griffith to Al Gore, if we just became more intelligent about energy efficiency, we wouldn't need new power plants or alternative energy generation technologies in the first place. This topic is huge and immensely complicated, but the fact is - we live outside our energy means and technology won't save us from that fact. But a mind-shift might.

Grasslands and CO2 is About More Than Just the Grass
The same is true with another idea chosen by The Guardian: grassland regeneration through cattle grazing techniques. The suggestion is to use grasslands for carbon sequestration, and that takes changing how we graze cattle. That's true, but making this idea even more effective would be drastically cutting our cattle production rates (as in, eat less meat) and returning poorly managed farmland back to grassland (as in, grow less inedible corn). It's about more than just boosting the good idea of carbon sequestration via grass - it's also about cutting out the bad ideas that reduce the good idea's efficacy.

Economics, Technology, and You
Not all of The Guardian's tech choices ignore social change. For example, one great choice (though it's a runner up) is the solution of rethinking economics to promote a reduction in resource consumption. Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation points out that the problem with the clash between economy and cutting carbon is the way we think about them in the first place - it's not that we have to stop "growing" in order to reduce carbon emissions, it's that we have to rethink what we consider as "growth." Fix this, and we can make big strides in stabilizing and reducing carbon emissions.

Tech and People Can Live Happily Ever After
Yes, there is a lot of fodder here for a hearty debate on each of these and many other issues from the report. But the overarching point is, exactly as Godhaven states, it takes more than just getting the latest energy efficient TV and powering it with the solar panels you just installed on your roof, or overhauling our data centers or using modeling systems to predict weather patterns for wind power generation. Techy solutions have to go beyond revolutionizing energy generation or energy efficiency - they are effective if we take part in a little mental revolution ourselves.

More on Technology and Carbon Emissions
Green Technology Transfer the Key for International Climate Deal, Brazilian Official Says
Global Warming: Technology vs. Choice
7 Geoengineering Solutions That Promise To Save Humans from Climate Change
Political Will, Not Technology, To Blame For Not Combatting Climate Change

Tags: Economics

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