New technology won’t save us from climate disaster

A belief that new technologies such as nuclear fusion or carbon capture and storage will ‘save’ us from climate change is counterproductive and enabling delay, according to researchers from Lancaster University.

Their research published in Nature Climate Change calls for an end to a ‘longstanding cycle of technological promises’ and changing climate change targets. Instead, it suggests we should focus on cultural, social and political transformation to tackle the crisis.

The paper points to several proposals that have been hailed as solutions to climate change including nuclear fusion power, giant carbon sucking machines, ice-restoration using millions of wind-powered pumps, and spraying particulates in the stratosphere.

It also charts a history of how the overarching international goal of avoiding dangerous climate change has been reinterpreted and differently represented in the light of new modelling methods, scenarios and technological promises.

The researchers argue that the targets, models and technologies have co-evolved in ways that enable delay.

It says: ‘Each novel promise not only competes with existing ideas, but also downplays any sense of urgency, enabling the repeated deferral of political deadlines for climate action and undermining societal commitment to meaningful responses.’

Researchers Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson from Lancaster Environment Centre said: ‘For forty years, climate action has been delayed by technological promises.

‘Contemporary promises are equally dangerous. Our work exposes how such promises have raised expectations of more effective policy options becoming available in the future, and thereby enabled a continued politics of prevarication and inadequate action.

‘Prevarication is not necessarily intentional, but such promises can feed systemic “moral corruption”, in which current elites are enabled to pursue self-serving pathways, while passing off risk onto vulnerable people in the future and in the global South.

‘Putting our hopes in yet more new technologies is unwise. Instead, cultural, social and political transformation is essential to enable widespread deployment of both behavioural and technological responses to climate change.’

In related news, a study from earlier month suggested that the UK will reach its net-zero emissions target faster if it invests in smaller scale, affordable low-carbon technologies rather than large projects like high-speed rail or nuclear power plants.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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