B: So are you done or you want something else?
G: Well, I am almost full, but maybe could do with another beer
B: Alright..excuse me, can you repeat the beers please?
B: Great..so apart from work, what’s up?
G: Well, mostly same old same old..some action on the environmental stuff
B: What! Still fighting the green battles? I thought u had moved on from those childhood pastimes
G: If you are going to be as dismissive as always, then let’s talk something else
B: Hmm..no, for once let’s talk about it seriously..I don’t doubt the good intentions of the greenies, but their approach to solve problems is pointless
G: And why is it pointless?
B: Ok, consider the whole peak oil thing in the early 2000’s. There were all these proclamations of how we were running out of oil, how it would go up to 500$ per barrel, and that we had to give up a lot of modern conveniences and go back to the meager lifestyles of our ancestors to survive.
And then what happened? Fracking technology which was being developed for decades unknown to the masses was eventually successfully applied, and the world is producing more oil than ever.
G: And will all that fracked oil not run out one day? To me that seems more like kicking the can down the road.
B: You can’t think of extractable reserves of oil in a linear way. They are also a function of the available technology, prevailing price etc. But that’s beside the point. We are now rapidly moving to electric cars and electric transport. The energy is increasingly getting generated through solar and wind technologies. Technology never stands still.
G: That’s moving the goalposts a bit. The peak oil guys were concerned more about the finiteness of oil rather than the finiteness of energy itself. A lot of them were pretty excited about renewables though they were not that optimistic about the timelines involved. Ok I admit, we have been surprised how soon renewables and batteries have come down in cost.
But that’s again beside the fundamental point.
To me this unbridled technological optimism to the point of recklessness seems as if constantly jumping off a high cliff, and then expecting a whirlwind to arrive in the nick of time and deposit us back to the top. Ofcourse we haven’t touched on even larger issues but we will get to them later.
B: But it has never failed to happen. The ingenuity of the human mind is infinite when it comes to problem solving. Consider this, we have even come up with AI systems that beat us hands down in games like Chess and Go. We are creating things smarter than us. And super intelligent beings will one day be our descendants, beings far more capable than us at finding solutions.
G: We do however eventually run into constraints imposed by the laws of physics. Faster than light communication for example is not possible. Another example, for a long time, optimists felt that Moore’s law would continue indefinitely. Now people are not so sure about that.
Also, just thinking about the long term and ignoring short term issues is highly irresponsible. There are many examples where many of us have been hurt by the side effects of technological development. The higher incidence and severity of droughts and storms is not likely coincidental and it has killed many. Can you with a straight face tell those who have lost loved ones that technological fixes will turn climate change into a transient problem? No amount of solar panels and electric cars can compensate for their loss. AI enabled weaponry is another menace brewing over the horizon.
B: While I don’t have a ready answer to that, it’s also irresponsible to overly think of short term effects and deemphasize the long term structural advantages brought about by technology. The industrialization you indirectly blame..for climate change effects..it has also made the world much wealthier and lifted billions, literally billions out of poverty. AI will also bring about affordable driverless taxis making car travel accessible to all sections of society. AI will bring robotic assistants and companions for the elderly improving their quality of life significantly.
G: I can’t deny that. I guess then we both have some answers but not all. Discussion and compromise seems the only way forward.
B: I agree.
G: Good to see you appreciating the alternate point of view, and not being your usual dismissive self.
B: Haha. Maybe I am feeling accommodative due to a the beer. But I am happy you have found a way to feel victorious in the debate!!
G: No need to get so touchy. I am just pleased you agreed with me for once.
B: Alright..what were the larger issues you alluded to earlier?
G: Well, some philosophical ones. Technologists view nature as something to be conquered and controlled. Environmentalists view it as something to coexist with. We have to protect ourselves from its hard side and revel in its good parts, not replace it entirely.
Why cut a tree if a branch will suffice!
And even about the branch
One should think twice..
B: Interesting. Time to go now but we should meet again..