I was listening to a discussion on decarbonization (an urgent need for us if we don’t want to make the planet hostile in the very near future) organized by a group of top Indian scientists. It was great to see that really cutting edge work is happening not only in the world but also in India.
The problem of climate change and the increasing presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has clearly reached a point where the time for urgent action has arrived and so it is great to see scientists seizing the moment and proposing scale solutions corresponding to that of this problem on a planetary scale.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the problem cited above, the discussion had to swing between economics and science because, like most “green” efforts we focus on now, the investment needs are huge. for all the decarbonization technologies that we are. experience today.
Hearing scientists wrestle uncomfortably with millions and trillions of dollars, I realized there was an unnoticed angle in the sustainability business sector that was impacting the kind of science happening in this space.
As someone who has been monitoring the “sustainability” space over these years, I have begun to realize that the scientific community is developing a “cognitive bias” that needs to be examined as it may lead us to find solutions that would create another set of problems.
Since the sustainability problems posed to scientists come from large industries (and these projects are also funded by governments or mega-corporations), there is an innate bias to seek only mega-solutions that also require economies of scale.
Unfortunately, as history has shown us, when a sector is pushed towards economies of scale, there is a “socio-economic” by-product and that is the automatic exclusion of small players from the playground.
The net result is the accumulation of more and more “power” in the hands of a few giants, and this consolidation of the big ones leads to the real cancer that is eating up our planet.
If we look at the fundamental problems facing the world since the industrial “revolution”, it is to the amplification of greed that such consolidation of power leads.
The planet is sick today primarily because of the astronomical expression of greed made possible by the rise of big business.
So economy of scale is not a solution but the ultimate problem that needs to be solved.
Unfortunately, where we are today, we don’t really have time to walk the path of “small is beautiful” at the moment, but we also need to chart a future beyond the current “solutions” because they too are part of the same jinn that we will have to force back into the bottle.
If we want a long-term solution to arrive before we self-destruct, the scientific community must embark on a simultaneous journey in the exact opposite direction where technologies are invented that do not work on a large scale and yet are almost as good as those that operate at scale to ensure that a play is created for smaller players to have economic viability.
Understand that the planet already has a carbon cycle that has decarbonized the atmosphere through living organisms, and that this system actually operates in a distributed model. Life on earth did not evolve into a few behemoths populating the planet; but, instead, created an ecosystem model with micro to macro niches that allows a whale and a virus to survive side by side.
The economy of scale is in fact a nightmare for the planet from which we have no urgent exit, but we must recognize that this cannot be the future of humanity living on a speck of planet to which it can’t really hope to escape soon. Assuming we won’t be mining other planets in the near future, we’ll have to make do with this one planet we have, and so we have no choice in expressing the infinite greed we’ve shown at over the past few hundred years.
If we are to survive as a species for the next thousand years, the scaling process must also begin today alongside the Big Science we are experiencing now.
The scientific community also needs to understand that they need to be the first responders here.
The “scaling up” will not come from mega-organizations like states or corporations, because it goes against the grain of their being. The scientific community will have to rise to the occasion and take this risk.
As research funding comes from the mega-actors, there is obviously a practical problem for any scientist wishing to opt for such a “reductive” direction of research to obtain the necessary resources, but scientists (motivated by curiosity and not by wealth creation) are known to face such odds and it’s probably reckoning time for the whole human race, so some of them will have to take the risk of swimming against the tide .
Aided and mitigated by mega-viability across the sustainability business space, our journey to the greatest consolidation in human history is surely accelerating now, especially as the big players now use it as an emotional map.
BUT, there is an inevitable collapse on the other side; and when it hits us, we will need a seed of people and technology that can help a better and wiser humanity rise from the ashes of these imploding mega-systems.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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