It is interesting to see former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair extolling the virtues of technology as a solution to climate change at the weekend, and I had my own Damascene conversion to this earlier in the year.
The argument really comes down to two choices.
Choice one is a politically driven green future that winds the clock back few hundred years and tries to put the blame or the situation on capitalism, colonialism, racism, greed and all of the other totems of left wing politics. Unfortunately this vision of the future involves not only the environment, but also reshaping the global financial, political and social system, and while the aims are as noble as those espoused by nineteenth century missionaries, it it obviously impractical. Cutting carbon emissions and having a more sustainable lifestyle is fine, but it has to be devolved from politics, because whether you agree with the current system or yearn for the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, things aren’t going to change very much.
The second choice seems far more appealing. Use our thousands of years of accumulated scientific knowledge to understand what is happening with climate change – it is nowhere near as clear cut as those on either side of the argument would have you think – and then try to take some action. While many tend to have a rather simplistic view that technology is responsible for this mess, although I always question how much technology is required to dig up a few lumps of coal and set fire to them, there is no doubt that technology can approach the problem in a variety of ways, everything from geoengineering to fuel additives. One hundred and fifty years ago people were still dying from cholera in London, but science allowed us to understand the cause, and then find a solution.
While I’m obviously a proponent of the use of technology, it is clear that to a problem as complex as climate change there is no easy fix and the solutions are myriad. As Blair puts it in the Times
“The answer to climate change,” he says solemnly, “is the development of science and technology. Yes, we will get changes in the way we consume but we will be consuming differently, not necessarily less. People are not going to return to the 19th century. The critical thing is to use the technologies we have and to incentivise the development of new ones. That is the only practical way we will make this thing work.”
James Forsyth writing in The Spectator nails the key difference between the two approaches, it comes down to optimism vs pessimism
The quote, though, is a reminder of Blair’s optimism. One of Blair’s great skills as a politician, was to argue powerfully that the future can be better than the past.
And that’s the choice we have to make. Do we decide that, as a species, we have or can develop the technology to solve any issue, or do we meekly sit back and accept our fate?