As a continuation of my post from Monday (What is CleanTech… and, is it really an “industry?”), my thesis continues to be it is not an industry, but CleanTech is indeed a “movement” or a shift in business thinking that will allow for some very new and creative businesses solutions to emerge. Today I expand into the first of the three pillars (environment, energy, and international cooperation/legislation) that will increasingly bring all business sectors together and drive them to innovate and incorporate clean technologies… or, not at our species’ peril.
Not unlike bacteria, humans continue to produce (and reproduce) until they have reached an unsustainable peak. Evidence of this is the persistent need for expansion as was seen in the Roman Empire; or more starkly, the rapid decline of the Mayan culture. While the recent financial turbulence may not have long-term effects on overall population growth, as we project our consumption rate of our available resources and crowd into the space we have left to grow into, it has become increasingly apparent that our environment is a very real constraint to continued unbridled growth.
In the past we have, slowly, identified alarming symptoms and traced them to their cause. Slower still, we have used legislation and economics to curb the unchecked exploitation of the environmental commons. Yet, as some humans have attempted to slow deforestation and reduce the use of many carcinogens, noxious chemicals, ozone depleting gasses and more through controls, their efforts are often stymied by a global capitalist economic system allows for graft and lobbying efforts by those who profit (at least on the short term) from looser and less sustainable regulation. Consequently, our environmental situation is becoming increasingly dire.
As the human race has moved into almost every cranny of the Earth, even those previously vacated because of environmental degradation, we have come to realize that it is not a very big place after all. Sustainable economic success is predicated by some level of environmental harmony lest we wipe ourselves or our customers out. We have become too adept at taming nature to suit our short term needs, and as the World’s population grows, we see that there is no where else to go. Economically driven environmental disasters like Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez oil spill produced effects felt by fellow humans globally, in the past these have been the kickstart needed to curb environmental exploitation.
The success, if not comfort, of our species hinges on recognizing that there is an equilibrium and that we should not produce things that the earth cannot reabsorb in a balanced fashion. The energy resources we have grown accustomed to using have shown themselves to be finite, especially when consumed in the quantities we are familiar with. Furthermore there is strong evidence to suggest that the earth will face repercussions from carbon and other effluents of fossil fuel – climate change is only one of them. Similarly, myopic humans cannot consider ‘geologic time’ which means we cannot accurately estimate the long-term effects of nuclear radiation on our containment strategies.
Our environmental situation is such that processes that don’t operate in a sustainable cycle will need to be eliminated. Or we can wait for cataclysmic disasters. Or we need to have much smaller population then we will once again be able to trash a campsite and move on to the next one in the hopes that by the time the next human arrives nature will have repatriated our trash into organic matter and smoothed the ripple of our presence.
I wouldn’t worry too much about “mother earth” – she will continue to exist well beyond us, the question becomes can we keep it as a place that is inhabitable by humans.
More to come on Energy and International Legislation… in the meantime, don’t forget to vote for CleanTechies. As they say, vote early and vote often – you can do it once every 24 hours.