Sunday, August 24, 2008

The necessity and inevitability of technological advancement

As our technology has advanced and our population has increased we have placed more and more of a strain on our environment. Since the Industrial Revolution the generation of energy has pumped CO2 into the atmosphere causing global warming. Also the population has more than doubled resulting in more resources being consumed. Because of this some people have come to believe that humanity has advanced too quickly and that we're killing the planet prematurely, a few even think that we should go back to pre-industrial technology. However, these people should realize that what humanity has done isn't completely our fault, it's just our most basic instinct that is common to all life.

All life, from viruses to humans seek on a subconscious level to exploit all available resources to the fullest and procreate until they have completely dominated their environment and cannot go any further. This is what the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as the "Will to Power" in its most basic form. The problem is, once the population exceeds gets too large for the environment to support individuals start to die off until the population becomes manageable again. When humanity evolved sapience it became better able to exploit its environment and with the development of agriculture was able to reshape said environment in order to extend the population limit. For over 12,000 years now, humanity has been using technology to continue growing without limits until 250 years ago when technology began to threaten the entire planet with drastic changes to the ecosystem.

Most current technologies that are used to generate energy alter the environment in some way, fossil fuels release CO2 and other pollutants, hydroelectric blocks rivers and floods large plains, nuclear fission produces radioactive waste. However there are technologies in development that could produce energy with hardly any environmental impact. Satellites could gather solar energy and beam it down to earth while only requiring materials to build them and space to put receiving dishes. Nuclear fusion could generate immense amounts of power using very small amounts of fuel and only produces helium. Biotechnology has the potential to create organisms that could remove pollutants from the atmosphere. As for material resources there is always recycling and we could potentially use asteroids and other extraterrestrial objects to extract additional elements. Though eventually our population will grow so large that we will either need to colonize other solar systems or disassemble every large object in the solar system and construct a Dyson sphere that will capture all of the sun's energy.

And just in case you're wondering about what would happen if we went back to pre-industrial technology, civilization wouldn't be able to support more than a couple billion people and we would have the biggest genocide in human history. Also if we continue using fossil fuels and cause the global warming disaster prophesized by environmentalists, humanity will survive and continue to thrive (unless the heat causes a super-plaque) but many if not most of the planet's species will become extinct. So as you can see, our only real option is to work through this environmentally traumatic phase in our evolution and develop better technologies.

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