I read with great concern some of the recent news reports highlighting the imbalance in weather patterns. According to a recent report from the meteorological department this year the temperature rose to 38.2 degrees Celsius at Ocala in Maharashtra on 29th January. It was reported that this was the highest in last 50 years. This and many similar revelations are alarming.
I have always believed, and said, that uneven patterns of climate change is scary and require all of us to take a grim view. It calls for immediate action. The challenge of global warming and climate change is no ordinary challenge. I am reproducing some excerpts from the speech which contain my views on Global Warming. It was delivered at the International Conference on Science & Technology Capacity Building for Climate Change on October 20-22, 2002, New Delhi.
“The phenomenon of Climate Change is the most dramatic manifestation of a created imbalance in the relationship between man and his eco-system. We know that the earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era and that these changes are primarily attributable to human influence. The concentration of green house gases and their radioactive forcing have increased mainly as a result of human activities. We know that the globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the next 200 years - about two to ten times larger than the central value of observed warming during the last 100 years. 1998 was the hottest year in the past one thousand years. Seven of the ten warmest years ever recorded occurred between 1990 and 1999.”
“The adverse impacts of these changes are numerous. There is evidence to show that recent regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases, have already affected many physical and biological systems in many parts of the world. A general reduction in potential crop yields in most tropical and sub-tropical regions, decreased water availability, an increase in the number of people exposed to vector-borne and water-borne diseases, an increase in heat stress mortality, widespread increase in the risk of flooding and increased energy demand. Sea level rise and an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones would displace tens of millions of people in low lying coastal areas of temperate and tropical Asia.”
“Current scientific and technological approaches to dealing with the issues of climate change are, in my view, fundamentally flawed. Firstly they confuse symptoms with the disease and offer cures which can at best delay the consequences. Secondly, within the framework of the linear, mechanistic and reductionist science within which we are imprisoned we tend to break every problem into isolated parts and hope that a part by part solution of the whole is possible.”
“Is this what science is about? I have always believed and will continue to believe that science has a divine purpose, which is - 'to know', to probe and probe and constantly stretch the frontiers of knowledge. Should we stop asking questions because the questions cause discomfort to certain entrenched and powerful interest groups? Should we allow the scientific agenda to be determined by those who would rather not have us ask questions which embarrass? Never.”
It should be evident, though it is not to many, that as long as the goal remains to have constantly higher levels of consumption with unlimited consumer choice and profit maximization as the predominant value, efforts to tackle the problem of an imbalance between man and his ecosystem have little chances of success. In a situation where unbridled consumer choice is unquestionably accepted as a value, it is impossible to go beyond technocratic and economist approaches to sustainability. A purely economic and technological solution to unsustainable forms of production and consumption is an impossibility because production and consumption are social acts and unsustainability is primarily a social problem. Social problems apparently created by technology the way we presently understand cannot be solved by the application of yet more technology. Social problems have to be understood in terms of social value systems and values have to change fundamentally for the problems to be resolved. The question is how do we institutionalize policies and structures which prevent or eliminate the use of non-sustainable technologies and stimulate the use of sustainable ones? Relying purely on market forces under distorted market conditions will delay the achievement of sustainability goals. On the other hand regulatory mechanisms have severe limitations as do any statist interventions. The challenge is to create a social environment and forms of governance and power structures which provide the framework for the expression of collective initiative and community control as well as the development of the full capabilities and creativity of the individual. Is it possible to create a society in which the distinction between social and technological values, the first reflecting the values of man, the second those of the machine no longer exists?
Let me now turn to the role that technology can play in finding solutions to the problems created by the Climate Change phenomenon. I have on many occasions, elsewhere, made suggestions on remodeling our technology development and technology application processes so as to be similar to natural processes. A natural eco-system functions as a closed loop involving slow changes, which occur at a pace which allows time for adaptation to the natural environment. In contrast, technology has so far used a linear approach in which resources are extracted as though they are inexhaustible, processed to make synthetic products which have no natural counterparts, involve lengthy transportation both of raw materials and manufactured products and each step impacts on the environment and generates waste. Further technology design is insufficiently evaluated in terms of its impact on nature. We need technologies which completely eliminate the concept of waste, we need to design every process so that the products themselves, as well as leftover chemicals, materials and effluents can be reused in other processes. We need quantum leaps in energy efficiency and a shift from non-renewable to renewable sources, by applying the principle of de-carbonisation.
Some years ago, Robin Clarke of Biotechnic Research and Development in UK catalogued a thirty five point criteria for what he called a 'soft technology society'. These include. ecological soundness, low energy inputs, use of renewable and recyclable materials, craft industry orientation, integration with nature, democratic politics, decentralization, emphasis on agricultural diversity, community control, multi-disciplinarity, science and technology not dependent on specialist elites but performed by all, among others as the essential constituents of an ideal social system and as the criteria for evaluating the appropriateness of technology solutions. Some of the categories are possibly contradictory and some impracticably utopian but the overall approach they represent makes for- a coherent statement of an ideal society. With some modifications to reflect contemporary developments and some flexibility, such a criteria can serve as a measure for differentiating between 'good' and 'bad' technology, and for setting standards for scientific and technological capacity development.