December 3, 2022

Technology – Who Needs It?

3 min read

Technology, that’s what got us all into this mess isn’t it? The internal combustion engine, jet propulsion, mechanized farming, power stations, pesticides, industrial pollution; the list goes on, and on. And now we’re due to pay the price with both global warming and oil depletion looming as a result of squandering the earth’s resources to feed our addiction to technology.

Surely, since technology is so clearly to blame, we should strive to roll back the tide and oppose further so-called technological progress?

Do I hear any takers for this proposition? A return to a golden age, lit by candles at night and warmed by the crackle of logs in countless hearths; a renaissance of home grown crops, chickens in the yard and beating your clothes on a rock down by the river just like you see in the movies?

Oh I’m sure there are some diehard romantics who buy into the self sufficiency fantasy, but the really inconvenient truth is that if we all set about burning logs to boil lentils and heat our fashionable Yurts we would deforest the place within a month; without modern pesticides and medicines we would be lucky to escape the first year without calamity on the scale of the Great Irish Potato Famine and we could pretty soon reduce life expectancy to levels last seen in the 16th Century (or modern Zimbabwe if you prefer). As for “natural transport”, this was quite commonplace at the beginning of the 20th Century and the streets were ankle deep in horse dung.

So back to the cold shower of reality. Yes, technology has laid at our door responsibility for global warming and depletion of precious natural resources; but technology is also our only realistic hope of making amends and crafting a world we might not feel deservedly ashamed to pass on to our children.

So what exactly has technology ever done for us? Well, there’s warm homes and lighting at night; better and more plentiful food and refrigeration to keep it from rotting; ability to routinely travel distances once considered inconceivable; and communication, both mass communication and personal.

Identifying the cost incurred by heat, light and power for domestic appliances is easy. Electricity. This in almost all cases currently comes from power stations that burn oil, gas, or coal (the contribution from nuclear power is still almost negligible).

Travel is even easier: essentially set fire to some form of oil. Trains, planes, buses, boats, automobiles, you name it; they all use engines that burn hydrocarbons.

Communication (other than that brought about by physical travel) is however unlike the other examples and not a paid up member of the heinous Axis of Energy. Yes, some amount of oil has been used to transmit the electronic bits this article is actually made of, and some more went into the plastic device you’re reading it on and more still is being burned now to power said device. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually a pretty trivial amount, even when we all do it.

Anyway, the question we need to ask is: do we want, or can we even afford, to be without any of these benefits that technology has brought us? With the exception of modern travel, the answer is most likely to be a clear no.

Without warmth, light and food we may as well pack it all in right now and collectively slope off to back to scratching out the short, nasty and brutish existence our forebears worked so hard to spare us. But the thing is this; it’s not necessary to trash the planet just to supply the basics. Every day a big orange thing appears in the sky and throws more heat and light at us than we know what to do with. Spot the key phrase? “know what to do with”.

Technology (the forbidden T word) for utilising and storing sunlight in the form of hot water and electricity already exists. Solar lighting has been around for quite a few years, and with economic conditions starting to swing decisively in favour of “renewable energy” solutions, it is a technology that is being rapidly developed and deployed into ever more homes.

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