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The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

By Graham M. Turner

When questions of population growth and sustainability are debated, the silver bullet of technological progress is usually proposed or implied. But historical evidence and simulations of the future demonstrate the danger of relying on technology.

Graham Turner is a senior analyst with the National Futures Group at CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.

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The debate about population and sustainability has typically been fraught with rather simplistic and at times conflicting arguments. Many focus on population alone. Others focus on the potential for technology to deliver sustainability. Some touch on our materialistic consumerism.

For instance, some suggest that our population is too big to be sustainable; others that our population is not big enough for a healthy growing economy. Claims are made that we can’t control what population level we will have while calls go out for more immigrants to fill skill gaps. Some question how more people will be housed or fed or supplied with water, and so on.

Numerous technological solutions are proposed to help in achieving sustainability. Often we’re told that large efficiency gains remain unexploited: we can switch over to clean fuels, or to renewable energy, or we’ll find more resources.

Many of these suggestions, as valuable and well-intentioned as they appear, fail to address core issues underlying our sustainability dilemma. Some apparently good ideas, like increased efficiency, are unlikely to deliver the environmental goods – in fact, they may even make things worse.

But people are naturally innovative, and technology will have to be part of any attractive solution. Unfortunately our reliance on technological fixes is likely to worsen environmental...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.