In case you missed the news, humanity just spent the Earth Day week reaching another sad milestone in the history of catastrophic climate change: For the first time, measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million—aka way above what our current ecosystem can handle.
Actually, you probably did miss the news because most major media outlets didn’t cover it in a serious way, if at all. Instead, they and their audiences evidently view such information as far less news-, buzz- and tweet-worthy than (among other things) the opening of George W. Bush’s library and President Obama’s jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Such an appetite for distraction, no doubt, comes from both those who deny the problem of climate change and those who acknowledge the crisis but nonetheless look away from what feels like an unsolvable mess.
That sense of hopelessness is understandable. After all, some of the most hyped ways to reduce carbon emissions—electric cars, mass-scale renewable energy power plants, etc.—require the kind of technological transformations that can seem impossibly unrealistic at a time when Congress can’t even pass a budget.
Here’s the good news, though: The fastest way to reduce climate change shouldn’t seem impossible, because it requires no massive new investments, technological breakthroughs or long-term infrastructure projects. According to data compiled by former World Bank advisers Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, it just requires us all to eat fewer animal products.
Twelve emerging technologies—including the mobile Internet, autonomous vehicles, and advanced genomics—have the potential to truly reshape the world in which we live and work.
Young-jin Choi's insight:
Interesting comparison: Critical needs, serving as a basis for the LIGTT’s search for the “50 Scientific & Technological Breakthroughs Most Critical to Sustainable Global Development” vs. the impact assessment by the McKinsey Global Institute “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy“.
On the one hand, the world yearns for technological solutions to pressing global challenges including (1) Food Security, Agriculture & Rural Poverty; (2) Urban Poverty; (3) Health, Water & Sanitation; (4) Education; (5) Governance, Rule-of-law & Human Rights; (6) Recovery from Environmental Damage, Natural Disasters & Conflict; (7) Household Quality-of-life; (8) Low-carbon Pathways to Workplace Productivity; Epmowerment & Inclusion of Women, (b) Energy Production & Storage, and (c) Water Access & Conservation. (of note: what about true democracy and participation?)
On the other hand, many of the economically most disruptive technologies which – according to the McK report – are anticipated to transform business and life over the next decade have little to do with those needs. The greatest impact is anticipated (in the following order) for 1) mobile internet, 2) automation of knowledge work, 3) internet of things, 4) cloud computing, 5) advanced robotics 6) autonomous vehicles 7) next-generation genomics, 8) energy storage, 9) 3D printing, 10) advanced materials, 11) advanced oil & gas exploration and recovery and 12) renewable energy. Although I have the impression that the impact assessment for software-based technologies may be overstated relative to hardware-based technologies, the report is probably right in that many disruptive technologies will probably be developed in order to serve the needs of those customers who are able to pay, i.e. rather wealthy post-industrial countries.
The missing alignment between humanity’s needs and technology development indicates an interesting case of market failure. Nevertheless, you probably won’t need disruptive technologies to improve the living conditions for hundrets of millions of people on the planet. This point is nicely illustrated by the admirable Open Source Ecology project, which has the potential to solve several of humanity’s challenges and represents an interesting step towards utilizing the wealth of knowledge that may be hidden in expired patents and other public information. But even if the technologies and the knowledge (education) were available - effective governance and policies, as well as financial commitments from post-industrial countries for investments in sustainable economic development are still needed.
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