Monday, June 24, 2019

#175 / Not Doomed After All?

Writing in The New York Times, Jon Gertner suggests that "We're Not Doomed After All." Gertner is speaking about global warming, which is putting the future of human civilization in peril - not to mention the fact that it is leading to massive extinctions of living things. Gertner thinks there is a "technological fix." 

The illustration above, as a matter of fact, is a graphic representation of one of Gertner's ideas. He suggests that we can use wind power to pump cold ocean water to the surface, to help thicken sea ice.  This idea is just one of the many technological solutions that Gertner suggests ought to be possible. 

The "good news," says Gertner, is that we have an enormous amount of climate knowledge amassed over the past 100 years, and if we would just start using that knowledge, we should have every confidence that our scientific knowhow will ultimately excuse us from having to make "widespread behavioral changes, like consuming less, traveling infrequently and adopting a plant-based diet." 

Ok. Ok. We probably will need to do these things, Gertner admits, but "in the end, it's technology that will save us, not only because it can, but also because it must."

There are some people who regularly read this blog. Such regular readers will know that I don't advocate resignation in the face of any challenge - including the challenge posed by global warming. I did not, for instance, give a positive review to Guy McPherson's visit to Santa Cruz. Speaking about global warming, McPherson explicitly told his local listeners to "give up hope," and to enter into a period of planetary "hospice care," which he claimed is the only proper response to global warming. I was not, and am not, very supportive of this "we're all doomed" message.

Still, and despite my predisposition to believe that we can "do anything" within the human world that we construct, I want to quarrel with Gertner, just as I quarreled with McPherson. Gertner seems to portray "technology" as independent of human (political) choice. Here is Gertner's assertion about that:  "Technology will save us...because it can [and]... because it must."

Well, technology is just human beings doing things. There is no independent "technology" that will come from on high (or from elsewhere) to solve our human-caused problems. In fact, changes in human behavior are needed to confront the global warming crisis, particularly because human behavior has caused it. Various actions have been suggested, including trying to find new technologies that can help, and including efforts to change basic patterns of human activity that we have come to take for granted (like "consuming less"). Gertner's big pitch is for technological approaches, because he wants to minimize the uncomfortable fact (he admits it, as I have already indicated) that big changes in human behavior are necessary. "Consuming less" is right there at the top of the list.

Here is my basic quarrel with Gertner. In positing a "technology" that acts independently of human activity, which is what that sentence about technology actually claims, Gertner is forgetting that humans used to rely on just such an independent, assisting force, working in our favor, and without any effort by us. It was (and is) called Nature. MOTHER NATURE! Very loving and supportive, Nature was assumed to foster and support all life. Gertner apparently thinks human beings should take over running the planetary processes upon which all life on this planet depend. Sea ice thinning? There's a machine that can cure that problem, according to Gertner.

My "Two World Hypothesis" is intended to draw our attention to how foolish this approach is. We live in the World of Nature. We didn't create this World, and we will either live within the limits it imposes or we will die. That just happens to be the fact. Within the human world that we create, which is a "political world," we can do anything. In our human world, we make the "laws." The laws and rules we establish for ourselves, self-prescriptions by which we tell ourselves what we think we should do, have efficacy ONLY within the human world. 

Should human beings really be trying to figure out ways that they can, through technology, determine the thickness of sea ice? Good luck, Jon Gertner! Better to use our vast inventory of scientific and climate knowledge to figure out the limits to which we need to conform. 

Confronted with a global warming crisis that has been caused by our own behavior, there are some things we can do. We can change our behavior, instead of constantly assuming that we can change the Natural Laws that govern the World of Nature into which we were so providentially born. 

We could, for a starter, "consume less."

And get rid of plastics. 


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