“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” — John Naisbitt
Like many other people, I get a kick out of the exciting new technologies coming down the pipeline. Ever since I watched Tomorrow’s World on the BBC as a child (do check out this archive classic from 1979, heralding the mobile phone), I’ve been excited about the potential of technology to improve our human world.
I was there in 2006 at the first view of the Tesla Roadster in Palo Alto, California, and was blown away by the silence and speed of this beautiful machine. The following year, I was an early adopter of the iPhone. I love playing around with virtual and augmented realities.
But now, increasingly, I’m questioning the assumption that newer/shinier/faster is necessarily better. At the risk of sounding Luddite, some of these technologies are not improving our world. Quite the opposite. For example, you’ve probably seen headlines such as:
And even while we are able to manufacture more and more efficient devices, we more than cancel out the benefits by buying more of them. Meanwhile, our old-fashioned, linear manufacturing processes are still taking raw materials, turning them into new toys for humans, and then dumping them in landfill. The new circular economy is gaining traction all the time, but still has a long way to go.
You may have heard of IPAT. It sounds rather cute, like “I pat my head and rub my stomach”, but it’s really rather scary. It is an equation relating to environmental impact, credited to Paul Ehrlich:
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology
Population: in the last 50 years has risen from 3.5 billion in 1967 to 7.6 billion in 2017
Affluence: globally the average GDP per capita has risen from $653 (current US) in 1967 to £10,192 in 2016 (Source: World Bank)
Technology: is the rogue factor. It can drive down impact by increasing efficiency, or it can increase impact by boosting demand. In his book and TEDx talk, Paul Gilding argues convincingly that we have never experienced an age when technology was even close to mitigating rises in population or affluence.
So this is our job. To those who propose that we technologise our way out of the sustainability corner that we have painted ourselves into, good luck. I wish you well, and I hope you succeed.
But meanwhile, I’m putting my time and energy into the human element of the equation. There are already a number of variations on IPAT, but I’d like to propose this one: IPATW (although obviously it’s rather harder to pronounce).
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology x Wisdom
Wisdom is free of charge, it’s renewable, it has zero environmental impact, and we all have it (well, almost all). It isn’t well rewarded under current economic models, which value short term gain over long term sustainability. But this new, wise, caring economy is what the world needs right now.
For another symptom of our environmental impact, I was shocked by this statistic reported in The Guardian: Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals.
In my own life, busy times! Just back from several weeks of traveling, and last Wednesday I was at an alumni dinner in London for the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs at Yale. If you are a city mayor, or know one, I’d like to make a quick plug for a convening of the Global Parliament of Mayors, being convened by Yale World Fellow Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol. Mayors have a key role to play in the world right now, so please spread the word!
On Thursday I delivered a speech at Sports Formal Hall at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. On Friday I was in London to speak to the Asia Europe Political Forum about plastic pollution in the oceans. And of course, on Saturday, it was the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Windsor, where I live. I found it interesting to note that although I have significant reservations about organised religion, inherited wealth, and even marriage, I was as caught up as anybody in the magic of the day, which represented the best of British in every way. Wonderful that the Royal Family is embracing diversity and expanding its gene pool. 🙂
Now I’m back home and full steam ahead with The Sisters. As you may have gathered from the last couple of blog posts about the problems of capitalism, I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by the role of complementary currencies to create a better world, and am exploring ways to combine yin currencies with women’s networks to transformative effect. Stay tuned for more details!