Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are you a Climate Change Technological Optimist?

A technological optimist thinks that climate change will be solved through technology development and that human societies will continue to thrive and grow wealthier in the course of a transformation away from fossil fuels. Humans will innovate their way to a brighter future as technologies emerge to support new electric power systems, agricultural systems, modes of transportation, and urban design. The technological optimist believes, in short, that technology will save us.

A technological pessimist emphasizes the risks and costs of technological change.  In the pessimist’s view, climate change is a complex social problem for which there will be no easy technological fix.  Rather, climate change will lead to significant societal disruption, and an appropriate response is to return to a simpler, less technologically-dependent existence.  For the technological pessimist, yesterday’s technological solution is today’s social problem.

I think it is fair to say that the media tends to endorse a view of technological optimism.  And I feel somewhat hopeful when I read stories about skyscrapers that inhale carbon dioxide, super-efficient rotating solar panels, and "smart" windows that switch to dark mode.  Yet I also perceive truth in technologically pessimistic proclamations like the People's Agreement adopted at the April 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabomba.  

Where do you fit?  You may see yourself in both, but does one or the other view predominate for you? At times during my climate change class this past semester, I found myself feeling like quite the pessimist in comparison with my students.  

- Lesley McAllister


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