"To be anti-technology in this day and age is to be anti-environmental. No positive future exists without vastly improved technology."
Alex Steffen, quoted above, is executive editor of Worldchanging.com. He's also one of the brightest and most holistic thinkers on the planet.
The criticism you always hear is that we're relying on a "techno-fix," an artificial solution. But techno-fixes are what have improved all our lives the most. The fact that you and I beat the probabilities and didn't die of a childhood disease is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we don't starve once every few years is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we know enough about what we're doing to the planet to be worried about things like climate change is directly attributable to technology. Since we wobbled out of the trees and grabbed the first burning branch we've been using technology. Inventing better tools is part of being human.
A real problem in the environmental movement [is] a complete misunderstanding of how technology works. There's an assumption that technology sort-of progresses steadily -- every year we have a marginal increase in our ability to do stuff. And when you believe that technology is linear, but our problems are geometric, or even exponential, of course it seems like we can't solve them.
But that's not how science and technology work in the real world. In the real world we are in the grips of some powerfully exponential forces -- like Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law -- which mean in practice that you have a little progress, then a little progress, and then this huge categorical leap to a better technology, a better idea.
Alex is a rare combination of passionate environmentalist and informed technoprogressive. And he also offers a welcome spirit of optimism.
We forget how much progress has been made in the last few hundred years. Yes, there are still terrible tragedies -- genocides, awful disasters, children dying needlessly from hunger and preventable disease -- but that said, there are many, many more good things. There are many, many more people on the planet who are living lives of relative prosperity, in relative freedom, pursuing their ideas of happiness. Feudalism, mass murder, slavery, ignorance: we're winning against them.
The percentage of human beings in absolute poverty has been going down for a long time and if we do our job right it will eventually wind up at zero. More and more people live in democracies. Fewer and fewer people are persecuted politically. More and more people accept, at least in part and in theory, science and reason. . .
We can design a human civilization, a material civilization, that uses far fewer resources, delivers far more prosperity, and is far more just and sustainable than anything we've ever imagined.
Designing a better civilization is, in some respects, the mandate of the CRN Global Task Force on Implications and Policy. There is no question that nanotechnology -- and especially molecular manufacturing -- will have a huge impact on all areas of society.
The work of the CRN Task Force is just getting under way, of course, and it will be up to the 40+ wise, talented, and accomplished members of that group to decide how extensive our final recommendations should be. But immense new challenges will confront us, and creative new solutions will be needed.
The idea that we could just go back to some model of human civilization in our past and everything would be okay is intellectually bankrupt. No past civilization could support us in our billions today in a sustainable way.
We need to invent a sustainable life from scratch.
When environmentalists suggest that the proper goal is for us to go back and wear furs and shoot deer with longbows, we make ourselves irrelevant in the planning of the future. And that's a terrible thing, because we're in the midst of making vastly important decisions about the fate of our planet, and environmentalists need to be heard in that debate.
We can't go back. But what does moving forward mean for us? That's what we need to discover. That's what we need to invent: a vision of the future that is both prosperous and ecological, both attractive and sustainable, both bright and green. We need to present an optimistic future worth fighting for.