Category Archives: Innovation

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

"Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?" (Source: The Baffler.com)

Absolutely brilliant, must-read article by David Graeber (“Debt: the first 5000 years”) about the lack of technological progress in the last 40 years.

KPMG Says ‘Hidden’ Environmental Costs to Double Every 14 Years

The costs of environmental impacts from businesses are on track to double every 14 years, according to an analysis of 10 global "megaforces."   Ranging from climate change to the growing middle class, these megaforces are expected to significantly affect corporate growth over the next 20 years, says KPMG International.” (Source: GreenBiz)

Read the full KPMG report: “Expect the Unexpected. Building Business Value in a Changing World”.

If there ever was a case to put sustainability at the heart and in the DNA of business, this is surely it.

Computing in the Long Emergency

How will ecological, energy and material limits affect computing in the post-carbon future?  

Challenging thoughts and provocative questions in this good Energy Bulletin article. Will "the Internet of 2032" be "a lot more like the Internet of 1992 … than the Internet of 2012"?

Must-read for anyone believing IT is the key to the Great Transition.

Environmental tax reform: increasing individual incomes and boosting innovation

European governments could simultaneously reduce income tax, increase innovation and cut pollution by introducing well-targeted environmental taxes and recycling the revenues back into the economy.”  

Two new reports published two weeks ago by the European Environment Agency got little visibility in the media.

Read the full reports:

Eco-innovation Action Plan Launched

The European Commission launched last week the Eco-innovation Action Plan. The Action Plan is part of the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative and builds on the 2004 Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP).   It is remarkable to see how "silently’ this initiative was presented and how little media attention there has been.

Does this mean these initiatives are just "hollow phrases" with no real impact?

Miracles or magic?

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has found himself a new cause: climate change. It took him quite a while to discover the biggest threat to the planet but, then again, for years he did not believe in the Internet either. His gift for foreseeing trends has kind of let him down after he became one of the richest guys on the planet.

That said, when Gates speaks, the world listens. So his presentation at TED 2010 made headlines and is currently one of the hot topics in the blogo- and twittersphere.

Gates wants the world to “innovate to zero”, that is to invest in technology (preferably in which he has a stake) to reach a zero-carbon economy by 2050. His presentation (to be seen here) promoted one of his latest investments as the key to doing that: the Terrapower traveling wave nuclear reactor.

At first sight, Gates becoming the next Al Gore (is he trying to get the 2011 Nobel Prize?) is good for the sustainability community, no? So why am I not convinced?

First of all, unlike Alex Steffen on WorldChanging, Gates focusing in on climate will just add to the story that “global weirding” (again one of those great Friedman phrases) is the most important problem facing the planet. As I have explained in other posts, it is NOT. It is just the tip of the iceberg of a way of life (of consuming and producing) which is unsustainable when it starts to be imitated by the world’s most populated new economic giants.

Secondly, as to be expected from the IT geek, his religious belief that technology will save us is touching but hardly believable. We might wish that “the Force be with us” but that does not make it so. Like carbon capture and storage, the Terrapower reactor (a nicer name for the failed “fast breeder” according to some) is still more of a dream than commercial reality. Without serious changes in lifestyle and behavior we will not beat “The Empire” as Luke Skywalker knew very well. “Be afraid, be very afraid”, we will have to face our deepest fears.

David Roberts of the Grist (“Why Bill Gates is wrong“) has a great analysis of why innovation always seems to mean development of new technology instead of innovation in our social systems: “the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology”.

Thirdly, we have to suspect the real motives behind Bill Gates’ conversion to the climate cause. Joe Romm on his blog Climate Progress is very clear about this. Commenting on another recent climate contribution of Bill Gates (“Why we need innovation, not insulation”), Romm summarises it as follows: “Bill Gates disses energy efficiency, renewables , and near-term climate action while embracing the magical thinking of Bjorn Lomborg (and George Bush)”. Why? “The only conclusion is that Gates doesn’t actually want to have any market-based policies that stimulate deployment of technology …. He just wants a straight government handout for research”.

So, it is probably not the “energy miracles” but the “magic of money” dear Bill is hoping for? The future will tell.

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