I’ve seen a lot of praise for science and technology lately and in my opinion, it deserves a lot more credit than it is already getting. But it is concerning that I’m seeing people misunderstanding the limitations of Science and Technology the same way a somebody unfamiliar with checking accounts might misunderstand the limitations of a check book or debit card.
A debit card is not a source of money. A debit card is a method by which you can convert existing resources (money) into various other resources you need or want to live your life.
Technology is not a source of energy. Technology is a method by which we can transform finite natural resources into various other resources we need or want to live our lives.
In my opinion, main reason #WhyScienceMatters today is that it is warning us that some of our current behaviors are unsustainable and are literally killing the living planet.
I’ve noticed that each side of the political spectrum tends to deal with this information differently.
Those who would be considered more conservative definitely accept some science but the conclusions that go against their own deeply held beliefs get labeled as some evil conspiracy being executed by the Commies or Globalists.
Those who consider themselves more liberal accept a bit more of the science than the other side but still end up dismissing the important parts as evil conspiracy if the conclusions contradict their own deeply held beliefs.
Science has conclusively proven three things about modern civilization given its current size, complexity and the comfortable way of life it provides. Referred to onward as simply Modern Civilization.
1) Modern Civilization’s reliance upon fossil fuels is destabilizing the climate which will eventually lead to planet-wide catastrophe.
2) Modern Civilization would not and cannot exist without the vast amounts of surplus energy provided by fossil fuels. It requires that energy to support its size and complexity.
3) Modern Civilization is temporary (finite) because its fuel source (fossil fuels) is also temporary (finite).
What this means is that Modern Civilization is unsustainable and will be diminishing in size and complexity as quickly as its fuel sources deplete.
This means that places that didn’t have electricity or drinkable running water 50 years ago probably won’t have these things 50 years from now.
This means that places that didn’t have internet 50 years ago probably won’t have internet 50 years from now.
This means that medical advances and technologies we didn’t have available to us 50 years ago will tend to be unavailable to us 50 years from now.
These things might be hard to believe here sitting close to the peak but the deterioration process has already begun.
The only alternative is continued and ever increasing energy consumption which is impossible because fossil fuels are finite and technology merely transforms the energy we have. It isn’t an energy source.
Now I predict I’m going to be bombarded with scientific breakthroughs brought up to contradict conclusions 2) and 3). These I warmly welcome as I’ve been looking feverishly for any and all valuable/valid responses to this predicament for some time. A name already exists for technologies that have proven valuable and valid. The term is, “Appropriate Technology.”
So I encourage you to take the time to evaluate the technology you’re praising to see if it actually is a valuable and valid response to these hard scientific facts.
For instance, there is a brilliant bit of technology that literally turns sunlight and freely available CO2 into fuel that is easily made compatible with most engines. This sounds miraculous but when one looks at the details it loses a bit of its shine. If an article fails to mention the efficiency of the technology being praised, it is probably not worth the time.
But I had some time so I dug into it. Turns out that if we can continue the development for another decade or two* and increase its efficiency by a factor of 10 we might end up with a solar panel that would produce a barrel of useful fuel over a period of a year. That is almost useless in a world that consumes 500,000 barrels every 10 minutes.
Given the conclusions above, that technology is obviously neither a valuable nor valid response to the predicament we face. A handful of acorns or black locust seeds planted in living soil would provide more of a benefit to us than that technology ever could.
Sadly, most of the large scale solutions we call, “renewable” are also considered outside the realm of, “Appropriate Technology,” for reasons similar to those that knocked the, “Artificial Leaf,” off its pedestal dozens of words ago.
Many in the millennial generation blame the boomers for trying to maintain their own wealth and lifestyles at the expense of future generations. There may or may not be some truth to this belief.
But if our generation continues to develop inappropriate technologies in a vain attempt to continue an unsustainable modern lifestyle there is NO doubt we will be doing a far worse disservice to our own grandchildren.
So if we think science matters the way we claim then we need to accept all of its conclusions with dignity (or at least investigate these technological claims with the skepticism they deserve).
*Science has also shown that its own progress/advancement is also highly dependent upon economic growth which is completely dependent upon increasing fossil fuel consumption. The globalized economy itself owes its existence to fossil fuels. Thus technology that requires rare minerals that only exist in a cave in China are by default, inappropriate as responses.