Friday, February 17, 2012

Some thoughts on technology and utopia through invasion

Any critical words on technology, and one is labeled a neo-Luddite. But being constantly surrounded by technology and taking a class titled Knowledge, Power and Practice in Science, Technology and Medicine (pardon the pretentiousness) has kept critical issues of technology at the forefront of my mind. This is not to mention the constant talk of "green" technologies in the news and in magazines.

I understand that we live in a technological society. Today, our every interaction is mediated through technology, and that without technology, we feel empty. I would go so far as to say that we feel alone. We feel alone not because there is no one around us, but, because, as cyborgs, our identity firmly encompasses our relationship with our technogizmos. Many people would not mind spending days away from people, if only they had their trusty computer or slick iPhone with them. Part of me thinks, to each his own. If technology makes someone happy, then, well, that's great...But part of me thinks, instead, that this is an sad indicator of a lack of community, that as fundamentally social beings, we find solace in experiencing what we want to experience, rather than being open to new experiences through the vulnerabilities of being social. Furthermore, what technology represents and how it is brought into this world is in no way neutral or benign. Rather, there are politics embedded in them that serve very certain purposes. (I can write more about this another time.)

I think that this technocraze stretches further than us as individuals. As a collective, we hope that it is our new technologies that will replace older ones, opening up new routes towards cornucopia and utopia. I have been ambivalent about the prospects of large scale every thing, including wind and solar energy, not only because their production raises important geopolitical and pollution issues, but also because they further stabilise a system, an ethic, of reliance on technology, rather than in our non-cyborgian selves, to address the problems we face.

There is something that I hadn't really thought of, though, that Paul Kingsnorth brings up in his fantastic essay, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist in the recent issue of Orion. He writes about how the "green" technologies, those promoted by eco-modernists, will invade some of the only spaces on this Earth that have been relatively untouched by humans.
...This reductive approach to the human-environmental challenge leads to an obvious conclusion: if carbon is the problem, then “zero-carbon” is the solution. Society needs to go about its business without spewing the stuff out. It needs to do this quickly, and by any means necessary. Build enough of the right kind of energy technologies, quickly enough, to generate the power we “need” without producing greenhouse gases, and there will be no need to ever turn the lights off; no need to ever slow down.

To do this will require the large-scale harvesting of the planet’s ambient energy: sunlight, wind, water power. This means that vast new conglomerations of human industry are going to appear in places where this energy is most abundant. Unfortunately, these places coincide with some of the world’s wildest, most beautiful, and most untouched landscapes. The sort of places that environmentalism came into being to protect.

And so the deserts, perhaps the landscape always most resistant to permanent human conquest, are to be colonized by vast “solar arrays,” glass and steel and aluminum, the size of small countries. The mountains and moors, the wild uplands, are to be staked out like vampires in the sun, their chests pierced with rows of five-hundred-foot wind turbines and associated access roads, masts, pylons, and wires. The open oceans, already swimming in our plastic refuse and emptying of marine life, will be home to enormous offshore turbine ranges and hundreds of wave machines strung around the coastlines like Victorian necklaces. The rivers are to see their estuaries severed and silted by industrial barrages. The croplands and even the rainforests, the richest habitats on this terrestrial Earth, are already highly profitable sites for biofuel plantations designed to provide guilt-free car fuel to the motion-hungry masses of Europe and America.

What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

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