The Good Old Days. Credit: Unsplash
You Cannot Swim in the Same River Twice
It is tempting to reject the new technologies that can help tackle climate change, and simply wish for a return to the ‘Good Old Days’. Yes, there are climate change problems, but we can be sure that “they” will think of something, they will come up with some deus ex machina that will magically save us from a world that is being transformed by climate change. It is equally tempting to say that we are doomed, and that nothing we do can make any difference. Both these lines of thought allow us to avoid making hard decisions as to what our future is going to look like. Neither is realistic, and neither should be accepted.
Georg Hegel (1770-1831)
The German Philosopher, Georg Hegel is credited with developing the concept of a dialectic or Hegelian Synthesis.
We start with an initial state — the ‘Thesis’, the current state of affairs. In response to these problems an ‘Anti-Thesis’ is created. Out of the Thesis and the Anti-Thesis a ‘Synthesis’ is created. The Synthesis is different from both the Thesis and Anti-Thesis but has its roots in both. Hegel illustrated this concept with the political changes that took place in France toward the end of the 18th century. The 'Thesis' was the aristocratic, monarchical, unjust political system (l’ancien régime). Its 'Anti-Thesis' was the republican government that led many of the aristocrats and royalty to the guillotine (aux lanternes). This system itself collapsed, to be replaced by a 'Synthesis': the Napoleonic Empire, which featured an emperor, but not a king, and which continued many of the social changes introduced by the republicans.
This way of thinking may offer some insights as to what form technology will take in a post-climate change world. The ‘Thesis’ is the pre-industrial world, the world before the year 1700. The ‘Anti-Thesis’ is the industrial world that we live in now, and that is now coming to an end. The world that we are entering — the world changed by climate — is the ‘Synthesis’.
The technology of the future may be based on older, pre-industrial ways of life, with modern technology creating the ‘Synthesis’. Some of the lessons we have learned since the industrial revolution started will, it is to be hoped, remain with us. For example, it is likely that we will maintain an understanding of the cause of infectious diseases, and the importance of having clean water and effective sewage disposal systems. Some technologies such as ham radio, may persist. But other technologies — the mobile phone network, for example — could disappear.
Low-Tech / High-Tech Sailboats
An example as to how we could use pre-industrial technology and new technology at the same time is to do with the use of sailing ships to move cargo across the oceans. Powering large ships with alternative energy sources is a challenge. Batteries are expensive and have very limited range. Hydrogen and ammonia have safety issues and their storage takes up valuable cargo space.
But what about wind power? Could we introduce a new generation of commercial sailboats? They would be wind-powered, but they would also use the latest technology in their operations. They would be smaller than today’s ships, but not necessarily all that small. The crew size would be minimal and they would use only nominal amounts of fossil fuel.
Of course, their journey times would be longer than today’s fossil fuel-powered ships. Maximum speeds would be much less, and there would be times when the wind is not blowing at all. But so what? This would be an example of an eco-technic future: a future that uses traditional sources of energy but that also incorporates the latest technology.
If the concern is to do with reduced efficiency (slower speeds, smaller ships) then the response would be on the lines of, “that’s what Net Zero means”.