Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Half-Assed List of Technology Priorities

Yesterday I posted about staying in denial, denial that we all have to change our way of life if we want to live on a habitable planet. I have already had these thoughts, but the book As the World Burns brought them back.

One form my denial takes is another among the stages of grief: bargaining. I first remember bargaining about this when I was reading Bill Bryson's At Home. I was on an airplane (of all the ironic places to be contemplating our fossil fuel use) and reading the chapter called The Fuse Box, in which he describes how the discovery and exploitation of petroleum saved the whales from extinction and just how cold everyone was in their pre-central-heating houses. I scribbled in the margin of the book:

I'd be willing to give up cars, planes, and the long-distance trucking of food if we can just keep electric lighting, gas heat, running water and sewage.
Reading As the World Burns reminded me of that thought, and I sat down to rank our modern conveniences in reverse order. Which ones are most important to me, and which would I most gladly give up? I realize this is all bargaining, as I said, but it feels useful if I want to have something to say about public policy as we work toward a sustainable future. We need to have priorities in mind.

So here's my list, more or less in order, with the top of the list covering the things I want most to keep. I'm sure I've forgotten some major items, and of course, many of these niceties are interdependent. But it's a start. I've put an extra space between sections that seem like break points of importance:
  1. Clean water
  2. Central heating (which could be subsumed under electricity, but is not in Minnesota, where almost everyone in the Twin Cities uses natural gas heat)
  3. Electricity (which give us not only light but ovens, fans, power tools)
  4. Sewer systems
  5. Running water (not sure if this covers hot running water, or if that should be separate... showers)
  6. "Sanitary hygiene" products needed for menstruation (though we can all get by with the Diva Cup, it sounds like, instead of scads of disposable products)
  7. What I would consider basic medications (my Imitrex, vaccines, antibiotics, insulin, thyroid medications)... the things a large majority of people need to live without pain or disability to at least 75 years of age
  8. Eyeglasses (including reading glasses)
  9. Paved roads (though not as many or as wide as we have them currently)
  10. Bicycles
  11. The internet and mobile access to it (which implies computers)…this keeps us all in touch so we can work on solving the problem
  12. Refrigeration (does this cover freezers and ice? I guess so)
  13. Key work vehicles like tractors, threshers, fire trucks
  14. Buses and public transit generally
  15. Trains and long-haul trucking (freight)
  16. Cotton and machine-made fabrics, mass-produced clothing
  17. Washing machines
  18. Meteorology and weather radar
  19. Air conditioning
  20. Photography
  21. Radio
  22. Cars
  23. Dryers
  24. Microwaves
  25. Telephones
  26. Airplanes
  27. Television and film
  28. Intercontinental shipping
  29. Guns and all weapons
(I don't know where to rank really old technologies like paper and printing. They're like the air to me.)

So that's it. It's an idiosyncratic order, I'm sure. What do you think? What's missing here?

No comments: