Technology vs. Environment

Posted: April 28, 2008 in Futurism

Lately, I’ve been noticing a very interesting trend. In those few times when I watch TV (I’m not pretentious about it, it’s just that there is very little on that I like, and most of what I do won’t be back until the fall) I’ve noticed some commercials that are trending towards the green. Clorox has a line of products now that are environmentally friendly and work just as well. Sure, they’re still in plastic bottles, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.

This trend, which keeps coming up in just about every advertisement, interests me. It’s more than just the fact that green sells now, and it’s popular, so everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. That’s true, and I think it’s great; whatever it takes to help the planet, I don’t care what their motivations are.

What I find most interesting about it relates to an old, and I think outdated, idea. The idea that a choice must be made between the environment and technology. That the more high tech we get, the more we pollute, and the only way to save the planet is to use less technology.

I used to think this too. I used to think that humanity was in a desperate race, hoping to find the technology to solve the problem before the problem became too much. I saw one of two futures happening: either we solve the environment problem with technology and get to continue on as a species until the next Seldon Crisis (if you like), or we don’t and we all (or most of us) die.

But commercials and ideas like these are making me start to doubt the dichotomy. Maybe it isn’t one or the other. Maybe we’re not hurtling towards a tipping point of either survival or destruction. Maybe the technology that saves us isn’t something we have to hurt the planet ever more to find. Maybe there’s a way to start helping the planet as we improve our technology.

A few years ago, when gas prices were just starting to rise, my father predicted that we would see a lot more hybrids and electric cars if gas prices rose above, say, three dollars per gallon. At that point, it just wouldn’t be economically viable to have a gas guzzler any more. Well, gas is at 3.50 a gallon where I live, and I know that it gets above $4 in and around cities. And you know what? My dad was right. The major selling point of cars is no longer how many horsepower they have; it’s what kind of mileage they get.

That’s great for me; I’ve always judged cars by mileage. I want a car that gets 50mpg. I had a VW bug for a while that did that, getting up to almost 60mpg on the highway. But it was a diesel, which means it polluted more. And the diesel was always more expensive, not to mention harder to find (the town I live in now has 2 gas stations that sell diesel, with more than a half dozen that don’t).

But I read about the new technology being developed, and I see that there’s a lot more coming. One article suggested that for $30,000 a person could buy a modified Prius that got close to 80mpg. A new type of battery is being developed that, if put in a car, would allow that car to go 600 miles on a single charge. That’s 600 miles without ANY gas. Between that battery and the hybrid technology in the modified Prius, some people are predicting that within a decade there will be cars on the market that get mileage in the UPPER triple digits. Can you imagine that? A car that got 800 miles per gallon of gas? Who cares if it’s $5/gallon. That’s still a LOT less than it is right now. Now I pay $30 to fill up my car, and around town I’m lucky to get 200 miles out of that tank. That’s $120 for 800 miles. If I could go that same distance for only $5, that would be 1/24th the cost per mile. That’s like four cents on the dollar.

This is what I think is going to happen with technology. There is no limit break where technology starts helping and stops hurting the environment. Or, if there is, we’re past it. The truth is that the more we focus on taking the right way instead of the easy way, the better off we are. And the right way, it seems, is better in every way.

I would love the idea of driving to see my friend in Manhattan and back (a good 14 hour trip), using less than a quarter of a tank of gas. And I’d love to think that my dishes are getting clean in a way that isn’t producing greenhouse gases.

The more technology works to help the environment, and the less it goes aggressively against the environment, the better off we all will be.

Then again, maybe there’s something I haven’t thought of. I’ll write another post about one of those things, but I’m open to suggestions if there are other things that my rose colored glasses can’t see when they look to the future.

  1. Anika says:

    I really liked the article that u wrote and think that its totally the way we are going! Im hoping that technology can help, but im not as optimistic as u r! I think that we may all (or most of us) die because of our polluting, gas guzzling ways! Hoping for your prediction to come true instead of mine! XD

  2. hana says:

    wow…excellent post..I hope technology can help to safe our environment.

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