Technology : we need a radical change

The crisis brings a great chance and also a great danger for the future of green technologies. We make a choice. It’s considered that any crisis of the system means not only negative consequences but also new opportunities for the system to be changed. The crisis we live nowadays is not excluded. Nevertheless, many defenders of the green ideas are reasonably concerned about the financial difficulties which can provoke the power and the business postponing green initiatives, widely discussed in the age of high fuel prices, for indefinite time.

In March 2008, not far before than the shattering consequences of the global financial crisis started to affect the stocks, oil prices has renovated its absolute historical maximum kept unbeaten from 1980, and then fall four times in few months. Although the nature of the nowadays’ crisis is other than that of the two oil cracks of 1974 and 1980, its consequences for the green and energy-saving technologies development are likely to be mirror-like similar (or opposite): among a lot of revolutionary ideas which were born in the age of fall, only the most economically efficient have survived in the age of rise (or vice versa).

Thus, even though industry and other fields of economy get innovation stimulus during certain period of the crisis, they can’t change its nature. The history of automotive industry in the 1970-s is a classical example which describes this phenomenon: conceptually new models like VW Golf and Renault 14 have been launched on the top of oil prices. They were notable, comparing with the earlier models, for their smaller size, engine power and fuel consumption, and at the same time were more comfortable and functional then democratic “beetles”.

However, with the oil fall and the growth of welfare in developed world, full-size and powerful cars won over and even increased their market share. A similar situation happened in the petrochemical industry: environmental regulations in Europe have restricted sharply on the line of the wave of green awareness of 1970s, while the high fuel prices have provoked the industry to increase energetic efficiency. But more and more new products of the industry, like plastics, aerosols and other consumer goods, day by day were appearing in the households and finally unrecognizably changed our everyday life.

Perhaps if oil cracks would not have happened, we had to invent them to accelerate the progress of renewable energetics. But the technological achievements of that period in general, have also streamlined social processes to the opposite direction: the decades that followed oil crises are often called “the age of consumerism”.

Today we live an absolutely different crisis: complex environment catastrophe, the consequence of which is global warming, is an objective reality. Solution to this problem should not depend on the period of the economical cycle we are in. The industrial lobby highlights that thanks to the crisis, followed by the decrease of production and consumption in general, greenhouse gases emission has started to decrease as well.

But association of the crisis with salvation of the planet is a merely myopic view. The effects of climate change will not be cyclical or short-term so even with the distraction of the current crisis, it is not going away. Thus, if our economic and social setup will not be rethought during the age of slump, we will have no efficient tools of climate change control for the new turn of global economic growth. Plunging oil prices have made environmentally friendly technologies relatively less costeffective while thinner profit margins have prompted big industrial users of power to tighten their budgets for sustainable energy programs.

Re-equipping the economy in these conditions of poor liquidity and low investment attractiveness seems to be almost an unsolvable task for authorities and business. This problem, among others, has been discussed during The UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan on December 2008. Delegates were discussing commitments on financing strategies tackling climate change in the developing world, making clean energy technology accessible across the globe, reversing deforestation in the tropics, and helping poor countries to adapt.
According to the agreements of the summit, 40 percent of the world’s power generating capacity has to be replaced in the next 5 to 10 years.

The European Union is also getting into motion. On Nov. 26, the European Commission announced a 200 billion euro economy recovery plan that includes targeted investments in carbon reduction as a linchpin to reignite Europe’s struggling economy. The plans of Barack Obama also implicate unprecedented volume of investments for the green sector.

Supporters of these measures affirm that financial aid will promote economy and help those counties to get out of the crisis. Even assuming the reasonability of such a policy, one shouldn’t forget that it’s aimed to the growth of final consumption. Moreover, no matter how efficient new technologies are, I can’t imagine the growth of developing countries without the growth of energy and raw materials demand.
All these cause concerns that taken measures will not save us of the next economic cycle, and we will not be able to stop the magic link of “economy growth – pollution growth”.

The most evident and less probable solution could be the abandonment of economic model dependent on final consumption, which can mean the collapse of all modern state and business institutions. Since it can hardly happen, we should think about transition which can help avoid ups and downs we’ve recently seen/…/, create new sectors that are conducive to fighting climate change and jobs as well. In my opinion the last is impossible without enactment of new international agreements, which will state the right of living in a health-safety environment as one of the universal rights. Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 after the most terrible war in the history of humanity, could not instantly save all people of the world from suffering, but it vectored international policy for long years ahead.

In the same way, a new environmental framework convention should initiate the transformation of technology and economic setup worldwide. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration already mentions the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family. However, the general character of the statement cannot imply the ways of realization of this right, especially within a modern context. In other words, there is nothing said about the right to living in a safety environment or right to consuming clean air, water or food.

We need a statement similar to the European Convention on Human Rights or other framework agreements allowing effect efficiently environmental policy through the internal and external policy of the signatory states. Without this type of agreement, developed counties will go on buying abroad and consuming goods, even produced with hard violations of environment regulations, and will have no motivation to invest into the green technologies in the developing world.

Technology and economy transition will fail without changes of values of all of us. The 20th century has shown that technology can change the society. Now is a turn of society to change technology.

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