Thursday, March 12, 2009


What do you see as the role of technology in the context of the coming peak oil and economic crisis and transition? Do you see technology overall beneficial? What are pros and cons of tech in this mess?

Zeitgeist Addendum suggests a solution partially based on technology, such as the Venus project. I did not like this futuristic picture of a sci-fi solution too much. Don't get me wrong, I like technology, a lot as a matter of fact. But I also think it is very limited in the context of nature. I also like the concept of simplicity and in many occasions I believe a simple solution will be better than a hi-tech solution. Especially when it comes to farming, gardening and food production. We must get away from hi-tech large scale farming and return to non-GM, no-human-made-pesticide, etc. gardening.

My friends comment that the Internet is a must and absolutely vital in this transition phase to create community, share solutions and propagate information (to compensate for the highly influenced media channels). I vote yes to that too.

Friends also shared with me their opinion that with respect to technology being part of the future, they don't think that the solution is unique. There are technological solutions that could prolong our current way of life such as the loremo or aptera. Is this the right way to go? Or would it be better to make a complete break and develop bicycles and public transportation? Efficiency can actually increase the market for fossil fuels. For example the invention of the electric light bulb increased the market for natural gas because suddenly people other than the rich could afford enough gas to have light at night. Technology of course can play a huge role in the generation of renewable energy. There is room for a great deal of research, for example figuring out how much can sustainably be produced is a very open question which needs to be addressed in order to come up with solutions for organizing civilization. How will this energy be used? The fact that energy is finite has profound implications for political and economic organization. It raises philosophical and ethical questions as well: should people be allowed to become exceedingly rich? If wealth is finite, concentrating wealth among a few people means other people will have to become poor, that is, the trickle down theory fails. Should we restrict population growth? If so how?

"The Limits to Growth" (1979, 2004) was one of the first book to use extensive computer simulations to model the future. The authors lost the debate for funding, though the critiques generally missed the point. The book was dismissed because it's predictive value was bad (models in the 1979 book came up with shortages of critical minerals in the 1990's which did not occur). But the simulations were not meant to predict specific dates, but rather give long term dynamics and create scenarios on which to base policy. The shortages occurring in the models are happening now rather than 15 years ago, the dynamics were correct, the data fed into the models was bad.

The task is enormous. Historically, there are many examples of failure to deal with environmental degradation which lead to catastrophes. Once the last tree had been cut on Easter Island, wars reduced the population by over 90% to a sustainable level. Technology did not help the Vikings who brought European ways of life to Greenland for several centuries. The weather changed (it got colder), the Vikings could not sustain their European ways, but the Inuit survived, though their culture had been dominated for several centuries.

I am a bit disappointed that technology for personal power generation such as solar panels and wind mills is still quite expensive. See this blog article. Like anything else in technology the price can come down significantly if there is enough demand.

What do you think about the best use of technology to assist in smoothening the upcoming peak oil transition?

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