Will technology save the world?

Will technology save the world?

The world is not in good shape. We are depleting nature’s resources too fast and global warming is threatening our future. Should we save the world by consuming less? Or should we radically opt for more growth and more prosperity? That was the central theme of the latest Miles Ahead Session.

With so many tech insiders and founders of tech startups in the room at Sociëteit De Verloren Kost, there was a lot of positive thinking about technology’s role in creating a better future for mankind. During his introduction to the main speaker Jan Deschoolmeester, Miles Ahead’s Product & Technology Advisor Maarten Mortier noted that people have become more rational and less emotional in their position on climate change. “We have become ‘homo meta sapiens’, as we have started thinking about ourselves, our role on the planet, and what we really want to achieve.” According to Mortier, we have modernized society at a breakneck pace. “We were able to invent new things that were thought impossible by previous generations.” And more positive change is coming our way, thanks to emerging technologies like biology and technology (Mortier’s moniker for biotechnology, combining the strength of nature with human creativity), algorithmic innovation (aka artificial intelligence), energy abundance (cold fusion, advances in solar technology), and applied quantum engineering.

Green thinking 2.0

These are all technologies that Jan Deschoolmeester wants to embrace. Together with philosopher Thomas Rotthier, he wrote the book ‘De wereld red je niet met minder minder minder’ (‘You don’t save the world with less less less’), a manifesto on ecomodernism. Deschoolmeester describes ecomodernism as a science-based environmental movement that wants to liberate nature and elevate humanity. He positions ecomodernism as ‘green thinking 2.0’ a more positive approach than the gloom and doom of the traditional ecological movement. 

Deschoolmeester thinks the modern challenges can only be solved by going for more growth, not less. Ecomodernism firmly believes that growth is possible without eating too many of nature’s resources. Overpopulation is an issue that can be solved by bringing more prosperity: if all people have a decent income, the number of children per woman will decrease, effectively putting an end to overpopulation.

Concept Validation

Naturalistic fallacy

Prosperity also protects against the consequences of climate change. If society is prosperous enough, people can buy air conditioning, preventing deaths during heat waves. Purification of water will lead to better overall health. Deschoolmeester warns against the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ that says that anything done by nature is better. “The land use of biological agriculture is too big. It’s better to use genetically manipulated crops that have a higher yield and use less land. Cultivated meat will reduce CO2 emissions. Sometimes nature is better, but sometimes something artificial is better.” It took the Industrial Revolution to liberate a large part of the global population from poverty and scarcity. Further technological advances will further liberate humanity. 

It is clear that ecomodernism has no taboos: genetic manipulation of crops is OK, nuclear energy is OK, and editing genes with CRISPR technology is OK. “Thanks to advances in technology, we don’t have to wear face masks during this meeting, vaccines have taken care of that,” Deschoolmeester argued. 

Bad growth vs good growth

During the debate following the presentations, not everyone agreed. According to Steven Vromman, (aka Low Impact Man) progress has gone too far. “Is it really a human right to have heated terrasses in winter? Is it really a human right to be able to snow in the Dubai desert?” He reminded the audience that the ten richest countries use up more than half of the natural resources. ‘If everyone wants to live in the same luxury, we need three planets.” Vromman pleaded for moderation, not more consumption. 

An Beazar, founder and CEO of Enprove, took up a middle position. Enprove help companies to reduce their energy and water impact while realizing growth. In her contacts with enterprises, she notices that they are getting more conscious about sustainability. Banks, for instance, are taking sustainability into consideration when backing companies. She thinks we need a combination of technology and policy: governments can play a role by putting a price on CO2 emissions.

Thomas Rotthier concluded the debate by saying there are both bad growth and good growth. Good growth brings prosperity without impact on the environment, enabled by clean technology.

Article written by José Delameilleure.

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