01/10/2005: Thought for the Day:
[Salon] Perhaps one difference between ourselves and the Inuit is that we can rely more on technology to buffer the effects of pollution. Many people these days, for instance, use Brita filters. To what extent can we and should we count on technology to protect us?
[Diamond] That's a really key question, and one that I've discussed with some of the most thoughtful people in the business and financial worlds. One was Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a very thoughtful person. I was really impressed by him. Nevertheless, he said -- in a diffident, self-deprecating way -- "Well, I think technology will solve our environmental problems, and so I'm not so concerned about them as I am other things." But I think that he's wrong -- I know that he's wrong.
Let me give you an example. I was born in 1937 so I remember the revolution in refrigerators that happened in my childhood, the introduction of Freon and CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons]. The refrigerator gases that were used in my childhood were things like ammonia. Of course, if they leaked they were toxic, and therefore it was hailed as a breakthrough when these supposedly nontoxic gases, the CFCs, were introduced. They were tested and under earth conditions they appeared to be perfectly benign. What people couldn't predict was that under stratospheric conditions CFCs get broken down into substances that destroy the ozone layer, and it took 20 years to get that well established. And I see that as a metaphor for why technology alone won't solve our problems, namely that there are lots of technologies out there and they have unexpected side effects.
--Jared Diamond, Salon.com interview, "Are We Doomed?"
Len on 01.10.05 @ 06:04 AM CST