Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Technology is Not the Answer

The American technology fetish continues unabated and almost unchallenged. We think we can solve all of our problems through new technologies. This includes environmental problems. For instance, the Times is all excited about a West Virginia coal plant refitted to bury some of its carbon emissions. Basically, the carbon dioxide will be pumped into the ground several hundred feet below the surface. If this works, the argument goes, we can counteract many of our global warming issues. Clean coal indeed!

There are myriad problems though. As the article suggests in a brief respite from fawning over the idea, no one actually knows what's going to happen to that carbon dioxide. Will it stay in the ground? Some fear it could lead to earthquakes. What we do know is that it will lead to some kind of unintended consequences. All of our big technological projects throughout history have led to unintended consequences. The ultimate example is climate change; no one intended that this would happen or even guessed that it could, but it surely is despite that. Trend's discussion below of dams and the destruction of river deltas is another great example. Something will happen with that carbon. Burying it underground and then forgetting about it is not going to solve our problems.

In other words:

Technology. Is. Not. The. Answer.

We cannot continue to rely solely on technology to get us out of the messes we make because that technology usually creates more messes.

The other major problem with this technology is a continued focus on consumption rather than production as the real problem with burning coal. As a society, we do not care what damage natural resource production causes, whether that's oil in Kuwait, minerals in Bolivia, or coal in West Virginia. Out of sight, out of mind. It's the tangible signs of pollution that we care about--refineries belting out poisonous gases, discolored rivers, the feeling that each summer is warmer than the last. But the people of West Virginia are seeing their lives destroyed by the coal companies, the land undergoing permanent alterations that leave it a man-made desert. Isn't this important too.

Clean coal is a lie. Don't believe it. We have to get off coal as soon as possible. This needs to be a national priority. Technology is not going to solve our problems. Even switching to wind and solar energy will have unintended consequences. But nothing is worse than burning coal.