Will technological solutions be enough to sustain us and the planet?


The modern western culture has benefitted greatly from the scientific and Newtonian paradigms. This has helped to focus our attention on technical solutions to individual probelms with a reductionist approach. But it turns out sustainability is a challange that requires an appreciation of interdependencies. From the interdepencies we can also learn that seeing wholes is important. Not just whole external systems but also whole people as a part of the system. What do we have to learn about what motivates people to ‘do the right thing’ and reduce their plastic usage for example? How can business gain from this and lead the way? How can organisaitonal values be re-prioritised to support less plastic over marketing and profit concerns? These are questions that i have been researching for 15 years and have culminated in a university awarded doctoral thesis in December 2017, “Embedding sustainability into organisational DNA: a story of complexity”.

Intrinsically Motivated
Complexity Science
Leadership Development
Action Research for real world problems
Integral Theory
Josie McLean, PhD
35 months ago

8 answers


Josie, What a great question! Thanks for enticing me into the Convetit space!

My short thought to your question is:
'Let's focus on the root cause with complexity awareness and then use tools that align with how all life works - Where the scale of enquiry is process focused from the elemental, through the microbial, through the biological, to the human psychological. Business can gain by simply adopting such a Holistic Stance!'

In my view much technology is jousting at windmills when it is driven by lesser motives - (greed, fear, control, ignorance, insecurity) - The hard truth being that in the transition from a mechanistic view of how life functions, to a complexity aware stance, most of what we believe to be true will be shown to be wrong! Yet who dare say that the emperor has no clothes!

The vital signs of a growing gap are showing through whichever indicators you choose. Show me a technology that aligns with how all life works and we have a winner!

Sadly we have no common basis around which even to discuss the 'viability' merits of a given approach, practice or tool!

The main evidence we have however is the increasing fragility of the biosphere, and significant loss of species and biodiversity, including the increasing fragility of the human immune system, to inform us that at present our technology is too biased towards the domination of nature!

The good news is that many of the solutions are out there being tested; Their primary capacity being unfettered human creativity to create and use tools that align with how all life works - such tools can 'inoculate holons' at a scale and pace that leave most 'conventional' technology in the rear view mirror. Watch out for recovery, regeneration and long as the ai does not dominate the IA. (ai = artificial intelligence; IA - Intelligence Amplification

So my short thought to your question is still the same:
'Let's focus on the root cause with complexity awareness and then use tools that align with how all life works - Where the scale of enquiry is process focused from the elemental, through the microbial, through the biological, to the human psychological. Business can gain by simply adopting such a Holistic Stance!'

As I wrote this I am reminded of a piece written by Daniel Quinn - (I note he did omit scientism!)

Sinking Ship

  • The ship was sinking---and sinking fast. The captain told the passengers and crew, "We've got to get the lifeboats in the water right away."
  • But the crew said, "First we have to end capitalist oppression of the working class. Then we'll take care of the lifeboats."
  • Then the women said, "First we want equal pay for equal work. The lifeboats can wait."
  • The racial minorities said, "First we need to end racial discrimination. Then seating in the lifeboats will be allotted fairly."
  • The captain said, "These are all important issues, but they won't matter a damn if we don't survive. We've got to lower the lifeboats right away!"
  • But the religionists said, "First we need to bring prayer back into the classroom. This is more important than lifeboats."
  • Then the pro-life contingent said, "First we must outlaw abortion. Fetuses have just as much right to be in those lifeboats as anyone else."
  • The right-to-choose contingent said, "First acknowledge our right to abortion, then we'll help with the lifeboats."
  • The socialists said, "First we must redistribute the wealth. Once that's done everyone will work equally hard at lowering the lifeboats."
  • The animal-rights activists said, "First we must end the use of animals in medical experiments. We can't let this be subordinated to lowering the lifeboats."
  • Finally the ship sank, and because none of the lifeboats had been lowered, everyone drowned.
  • The last thought of more than one of them was, "I never dreamed that solving humanity's problems would take so long---or that the ship would sink so SUDDENLY."

Sinking Ship © 2018, Daniel Quinn

Christopher Cooke
35 months ago
Chris, i love the sinking ship story - will be sharing thsi widely! And i also see that 'the thinking that got us here will not get us there!". Holistic thinking that is aware and acts on an understanding of all holons is the way forward, Perhpas this awareness is the 'new technology'? - Josie 35 months ago
Hi Josie - perhaps this awareness develops the frameworks that help us choose the appropriate tools for the job of which Technology is just one! Alan Savory is quite agile in his thinking that there are - in addition to the tools of human creativity, money and labour, - only 4 tools; Technology, Rest, Living Organisms, Fire are available. Interesting and proven! :) - Christopher 35 months ago
Chris, thanks for the sinking ship. It is exactly the problem we have with the climate change issue right now, but I had not seen it phrased as well! - Mark 33 months ago
Mark, Thanks for this - Daniel Quinn has an interesting range of writing. He says he keeps writing because people keep on coming up with more questions! - Christopher 33 months ago

The world leaders, ergo Trump, Putin, and May's Boris Johnson, remind me of those days in history when South America was run like a runamok bunch of Banana Republic huntas trying to out play the others for more power and territory.
Modern technology is proving that it can be used to manipulate the masses by flooding them with old-style counter-intelligence, old wine in new bottles with a degree of direct contact with voters in target countries that is putting Democracy at risk.

Cort M. Johns, PhD-HSG
35 months ago

While Economists will share their view of supply and demand relationships, for forever sustainability both sides of the equation should be examined. For example, when one thinks about technological Solutions (TS), most likely it is with respect to the supply side. let me share some examples to better clarify supply side TS. 1) adding optimised fertilizer to the ground maximises agriculture production for specific crops; 2) enhancing fishing fleets with modern engines to go out longer, automating the ship, and installing rapid chilling equipment allows the boat to instantly freeze the seafood to ensure maximum loads are collected in a minimum time; 3) adjusting the food fed to consumption animals will optimise costs, increase animal size with specific feed, and with automations, reduce labour. In summary, supply side TS relate to reducing time to undertake, doing things better, maximizing yields, and reducing costs. While there are many other examples, it is normally the supply side that gets the attention. Conversely, demand side reductions in TS include items like .... hmmmmm... much tougher to find specific items that are frequently in the news. Macro issues like famine, war, disasters, and medical while not TS, have the same impact as the demand side is reduced and therefore reduces the strain on the supply side. Thus business opportunities arise from undertaking brainstorm sessions around supply side economics - that is how can a process be sped up, what new automation can be implemented, what portions are redundant, and what change will the end use customer actually pay for. Those are my 'normal comments, though out side the box thoughts include TS ideas to reduce our eating and simply 'pop' pills of vitamins, energy, and nutrients. Taken to the extreme, what if society agreed that after an 80 year life, the person is removed? What if we transposed a large part of the population to the moon? or elsewhere, perhaps under water. I am not supporting these ideas, rather stating that extremes TS ideas can be analysed on paper top see the outcomes and rated in terms of effectiveness. Policies can be established based on insight obtained. Bill

William Gwozd
35 months ago
Hi William, thank for your thoughts. We as humans tend to naturally favour technoloical solutions, because it means wew dont have to reprioritise our values in ways that those solutions you suggest as possible Demand Side technological solutions require. The decision to change our views on the way we live or die, require us to change the way we see and feel about things. - Josie 35 months ago

Technological solutions may not be enough to sustain us and the planet but very useful, if properly harnessed, to create conducive and harmonious living conditions worldwide.

This is because technology is a product of the human intellect and every problem is a purpose for the product which technology represents. Every technology is designed, developed and deployed to solve a particular or set of problems based on the understanding of a given need or situation during the time of action. A technology is an integration of tools and techniques (processes) enabled by an effort or source of energy (inputs) and space over a given time for the performance of an expected activity (outputs).

Technology has evolved over time to enable humans gain better mastery of their situations, problems, and needs. Technological solutions that are used for communication such as telephone, internet, aeroplane and space rockets have contributed immensely to our understanding of the planet and relationship with people and the environment. However, technological solutions in the 21st century context have been mainly about automation, simulation and artificial intelligence; which are causing debates and concerns on whether or not a limit should be established.

Essentially, the concerns are about health, security and ethical issues or their implications. Technological solutions comes with their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. From concerns about GMOs to drone technology, human microchip and cloning; there is growing anxiety of an impending global unemployment and financial crisis due to the Impacts of disruptive technologies across businesses, borders and economies. Nevertheless, the benefits of technological solutions are many. For instance, I am able to make this contribution only because of ICT. Convetit is a good example of an innovative ICT platform using artificial intelligence to connect brilliant minds and ideas together from around the world for the common good of the planet and people.

Renewable energy solutions are another group of diverse technological applications which may be physical, chemical or biological and capable of being used to address the problems of environmental sustainability, climate change as well as providing power supply for wealth creation and sustainable development globally. Clean energy technological solutions are being developed to address the challenges of poverty and unemployment; creating opportunities and transforming lives. Radiography, radio-diagnosis and telemedicine are being used to address the burden of diseases. Vertical farming and other "green" technological solutions such as green buildings are being used to address hunger, energy efficiency and waste management. Electric car technology and similar non fossil fuel based innovations are the current efforts to reduce carbon footprints and usher in a greener, healthier and prosperous future.

The cost benefits utility of technological solutions are justifiable to conclude that though they may not be enough to sustain us and the planet, they can be used to create conducive and harmonious living conditions worldwide, if properly harnessed.

Adeshola Kukoyi
35 months ago
My concern is that if we just become more efficicent, price drops, consuption increases. This is known as the rebound effect. In relying upon technology and cost/benefit analysis, are we even solving teh 'right' problemns. Does solving problems, move us toward the future we wnat if we do not spend time discussing the type of lives we really want to live? - Josie 35 months ago
PS. My apologies for the typing erros above - hope you can make sense of it. - Josie 35 months ago

Quick answer and reason: At the trajectory (speed x direction) at which technological & human evolution is increasing, yes humans will metaphysically, mentally and physiologically be equipped to save the world before it kills (save ourselves before the world we created kills us).

Hapoy to discuss!

Jahnia Sandford
33 months ago
Agreed; and subject to our ability to handle the necessary 'reframing' of what we believe to be presently true! Our greatest risk is uninformed technology. - Christopher 33 months ago
Christopher - Absolutely agree! As tech companies and government change as a result of intelligence advancements it is supremely essential that people in power reflect balance in diversity in perspective and expertise. Otherwise, even the sightless imbalance will lead to our doom (or pose increasing challenge to the ease of our survival) - Jahnia 33 months ago

Anything done to improve planet Earth by increasing recycling and sustainability is a good thing. Technology is a very helpful tool that should be used for making the world a better place. Better farming techniques, using GMO's and equipment made it possible to grow more food to feed more people. It also allowed to grow food in areas that were in more difficult to grow areas. Everyone needs to increase their knowledge about what items that can and can't be recycled. This education should start from the recycling companies themselves and be promoted by all levels of government. These programs will help the educated consumer make a better choice as to what product to buy and use that can and will be more Eco friendly. This should be accompanied with making recycling mandatory all across the USA and worldwide. This thought process of reduce, reuse, recycle will reduce the amount of garbage thrown away into our landfills. This hopefully leads to less trash thrown into the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams the world over. The manufacturing industry should help by reducing waste, using more recycled products in their manufactured products and designing more biodegradable product packaging. Some areas of the USA are making electrical energy through the use of burning trash to heat water. This changes to steam to turn turbines which generates electricity. This helps to reduce the amount of trash that is disposed of in landfills. 

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
33 months ago


Publication of the garbage patch study coincided with a new report from Britain, Foresight Future of the Sea, that found plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” is mounted to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. The report declared plastic pollution to be one of the main environmental threats to the seas, along with sea-level rise and warming oceans.
The study included two aerial surveys in October of 2016 that took 7,000 images, and 652 ocean surface trawls conducted in July, August, and September of 2015 by 18 vessels.
The surface trawls also filled in the rest of the story.
Fifty plastic items collected had a readable production date: One from 1977, seven from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, 24 from the 2000s, and one from 2010. Researchers also found 386 objects with recognizable words or sentences in nine different languages.
The writing on a third of the objects was Japanese and another third was Chinese. The country of production was readable on 41 objects, showing they were manufactured in 12 different nations.
The study also concluded that plastic pollution is “increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” Others are not as confident that the conclusion indicates a dramatic change in distribution of marine debris. Much of the world’s marine debris is believed to lie in the coastal regions, not in the middle of oceans.
Leonard says he was impressed with the scope of the study. “It’s strong science,” he says. “But at the same time, in this field, the harder we look, the more plastic we find.”

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
33 months ago

Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash-most of it plastic -is dumped in the world's oceans every year.

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

According to the EPA, plastics make up more than 12 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, “a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream.” US residents are buying more plastic, and only about 8 percent of it gets recycled. The plastics industry rarely uses recycled plastics in the vast majority of their products, unlike the glass and metal industries. The recycling arrows stamped on plastic products and the cities that collect every type of plastic via their recycling programs lead people to believe that all plastic products are recyclable and being recycled, and that’s simply not true. Non-recyclable plastics are separated and landfilled.

Some plastics we know are toxic, such as #3, which is also known as PVC or vinyl. PVC contains phthalates and heavy metals, and creates dioxins when it burns. Other plastics contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been identified as a chemical that disrupts hormones. Plastics can contain thousands of possible additives, and manufacturers are not required to disclose what their recipes are. Any plastic can leach, depending on the conditions (light, heat) and what additives it includes.

David Barckhoff-Sag-Aftra/Producer, Director
33 months ago

Have some input?