Last week I wrote a little rant about how tired I am of America pretending that it can solve the environmental crisis by having each person make individual green decisions. Now the question becomes, if individual choice isn't going to change the environment, what will.
Well, the way I see it, there are three different ways to change the world:
- Inform people of the problem and show them ways in which they can help to fix the problem. Then hope that they take your advice, even if it's contrary to their interest. (i.e. change your lightbulbs)
- Inform people of the problem and then regulate industry and consumerism to promote solutions. (i.e. make old lightbulbs illegal)
- Regard the inherent inefficiencies in the system, and promote new technologies that will become solutions (i.e. make better lightbulbs.)
So we have 1. Personal choice 2. Government regulation and 3.Technology. Those are the three forces, broadly, that can change the world. All three of them are great, but only one of them has the transformative power that we need.
Ten years ago, buying a CD was your only choice. No one knew that they had any interest in doing it any other way. Record companies made token efforts to ask people politely not to copy and share CDs. It happened, but they didn't mind. Music was a physical package, not the songs themselves.
The one thing they didn't want to have happen was for the internet to get big enough that people would sell digital files instead of physical CDs. That would be a disaster, and in 1998 they were doing everything they could to hide from it, or actively stop it. Their research and development dollars were actually being spent attempting to stifle technology. So never let someone tell you that the market loves good technology...the market only loves technology that is good for established industries.
Then a little tiny bit of illegal technology called Napster came along and made entire bodies of law obsolete. It didn't matter what the government said or what the record companies and artists asked of consumers, the internet toppled not only an industry, but a vast system of very strict laws that propped it up.
That's how technology changes things. We created a better system for distributing music. Then Apple came along and made it all even more convenient and, voila, a new, better, more efficient, more profitable industry was born.
That's why we need technology to initiate environmental change. Because coal-fired power plants aren't going to turn off because the government tells them to. Because people won't buy electricity for more just so they can feel better about themselves, especially if they (like most people in the world) are poor.
And, most especially, because industry does not invest in technology when profit margins are high. The energy industry now spends 50% less money on research and development than they did in 1990, roughly 10 times less than the average industry spends on R&D. We need to promote the growth of new technology because the energy industry has no incentive to change their high-profit, low investment situation.
We can promote new technologies in hundreds of ways, and each of us can be a part of that. We can promote it by fostering startups that might seem a little crazy, but like Napster could change the world. We can tax carbon, or put a cap on its emission. Or the government could triple its own research and development funds into clean energy, just like they did with wireless communications, creating the entire basis for the mobile phone industry. Or we could make the personal choice to buy high-tech, low-carbon power, cars, lightbulbs, and computers, creating a market for those disruptive technologies.
This might not come as much of a surprise coming from me, the founder of a green technology blog, but I believe that technology is the clearest and fastest path to a sustainable future. So let's foster it, grow it, incubate it, fund it, purchase it, subsidize it, engineer it, write about it and read about it as much as possible OK. And if you want to do that last one more often, our RSS feed is a nice little resource.
written by mmmmmrob, September 05, 2008
written by mrG, September 05, 2008
|< Prev||Next >|