Just disapproving of society’s direction isn’t enough.
Let me wholeheartedly follow the dynamic duo at Worldchanging in recommending the latest issue of Sierra Magazine. Parting ways with what I fear is still a largely technophobic green movement, it devotes its pages to a celebration of the good technology can do for the earth.
The feature essay by Bruce Sterling will, I fear, come off as a bit airy and abstract for the non-eco-nerds who haven’t immersed themselves in his other work and the issues he only briefly summarizes.
Much more concrete and, well, nifty are the profiles of tech innovators. It’s a diverse bunch, each inspiring in his/her own way.
I also liked the interview with Dave Wann and Dan Chiras, two guys who instead of trying to build new eco-friendly communities are looking for ways that existing suburbs — of which, you may have heard, there are quite a few — can be greened.
Altogether good stuff. And it segues nicely into a very brief point I want to make about the precautionary principle, about which our own Ms. Hymas called me out:
(I say "brief," but I actually had a behemoth 4000-word post on the subject written a few days ago, which I mercifully deleted.)
I have no problem making multinational corporations test their products much more thoroughly before releasing them to the public. The problem there is just your run-of-the-mill greed and lack of effective regulatory apparatus, and the solution is more consistent regulation and more transparent, independent testing. I’m not sure a new capital-P Principle is called for.
My problem with the PP is that it enshrines the technophobia that still characterizes too much of the green movement and too much of the international left. It assumes technology is harmful, evil, and demands that it prove otherwise. With the principle in place, as biodiversivist says, vaccines and antibiotics would have had a hell of a time making it out of the lab.
Technology does much harm. It does much good. If you want it to do less harm and more good, the thing to do is get in the game — like the innovators Sierra profiles — and make something better.
Lots of greens — some who frequent this site — hold out hope for a day when human nature changes and we "evolve" enough to be willing to live with less, content in our peaceful spiritual communion with each other and the land. We no longer seek to expand and transcend, to use tools to manipulate and improve and overcome, to achieve and accumulate and exceed our self-expectations and provide a bounty for our families. Etc.
It’s not going to happen. It’s just not. Really.
So: two people are watching a car roll toward a cliff. One runs alongside, hops in, and tries to steer it away. The other earnestly urges the car to take flight.
Who should we admire more?
Those who urge us to stop the headlong accumulation of knowledge and the attendant development of ever-more-powerful tools (or, more absurdly, urge us to revert to a simple hunter-gatherer life) might as well advocate that we learn to fly. They stand by in inert disapproval while the car rolls toward the cliff. They may not be as blameworthy as those who have steered the car in the cliff’s direction, but their sins of omission make a mockery of their claims of superior virtue.
We’re not going to halt and reverse this fateful course humanity is embarked on. The best we can hope for — all we can hope for — is that we can get smart enough and innovate fast enough to steer ourselves through the coming obstacle course safely. That’s going to require the active involvement of everybody with time, sweat, and ideas to share.
Disapproval is not enough.