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Bruce Sterling: Can Technology Save the Planet?
Alex Steffen, 15 Jun 05

It's incredibly gratifying to see debate about how to build a bright green future welling up in other media outlets. I love the fact that the ideas we cover here on WorldChanging are seeping out in more and more places. And I find it incredibly hopeful and inspiring that Sierra decided to commission a piece from Worldchanging Ally#1, Bruce Sterling, Can Technology Save the Planet?:

Massive technological change is coming. Are we ready? Given the pace of technological innovation we have experienced in the past 50 years, by mid-century we will have an infrastructure as radically different from today's as industry in 1900 was from that of 1700.

If we handle the huge transition correctly, it will be worth cheering. In 50 years, nature will be less oppressed, culture will be wiser, government will take new and improved forms, industrial systems will be more efficient and capable, and business will be less like a rigged casino. Purveyors of art, fashion, and design will see what went on nowadays and bust a gut laughing in derision. Our children and grandchildren will get up in the morning, look at the news, and instead of flinching in terror, they will see the edifying spectacle of the world's brightest people transparently solving the world's worst problems. This sounds utopian, but it could soon be everyday life.


In the era of global warming, catastrophic change caused by humans is no longer limited to one region or even one continent. The atmosphere is tainted with emissions from pole to pole. Grass is growing in Antarctica. Nobody can "conserve" a landscape from planetary changes in rain, heat, and wind. The job at hand is aggressive restoration: We need to use technology to tear into the artificial environment the way our ancestors tore into the natural one. That means intervening against ongoing damage, as well as ripping into the previous technological base and rethinking, reinventing, and rebuilding it on every level of society. We need to imagine the unimaginable to avoid having to live with the unthinkable.

Aw... just go read the whole thing. It's totally worldchanging, and it rocks.

(You can also download a snazzy PDF here. Thanks, Glory!)

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All Hail Pope Emperor! Good article. If any of you are truly interested in Aggressive Restoration, please contact us. We decided decades ago to be in design with desertification and soil husbandry. We have worked out a display of what we have done, having torn into conventional agribusiness techology and out of landscape denial, from pesticide application to aerobic compost tea protection and regeneration.

Posted by: Kim McDodge on 16 Jun 05

Bruce is right, our technologies are growing steadily more subtle. This makes them directly more powerful, more dangerous and more beneficial. I think the key things to focus on is the technology that lets us replace technologies and the decisions we make when installing new technology in terms of durability or cheapness.

It's always been extremely expensive to replace ubiquitous and durable technologies, replacing railway lines, resurfacing highways, refurbishing sewer lines, upgrading the air traffic control system, eliminating Y2K from millions of lines of legacy COBOL code or replacing the entire fossil fuel based economy.

All these things were made to be durable for good reasons and they are a real pain to upgrade for better, cleaner and more subtle methods.

On the other hand some technology is made cheap and quickly obsolesent for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons. It's good because sometime short product life drives money into research for better products. It's bad because some products are commoditized and mostly static, like toothbrushes. I think this is where his biodegradability idea comes in.

The problem is finding the right balance between durability and cheapness. There are advantages to both as well unexpected consequences to both.

Posted by: Mr. Farlops on 17 Jun 05



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