On sustainability, technology is not the solution. It’s more part of the problem.
How many times have you heard people suggest the answer to our environmental problems is more technology?
Have you heard of carcinogens or other toxic chemicals coming from places other than our technology? I guess some things like animal venom or naturally occurring heavy metals, but there aren’t too many of them. Volcanoes may emit carbon dioxide, but not enough to raise Earth’s temperature by a degree per decade.
For context, remember I conceived of and wrote multiple patents, founded businesses based on them valued in the tens of millions of dollars, helped build an x-ray observational satellite still orbiting the Earth taking date, and earned a PhD in physics. I think you can only achieve this things by loving technology, understanding it, and understanding how to create it.
So why, regarding the environment, do I consider technology more a part of the problem than of the solution?
I comment I made on a thread about Japanese trains working better than American ones clarified why. Someone suggested some Japanese parts of their train system worked better than American—I think turnstiles, but it could have been nearly any part. I first wrote
Comparing trains in Japan to America, every single thing is better.
Then I remembered an observation I think I wrote in my blog first, years ago. The context was that American culture doesn’t value trains and that we have a weird relationship with labor in not respecting it. Partly as a result, I don’t see enthusiasm or passion for trains working well.
After reflection, I continued my post:
Actually, I take it back. If you switched all the equipment there with all the equipment here, so we had bullet trains and track that could handle them and they had creaky, falling apart trains, within a few days, they would have their creaky old trains arriving within seconds of scheduled time and we’d have bullet trains arriving hours late and being canceled last-minute.
In other words, I am confident that most roles technology takes in solving our environmental strategy with augment our problems as long as we keep our old values including growth. We’re so spoiled and entitled to our polluting technology, we’ve lost sight that getting what we want, when we want it, however we want it, no matter who has to suffer for our indulgence, we don’t realize that working for something and thinking of others improves our lives. We mostly know children benefit from being told “no,” but whine and complain instead of changing ourselves.
Besides our being spoiled and entitled, we fight and squabble bureaucratically and in the courts, forming ineffective teams, such as the people running our train systems, instead of finding ways to work together productively. Japan’s train teams get results independent of technology. The technology is one of their results. My upcoming book describes W. Edwards Deming’s contribution to changing their culture to make such things work.
Let’s change our culture to embrace stewardship over clever technology
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