A World of The Unneeded
by Andy Joppa
“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”…Stewart Brand
For the vast majority of the human epoch “things” came into being because they were needed. In the earliest moments of that adventure, capturing fire and putting the wheel to other purpose than a child’s toy was critical. Energy sources were needed, and we progressed from falling water, to animals, to sometimes slaves, to wind, to whale oil and finally, to the greatest benefactor of the human process…fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have been complimented by the addition of nuclear power in select usage. However, fossil fuels remain the indispensable component of civilization and the quality of human life on this planet. If there were ever a gift from the gods…it is that one.
Along the way we needed large, wind driven, sailing ships for commerce. The railroads were needed for land based, rapid, large scale, movement of goods and people. Planes were needed to bring the world closer for everyone, while also allowing for the needed transport of essential materials on a timely basis.
We could even include air conditioning in this quick introduction of needed items. They opened up habitation in areas that, for all practical purpose would not have been possible were they not able to escape 100-degree summer temperatures. I would be remiss in not mentioning radio, television, and computers as ways of providing leisure time entertainment and providing sources of information for people without other means of accomplishing those needed ends. I will add my personal favorite, but often ignored contribution…ball bearings. It is they that surely make, “the world go ‘round.”
I’m sure, as you read this, you would add other needed “things” that were contributed for the benefit of humans struggling to make life as meaningful and purposeful as was possible for a rather physically inept species. I certainly didn’t attempt to make this introduction a comprehensive assessment of all needed additions. There have been tens of thousands of these moments.
What I’ve tried to do is provide a starting point for the following comment:
“Until very recently it was need that drove the creative genius of our species. As need existed the human mind went to work to satisfy that need. More recently, however, the additions have not been driven by need but, rather, by their very existence. In other words, much of what we see being offered does not satisfy any need of human beings. It is being added because it exists, and, if made mandatory, becomes huge profit centers. Within this approach, applied technologies are ends in themselves. For the most part, there is little to no concern as to whether they satisfy any need or, in some cases, may actually intrude on and damage earlier, far more valuable systems already in place.”
The most egregious example of this is the purposeless pursuit of renewable energy sources. I don’t lament the investigation of these potential contributions. I do lament that they are being offered, and being used, as replacements of fossil fuel energy sources. There is simply no need to do so. Fossil fuels remain in great abundance, with more identified untapped sources than at any time in our past. With little fear of rebuttal, I will offer that fossil fuels will last for at least another millennium …probably longer. They are flexible and are becoming more and more environmentally friendly. What we are seeing is the attempt to end the use of fossil fuels with a technology that has not matured enough take on that role.
We are already seeing that these technologies are not only not needed, but are detrimental to the human process, with rolling blackouts anticipated for the summer of 2022. My case is simple… renewables are just not needed. Fossil fuels are king, and must remain king, if we hope to have stable world in which to live. We are using these new technologies because they exist, not because they are needed. Here, I won’t even address the politization of this process.
To this can certainly be added electric cars. They are certainly not needed. These vehicles, in fact, use fossil fuel energy sources. It is just accessed in a different manner and then stored in batteries. These batteries need eventual replacement at incredible cost…and are made of limited rare earth materials and their disposal will create problems that have not even been addressed. They provide limited mileage, where the number offered to the consumer does not include the use of energy draining accessories…such as air-conditioning.
With the average cost being over $50,000 (well over) they should remain little more than an expensive toy for the elite. Once again, I don’t lament their existence…I’ve been in a top end Tesla…they are even fun to ride it. They are, however, now being offered as a total replacement for internal combustion vehicles by 2030 (in some locales). They are just not needed…certainly not needed as a primary source of personal transportation nor for anyone who is truly concerned with a comprehensive assessment of the environment.
We can add to these driverless cars. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I’ve seen no demand, even minimal, for these vehicles to exist. While low level driver assistance seems to be useful, helping stay in your lane for example, the movement in this direction satisfies no need that can be measured. It is again one of those technologies that might be jammed down our throats because it exists and those creating that existence, have started leveraging political decision makers to move in that direction.
I am pro-science and technology. They have been the primaries in moving our species forward. I contend at this point they have, more often than not, not even considered human need or benefit to the larger human community as the basis of their actions. By so doing, they are displacing more beneficial current technologies, and creating technologies with more “bells and whistles” …technologies that will yield tremendous levels of profit if made mandatory by the government at any level. In its most grotesque manifestation these technologies could mark the death knell for our species.
One can only imagine if this time, money and effort had been spent on large volume desalinization plants…building modern crash free nuclear power plants…improving the safety, while lowering cost of the modern automobile…developed brain controlled prosthetic devices for amputees and paraplegics…developing even better methods for controlling coal plant environmental impact. This list is endless. It’s an easy list to compile since the unneeded investments above have no real value and therefore moving all funds and effort away from them has no downside…only ones offering positive change.