The role of technology in sustainable development

Many people rely on technology to solve environmental problems all over the world. This can be attributed to an almost universal reluctance to deal with the social and political changes that would be necessary to reduce production and consumption. This poses the most important question: Can Technological change reduce the impact of economic development sufficiently to ensure that other types of change will not be necessary to reach a fully sustainable world.

A fully sustainable world by the implementation of new technologies. Is this even possible at all? I believe it is not. At least, not by the hand of technology. The notion that technology could solely provide the change we need is based on the idea that a continual economic growth on our finite world  is possible with new technologies. Although these might provide alternative solutions to short term problems, on the long run, technology will only help us to use what we have left in the most efficient manner available to our disposal.

This idea in itself is not sustainable in any way. It does not resolve the problem of exhausting limited resources. One way people think we could be remotely "sustainable" whilst exhausting these limited resources by only using technological change, would be if we can limit the use to such an extent that we find an alternative for the nearly depleted resource, and this resource has the time to regenerate sufficiently before its alternative is nearly depleted. Here, the next problem arises. Once a resource is depleted it is pretty hard to actually regerate the resource. Think about trees. Would forests quickly regenerate from one tree? No. Wood for example, would only become a sustainable resource if it would grow back as fast as we use it.


Pieter van Hall