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How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World Philip J. Vergragt GIN Conference July 2-5, 2006, Cardiff, UK.

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Presentation on theme: "How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World Philip J. Vergragt GIN Conference July 2-5, 2006, Cardiff, UK."— Presentation transcript:

1 How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World Philip J. Vergragt GIN Conference July 2-5, 2006, Cardiff, UK

2 My background Chemistry and Society (1970s) Technological Innovation studies (1980s) Sustainable Technology Development (1990s); visioning and backcasting Consumption: the Sustainable Household (end 1990s) Energy, Transportation, Hydrogen, Buildings, Social Learning (2000s) Sustainability scenarios; Great Transition (2000s)

3 Context In 2002 Tellus Institute launched the “Great Transition Initiative” Based on scenario studies by the Global Scenario Group and the essay “Great Transition: The promise and lure of the times ahead” GTI aims at launching a global citizen’s movement to foster a transition to sustainability (

4 From the website… At this perilous moment, the world lacks the collective imagination for shaping its common future. Many ask: is another world possible? GTI answers with a message of hope in the form of coherent and plausible alternative scenarios

5 Aim of GTI GTI is a global network for elaborating visions and strategies for a future of enriched lives, human solidarity and a healthy planet. By addressing the need for a coherent, plausible, and shared vision, GTI complements the many admirable, but fragmented, efforts to shape our common future. GTI's vision of hope challenges conventional thinking, counters pessimism, and inspires effective action and new values.

6 Elaboration of future vision To elaborate the future vision sketched in the “Great Transition” essay, about 17 papers are being written about aspects of a GT world Subjects include social movements, governance, business, economics, consumption and life styles, and values in a GT world Here I will present the essay on “Technology in a GT world It has been written in conversation with colleagues at Tellus Institute, and with a working group with participants around the world

7 How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World Introduction: The “Great Transition” initiative The structure of the paper Forecasts of technology developments Appropriate technologies Three visions of technology in a sustainable society How did we get there? Pathways and strategies

8 The structure of the paper 1. Introduction, including some ideas about technology and society interactions 2. Technological forecasting and future studies; some technological forecasts 3. Visions of a sustainable society: a technology-enriched elaboration of three possible societies 4. How did we get there: a backcasting perspective on strategies for transitions to sustainability 5. Conclusion

9 1. Introduction The paradoxes of technological development Meanings of “technology”: tools, knowledge, and culture Societal consequences of technological developments Decision making on new technologies: technological fixes vs. social constructivism

10 2. Future studies: two approaches Technological forecasting and its pitfalls Prospective vs normative scenarios Biotechnology and health technology Nanotechnology and materials science ICT and artificial intelligence Interactions and reinforcements ‘alternative’ and ‘appropriate’ technologies

11 3. Visions of technology in a sustainable society What are the most compelling challenges? Energy, health, water, and agriculture (source: UN Millennium project) Three visions that could co-exist and that create some variety in reflecting on future sustainability: Agoria: a high-tech social market economy Ecodemia: an economic democracy Arcadia: a high-tech rural society

12 Agoria Agoria is a sustainable society that bears some remote resemblance to the present social democracies in Scandinavia. The economy can be characterized as a social market economy, with large capitalist corporations still in operation, albeit under strict regulation. Agoria-style societies are dominant in urban settings, where the pace of life is somewhat faster than in the rest of the world.

13 Agoria (2) Energy is predominantly generated by highly sophisticated renewable sources like wind parks and solar panels on all roofs and from biomass urban gardens, rooftop gardens, and agricultural developments between suburbs (green lungs) create a steady supply of produce for the urban market. Health problems in Agoria have largely been solved by advanced biotechnologies and health technologies. An advanced combination of traditional and alternative medical knowledge with advanced biotechnology has resulted in healthier people

14 Ecodemia In Ecodemia, economic democracy is established mainly through cooperative production facilities and non-profit business. There is less emphasis on profit making and the standard workweek is shorter, resulting in more free time for leisure and voluntary work and activities. Advanced Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays an important role, enabling direct participation of workers in making decisions about production processes, technological innovations, and diffusion of goods and services on the market

15 Ecodemia (2) Health technology innovation is tightly controlled by means of democratic cooperative institutions enabled by ICT. It means that all the relevant social groups such as patients, doctors, nurses, scientists, technology developers, insurance companies, and government agencies participate in a facilitated discussion about how to allocate research money

16 Ecodemia (3) Energy conservation and renewable energy are fostered through public participatory processes ensuring that energy use is monitored and discussed, new technologies are installed and optimized, and obsolete technologies and programs are curtailed Agriculture in Ecodemia is organized through cooperatives in production and processing, transportation and storage, and retail distribution

17 Arcadia Arcadia is in essence the advanced future form of a rural society. Economies are mainly self-reliant, enterprises are small and locally owned, direct democracy and community engagement are the norm, and the love of nature is one of the dominant values

18 Arcadia (2) Energy in Arcadia is generated by means of widespread applications of solar PV, wind, water, and biomass gasification technology Health care in Arcadia is primarily decentralized; small health posts are most important for first-line care and prevention Arcadia supports new forms of sustainable tourism, where tourists embark in an Arcadian country life, closer to nature but facilitated by high-tech. By this Arcadians contribute to a healthier lifestyle for people from Agoria and Ecodemia

19 4. How did we get there? After a series of crises in the early 2000s, the charter of business has increasingly reflected a keen balance between the common good, workers’ job satisfaction, and private profits. A strong global citizens’ movement resulted in shorter working weeks, more walking, biking, and playing, less stress and more exercise.

20 How did we get there? (2) Governments have become transparent and democratic; they stimulate the “right” R&D, penalize unsustainable developments and innovation, penalize bad habits by consumers, educate, and encourage cooperation through support for good examples. NGOs have fulfilled the challenging task to help educate the public about issues concerning sustainability and technology, about health, agriculture, energy, and information technology

21 Developing the ‘right’ technologies Appropriate and indigenous technologies have greatly helped Energy conservation, distributive energy generation, and biofeedback are widespread Cloning and GM are under tight control and have helped to eradicate most common illnesses, especially in the south The escape of a highly intelligent robot spurred tight control on ICT Ecological agriculture, rural gardens, and multifunctional land use made agriculture sustainable

22 To conclude the paper Science and technology cannot be easily steered toward sustainability Powerful business, military, and other vested interests prevent deep changes, just as deep investments, education systems, and professional norms Ethics and social responsibility are necessary for all stakeholders Visioning, back-casting, small-scale experimentation, and addressing existing dominant power structures are all necessary A small group of dedicated people (GIN members?) could jump-start these developments

23 Reflections Writing this paper was quite a challenge Sailing between technological fixes and ignoring technological developments Social steering of science and technology is still a far dream (CTA) In nearly all other GT papers there is little or no attention for science and technology Business and technology are interwoven; still in corporate social responsibility there is little attention for technology

24 Thank you

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