I don’t believe in a technological utopia — that technology will magically solve all of our problems. But I do believe that technology has the power to ameliorate some of our worst human offenses. Take our addiction to fossil fuels. Global warming, which predicts a global temperature rise leading to increased natural disasters and flooding, droughts, and a melting of the polar ice caps leading to a dramatic sea-level rise, is among the worst side-effects of our overwhelming presence on this planet.
While some outlets might convince you that the issue is hardly settled, 97% of climate scientists agree we should all take global warming seriously. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather trust 97% of scientists than some blathering pundit on TV telling me that it’s all a liberal conspiracy, and that I should just let the corporations keep on polluting.
But even if you don’t believe in global warming at all (hey, if you want to ignore all the signs and pretend it’s all a Marxist-liberal hoax to take away your freedoms, you’re welcome to your stupidity), you’d be a fool not to see the coming solar power revolution.
Some have called solar power “the new shale.” What they mean is that Fracking, a.k.a. Hydraulic Fracturing, the process of injecting chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas, has been incredibly lucrative. So much so that natural gas in the U.S. is cheaper than ever. The U.S. has become a next exporter of energy.
But while gas burns cleaner than oil, it’s still a fossil fuel, and it still contributes carbon dioxide to exacerbate global warming.
Consider this. In forty minutes, the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface is the same as the total annual energy consumption of the entire world. In one day, twenty seven year’s worth of solar energy reaches Earth’s surface. (source).
Even if we were to capture only a fraction of that energy, once the infrastructure is in place, solar energy is essentially free, and clean. There is no pollution whatsoever, except for the pollution created in the construction of solar panels.
All over the world in recent months I have noticed an upsurge in the number of solar panel installations, both small-scale, and massive. Tens of megawatts per week. A shift is occurring, and it’s happening in parallel with an increased growth of interest in electric cars. And it’s not just Tesla, but all the major auto manufacturers are coming out with electric cars.
If I were a prognosticator, I’d say, “Invest in solar.” It’s set to explode in the next few years.
So, if fossil fuels are so bad for the planet, and solar energy is not only an easy solution, but one that’s poised to leap forward in the next few years, the answer is clear. It’s not just something that should happen, but one that will happen. It is as good for the economy as it is good for the environment, and it’s a no-brainer.
Like I said, I’m not a technical utopianist, but I do believe that solar power has the, well, power to change this world for the better. The sooner we adopt a solar powered infrastructure, the better off we will be.
Believing technology may be the solution to many of humankind’s problems is not the same thing as wanting the trans-human Singularity, that modern cultist, nerdist philosophy that believes in 30 years or less technology will progress so quickly that the future will be as unrecognizable to us as an iPhone is to a goldfish. Believing in the revolutionary power of technology is not an either or proposition, i.e. you believe in the Singularity or you’re a Luddite. I’ve seen it suggested that conspicuous consumption and early adoption really only serve to “fill a crushing vacuousness” in our lives. Maybe in that small case. But the vacuousness is only there if you don’t have a clearly defined long-term goal, if your path from dawn to dusk involves going through the motions, without considering the future beyond the next iteration of Star Wars or version 10 point whatever of your favorite video game.
In other words, an empty life is a choice you make, sometimes without knowing you are making a choice.
Technology can be used for good things, if we make that conscious choice. Solar power, electric cars, satellite internet access to under-served areas of the globe so that people can have greater access to educational materials, which in turn will reduce poverty, ignorance, and subsequently war. Supporting technological innovation doesn’t mean buying the latest gadget and throwing it away as soon as the next version comes out. It means understanding that technology has given us a great many good things: clean water, electricity, information, medicine, transportation, insights into the human condition, etc., etc. And technology will continue to improve the lives of many by many orders of magnitude over the next several decades. We can help both the Earth heal and a great many suffering people live better lives with technology without subscribing to a semi-spiritualist, quasi-messianic view of some post-human Singular age.