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Capitalism can't solve Climate Change

  • Environment
  • Philosophy

Those of us who are working to green the web, or technology more generally, can often be guilty of talking purely about technological solutions, while ignoring the rather large elephant in the room: societal change. There are probably good reasons for this. I know that I personally am far more comfortable making bold claims when I can back them up with hard data and, as difficult as that can be for something as large and complex as the internet, metrics like grams of CO2 per watt, and average watts per gigabyte of data transfer, are fundamentally measurable. Move over to talking about societies, however, and the ground suddenly feels a lot less stable. People are already far more complex than computers, but when you add in factors like religion, politics, or even something as seemingly innocuous as eating habits, making objective judgements seems impossible.

That, then, is probably why most of us computer nerds tend to stick to talking about what we know, and leave discussions of societal change to the anthropologists and sociologists. This, however, is dangerous. We know that we cannot solve the problems of climate change or biodiversity loss without making changes to the way we live, but if we all stick to talking purely about the subject areas we feel comfortable about those changes will not happen; we'll just keep trying to make our existing ways of doing things better, without looking at the bigger picture or considering alternatives.

I've tried talking about the changes needed in wider society to halt climate change before, but that has always tended to be a tangential reference in a piece otherwise mainly bogged down with technical jargon and statistics. Today, I'm going to try and talk about it while keeping geek facts to a minimum, I promise.

Efficiency vs Growth

As I've mentioned previously, many of the proposed strategies to halt climate change rely heavilly on technological innovations. Before I start sounding like a luddite, I will say that I firmly believe that modern technology has to play a part in any sensible future. There are simply too many of us on this planet for it to be possible to revert to some form of pre-industrial idyll without massive loss of life, even if we wanted to. Techonology in and of itself is merely a tool, and one that has increased the quality of our lives enourmously. Like any other tool, ho