Could new technologies help humanity solve its problems?
Technology is a tool; it has no goals of its own. It serves the purposes of those who control it. Consider, for example, a hammer. It's an excellent tool for construction. Now suppose that someone is holding a hammer and is coming at you to hurt you with it. Would you try to solve the problem by giving him a better hammer? Of course not! Solving the problem requires changing the goals of the person who is using the technology. If technology is controlled without considering social equality, human rights, or the environment, it is not going to advance those issues. Agricultural companies, for example, say that genetically modified crops will solve the global hunger problem. It's just bullshit. If they wanted to, those companies could solve the global food problem with presently available technologies.
Prediction is not scientifically possible for systems in which human actions influence the path of change.
What is the role of technology in thinking about climate change and action?
Advances in computer science and in meteorology have given much better understanding about the causes and consequences of climate change. Some other technologies, such as those providing energy alternatives to fossil fuels and those facilitating energy conservation may give us a little more time to act. But fundamental solution of the growing climate crisis requires changes in human goals and behavior, not more photovoltaic panels.
What is the key to achieving that change?
There is no single key. Achieving that change will require many actions. Foremost among them will be to develop positive images of a world without growth. Most of human history, over 300 thousand years, occurred during times of essentially zero growth. The expansion of the population and economy over the past several hundred years is an anomaly, but it has come to be accepted as the norm. To have some constructive impact on the future we need to have a better understanding of a world where the search for physical growth has been replaced by a desire for social and psychological development. We make that shift automatically for our children. Now we need to make it for our civilization. The English definition of the word "mature" is "fully grown, in one’s prime." An important priority is to understand how we can achieve a mature global society.
What kind of action are you thinking of?
In 1972, the priority should have been to slow down before exceeding the planet's sustainable limits. The opposite happened. The most attractive long-term social futures now require us to get back now down below the carrying capacity of the planet and to solve many concrete problems: for example, change social security systems so they do not depend on debt; prepare for the four-fold increase in refugees that will result from the inevitable sea level rise before 2050; shift agricultural production to rely more on solar energy and less on fossil fuels. All this requires profound psychological, political, and economic action, and we must start by altering the addiction to growth.
Interview by María Inés Plaza Lazo and Tobias Müller.