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The Green Life: Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us or the Environment

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February 28, 2012

Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us or the Environment


Techno-fix cover photoIn the last one hundred years — a mere blip on the geologic time scale — the world has seen amazing scientific and technological advances. From the electric cars on our highways, to the genetically-altered foods on our plates, every aspect of our life is touched by technology.
What's more, scientists and inventors promise to find solutions to the many environmental problems that we now face. . . . Or will they?

In their new book, Techno-Fix, Michael and Joyce Huesemann warn that our confidence in technology and belief that it will save us is "suicidal" and that many of our inventions are causing more harm than good. A bit like David taking a shot at Goliath, the two are taking on the current system.

Huesemann says he doesn't hate technology, he just wants it to be used for something good. "We need to shift science and technology in a new direction because our best scientists are busy building better weapons and increasing corporate profits, while only a very small fraction are devoted to solving environmental problems or making us environmentally sustainable. Our federal government spends $70 to 80 billion each year for national defense research, compared to about $2 billion for environmental research."

He says that instead of addressing the root causes of our problems, we use "techno-fixes," which only address the symptoms, like the plan by oil companies to start pumping COinto the ground.  What's more, techno-fixes always have unintended consequences, which means we need to come up with a new techno-fix to solve the problems created from our last techno-fix.

Shortly after graduating with a PhD in chemical engineering, Michael Huesemann went to work for a large international company. Thinking they had hired him to solve environmental problems, he was dismayed to learn they wanted him to work on getting more lenient environmental regulations for them. Feeling an ethical conflict, he soon left and took his career in a new direction, pursuing renewable energy.

He says that was the birth of this techno-fix project and the reason why he especially wants students to examine their values early on and decide what they will and will not do, pointing out that many physicists end up developing weapons and organic chemists end up creating harmful chemicals. "Every profession has this ethical conflict, it's always a choice to do something constructive for social change or the environment.' 

Even if we get a handle on our population and consumerism, he says "it will be a major challenge, have a major impact on society and take incredible effort by industry to make these changes." For Huesemann, the solution is simple: convert entirely to renewable energy, use only sustainable materials, recycle everything, and produce only biodegradable non-toxic waste. 

Looks like we're gonna need a lot more than a quick techno-fix.

--Cyndy Patrick/image courtesy of Michael Huesemann

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