Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Problem of Scale

The recent coal sludge spill was more than just a disaster. It was one indication that our technologies have long since achieved a scale that is bigger than ourselves. And it shows that when such large-scale technologies go wrong, they cause catastrophic mega-accidents that are far beyond our control. The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear disasters demonstrated the incredible danger and destructive power of the “tamed atom” (although nuclear proponents argue that the new reactor designs are “safe,” it is foolhardy to believe in the possibility of 100% safety), and Bhopal illustrated the dangers of the chemical industry.

Unfortunately, Industrial Man is mired in the misguided belief that bigger, more complex technologies are the answer to our problems. So now we have more and more new big ideas, such as beaming electricity down from space. Such technologies are in scale far beyond a coal-fired power plant. They are literally on a planetary scale. Doesn’t anyone stop to think about how we would keep control of such technologies and prevent disastrous mega-accidents?

A technology may be controllable on a small scale because it is easier to cope with its problems, which are also on a small scale. But when you scale up the technology, you also scale up the problems.

Although it is heretical to suggest this, humanity and the Earth could better be served by concentrating on human-scale technologies, and by facilitating that approach through a power-down strategy. Unfortunately, it appears that our leaders are bent on squandering money, energy, and resources in a futile effort to prop up industrial civilization and the infinite-growth economy.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?