Can technology feed us?

Once wholly faithful in the ability of technology to solve all of what ails our society, today I’ve become more cynical, more skeptical.  If my teeth fall out because I didn’t take good enough care of them?  Technology can fix that.  If we spill oil in the ocean?  Let’s just clean it up with bacteria that eat oil.  That way when it happens again, we’ll be more prepared.   The reason I’m skeptical these days is that technology promises to let us off the hook.  It promises to fix what we’ve broken.  And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a dangerous mind set to get into.  If extrapolated, it may imply that we can destroy our world, because technology will fix it.  A good analogy here is recycling.  Our faith in recycling eases our conscious.  We are led to believe, whether on purpose or not, that recycling is a lossless cycle.  But recylcing is extremely expensive and energy intensive.  And is not sustainable indefinitely.  But if we can develop better and better recycling plants, it means we don’t have to worry about our level of consumption because we can just recycle everything!  It’s backwards thinking, in my opinion.  The goal should be how to use what we have efficiently, not use whatever we want then rely on technology to fix our bad habits.

With regards to food, we’ll need technology going forward if for no other reason than we need to undo all the damage we’ve caused.  Soil erosion, runoff, groundwater pollution, emissions.  Many of these problems are too deep to fix without some creative technological solutions.  I’m just worried that if we manage to mitigate a lot of these problems with technology, will we forget the lessons of the past?  Will we become of species waiting for the next technological revolution?  Will we reach a state where consumerism will be entirely sustainable and our food will be nutritious, cheap, and accessible to all?

I was irked by this line in particular: “Then there is a whole different group of highly technical people who are building robotics for the field, sensorbased technology, automated watering systems, new food-packaging technologies, and big-data-related inventory control to reduce waste.” These, he says, are “the people who are going to solve the big problems.”  The implication here is that the consumer is powerless.  We must rely on technology to solve the big problems.  It paints the general population as powerless.  It even insinuates that people who care deeply, but are not in the world of high tech are well meaning, but ultimately useless.

Technology is incredibly important.  I don’t mean to shun it or fear it.  At this point, we need it.  But it cannot be our savior.

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