TO BE OR NOT TO BE TECHNOGICAL, Or maybe there is no fix.
By Murph with some help from Freeacre
Oh dear, I am now being looked at as a Luddite? Freeacre suggests that is it more a matter of eternal pessimism than picking on the Luddites. Just to let you know. I have been into technology for most of my life. Hell, I have degrees in technology. I really get off on technology, although I think a lot of the gadgets developed to make a buck are plain ass stupid, and of little actual benefit to anyone, despite their popularity.
A subject has been brought up in our comment section that is important to me. I suspect that it will vary in importance between individuals, and I think some people will get a bit testy over it. This subject deals with the role technology has played in the development of western civilization and our society in particular. What are the consequences, planned and unplanned , of technology, and its advantages.
I have expressed at times more or less emphatically, that I was reasonably comfortable with the older technologies, and many of the new stuff, gizmos and thingies, in my view have very questionable benefits personally and socially.
The first question I want to deal with is that I have been asked how far back in technology am I willing to go? Well, my answer is as far back as it is sustainable, that is, that the use of energy and or raw materials to do a task is replenished at least at the rate it is used. That is what sustainable means. We can get into a discussion about energy ratios and replenishment rates for all kinds of stuff. In the end analysis, what is to be done when many of our raw materials are just flat out gone because their replenishment rate is in 10’s of thousands of years, or longer? For instance, at our present rate of human usage, how long before there is no more copper to be mined and refined at a cost that is bearable? So, for a lot of raw material, for which we have no measure of how much is actually there for us to exploit, it would be a matter of how long can we have it available before there is no more available? We are experiencing this right now in our use of oil. Other materials are becoming much more difficult to get to and use also, or becoming prohibitively expensive due to scarcity. Let’s face it, the easy stuff has mostly been used up. And this doesn’t even begin to look at the environmental damage to whole expanses of ecology from what mining and refining that has already been done. Look at the area around the
For me, it is interesting to look at the problem of why environmental concerns have never been a big player in decision making, at any level of government or industry. And, don’t come back at me with how much the environmentalists have accomplished. They haven’t accomplished shit. They have saved a few trees, stopped some water exploitation and gotten some animals on the endangered specie list for which the federal authorities mostly ignore anyway and industry sure as hell does. Forests are still being clear cut, the oceans are still being killed, the fresh water fishing is still being poisoned, the farmland is still being poisoned and made sterile, the spawning fish are being driven into extinction and the latest published results of mans activities indicate that nearly 100 species per day are driven extinct by our actions. I can’t confirm or repudiate the number, but I am reasonably sure that we are killing off a lot of critters by our actions.
So, my question to you is, how many generations are you planning to try and support by your energy usage or lack of it? Just yours, and then it is all gone? Or 7 generations in the future, or what?
I wrote in a comment on the last post about doing some research on how to control the gypsy moth. One suggested comment back to me is also typical of quick fixes that ultimately turn out really bad. You cannot play favoritism games with natural process in the long term and not get most severely bit on the ass. Introducing one specie to control another has only been very short term benefits and always turns out to be damaging in the long term. In fact, if you have an example, I would like an example of one instance where another specie was imported or heavily supported and bred by humans to cure a problem that in the long run didn’t turn out to be a disaster. I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t caused other severe problems that had to be dealt with. Besides, the gypsy moth problem is a 4 year cycle problem, that is, it happens only once in at the minimum every 4 years and then is gone for at least another 4 years.
In the research I did and presented to the lake association I found that there were three solutions to the problem. The first two involved the use of commercially made solutions and were, relative to the third, inexpensive. The consequences of using the first two I mentioned in my comments on the subject. What it came down to; after they sprayed their high tech solution to control gypsy moths, there no longer was any grasshoppers, crickets, any other Lepidoptera, dragon flies or butterflies, but still lots of mosquitoes. In fact, they increased, after all, the spraying seemed to drive out the bats and birds also. In the two more years after the spraying, we noticed a definite decrease in songbirds around the area and the wild turkeys stopped coming around to beg a handout.
The third solution was the most expensive but also very low tech and had no negative impact on the rest of the environment, only the gypsy moth suffered death and destruction. It is also a very old and well known solution. You take a whole bunch of bodies of the pest you want to fight with, chop them up fine, (like in a blender) mix with water till you get a slurry and spray where the pest is located. Works every time, involves no chemicals and is very specie specific
So, my question is; just what price are you willing to pay in the use of technology that will affect other species, including us? The thing I want to emphasize here is that every technological development is at the expense of the environment. So sad, but true. And, an even more difficult question to answer; just what in hell gives us the right to affect other species in such a wholesale manner at all? The claim of manifest destiny and divine right given by God in the Old Testament simply doesn’t impress me. Just where do we get off in our human arrogance to claim that our lives are anymore important than any other critters on this planet? It gets down to this; the world and all that is in it can get along very well without us, but we cannot live at all without all that is in the world, including the bacteria and viruses. So who needs who and what value do we place on that which we have to have to live and I sure don’t recall anything in our exalted Christian religion that has God implying that killing off every other piece of life is ok by him. We have been in the industrial revolution since the late 1800’s. Since that time the exploitation, vast manipulation, and out right savagery that has followed technological innovations is truly a work of art. In the name of development, we have enslaved whole countries, taken their resources for pennies on the dollar, often contributed to or hired the guns to enforce the slavery and are responsible for generations of mass killings. All to support our thirst for technology and the benefits we believe we get from it. And you would ask if I am anti technology? Hmmmm.
The question has been raised concerning people of my persuasion that are stocking up for the coming bad times, and what this contributes in energy usage. On this I claim guilty as hell. Wish I had the money to do it better than I now can. Realizing that driving the car is environmentally unsound, there would then have to be an alternative to driving to
When we recognize this is the case, do we take the poison or blow our brains out? As we see it anyway, there is a most high probability that our survival, and for most people, is going to depend on this kind of preparation. You notice that I indicated survival, not grand living. If we were 20 years younger, we could do with a bunch less. But, since we aren’t, we have to prepare as we see fit. As for the future, a much lowered technology and standard of living (as is presently measured) is not going to be an option, but rather is going to be the norm. I’m not sure about feudal times, since that is a political statement, but we are going to be forced to live a whole bunch more simply in regards to energy usage. The means to support the present usage is going to be going away quite soon, and to the best of my investigations, not a damned thing we can do about it. There is a whole bunch of ideas and doo-dads out there that supposedly is going to save the day and we will sacrifice little of what we have to keep doing things the way we are. As I see it, this is pie in the sky wistful thinking, very similar to the rapture, to salvation and just outright theology, having not much to do with reality.
So, my question is; with the realization that it is impossible to live in a sustainable fashion in contemporary society, what do you suggest we do? Use up everything available till there is no more? Poison off more and more of the environment to keep going another generation? Invent a few more gadgets to prolong the decline? Or what? We are trying to decrease our footprint, not because it will make a damned bit of difference to the world, but instead to practice for what is coming. Plus, on an ethical level, it seems to be more real, at least to us. Yup, for our whole lives, we have become so used to life style entitlements, regardless of the cost, that we cannot envision being without it. Enough humans become nitrate fertilizer for the plants and what ever I do will be even more insignificant.
When I did my trip with very primitive living, one thing I found out was that for anyone doing that, voluntarily or not, there was at least one thing you find you simply cannot do without. For me it was a hot shower. I did it in the most low tech means available that I could find at the time since all the nice high tech means I couldn’t pay for at the time anyway. We did without running water, central heat, in fact we heated one room of a barn and it sure as hell wasn’t the bedroom, for a year no electricity, we carried every drop of water we used and we walked a lot. I suspect that most of us might just experience this decision making in the not too distant future.
Now dig this. This Christmas, we had dinner with some good friends, neighbors, who had a few relatives over for a really great meal. The man who prepared almost the whole meal is a waiter at a nice restaurant and is also a pretty damned good basic cook. Our host had just gotten an elk during hunting season and had a roast to prepare for the dinner. The brother, waiter cook, did the preparation. He has never eaten or tasted or cooked wild game. The roast was superb. He wasn’t going to eat any of it and one of the other relatives wouldn’t touch it either. Freeacre got to talking about some of the hoi paloi restaurants in Tahoe that once a year as a treat, served an expensive meal of elk. All of a sudden, she had his attention. Expensive restaurants serving wild game? Hmmm. He tried it and loved it. This guy seems like a really interesting and nice person. He has lived in a city all his life. His attitude is not unusual I find. I have run into it over an over. What you have no experience with you tend to discount. How does this apply to technology? If you haven’t lived without it, you discount the possibility.
Ok, so we are back at the beginning of the discussion. Do we reject new technology for any reason? I say; often times yes. I don’t think we need more gadgets of questionable benefit, and ignoring the true cost of making it. We need less people using up a lot less resources. Our attitude about technology has been beat into our heads since birth. We really truly believe that technology can save our ass from our stupidities. We believe deep down in our hearts that technology is like magic, we can do anything. We truly believe that there is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. We believe in our hearts that a short term fix is equivalent to a long term fix and we can just keep doing our gig forever, or at least till we up and die. As a civilization and most especially the American society simply cannot bear to look at the consequences of what we have done and what is going to happen to us.
A technological fix? My question is; for all new technologies, or at least gadgets of technology, from the beginnings of inception, until they can be fully utilized by any segment of society, is how long? I think upon investigation you will find it is about 12 years, give or take some. Do we have that long? Are the benefits really going to accomplish that much? What is the true cost of implementing this development? It has been suggested that there is the technology for individual home power generation that is virtually free. Now let’s get this straight. There is no damned such thing as a free lunch in any part of the universe that I am familiar with. Capturing and using electrical energy on an individual household is like talking about a refrigerator in every house. How many years did it take to do that? How many people could afford it? How effective is it? Remember the early refrigerators? They were literally ice boxes, then they went to a kerosene cooling system. Both were of questionable dependability. It was 15 years later that we finally got a compressor electric motor run cooling system that was reasonably dependable for the home. How long did it take from the conception of TV until they could be put into a persons home? Same with radio. Same with VCR, same with CD and DVD and what about computers. Personally, I don’t think we have time to make any general use of new gadgets to produce home electricity. Without food or water it would make no difference for 90% of the people in this country anyway. For the rest of us, electricity is only part of what we will be lacking.
I enjoy looking at and learning some about new technologies and the resultant gadgets. There are some that insist that we haven’t had any really new technologies for 50 years now. All we have is some engineering changes to the old stuff. Whatever. I’m not sure how many people have been in a new house that is high tech. The environmental impact of all that stuff is tremendous. Like I said, a lot of the older stuff is just fine with me. How many people you know that have an antenna for the TV and FM radio? Lol.
Let’s consult Richard Heinberg from is book, “Powerdown.”
….” In principle, however, we have already run the “free energy” experiment, on a smaller scale, several times in human history, and other species have run it as well. Every time we humans have found a way to harvest a dramatically increased amount of food or fuel from the environment, we have been presented with a quantity of energy that is, if not entirely free, at least cheap and abundant relative to what we had previously. Each time, we have responded by increasing our population, and correspondingly, the load on the environmental systems that sustain us. Each time, we have ended up degrading the environment and creating the conditions for a crash.” He goes on to site specific examples of migrating from Africa, then eating all the mastodons, mammoths, giant sloth’s, etc. (This is often referred to as the Pleostein Overkill and there is a lot of dissension about it’s validity), through the invention of agriculture in one civilization after another where they built densely populated cities, then collapsed after exhausting the soil and cutting too many trees…and on to increasing the population from 800 million to 6.4 billion in 3 centuries after the Industrial Revolution.
He goes on, “So, if some new free-energy device were to become available tomorrow, how would people respond? We really don’t need to speculate much. Absent a self-limiting, culturally reinforced, Powerdown program, we can be virtually 100 percent sure that the response would be to continue population growth, and to increase the harvesting of other resources, from the environment until Liebig’s Law got us in one way or another. Liebig’s Law, also known as the Law of the Minimum, states that the carrying capacity for any given species is set by the necessity of least supply. Eventually one crucial thing would be missing from the balance and life as we know it would be over. Everything depends on the weakest link,
For Heinberg the upshot is that there can be no more Business as Usual. “The way out of the dilemma requires no technological breakthrough; indeed, purely technical “solutions” may only distract us from addressing the underlying problem. The way out is to restrict per-capita resource usage and to reduce the human population.” Pretty much nobody want to hear that, so Heinberg gets a bit glum from time to time.
He is Bozo the Clown, though, in comparison to Derrick Jensen. Actually, the space constraints in this post probably require that Jensen be dealt with in a separate post.