Boomer Opinion: Will Science & Technology Save Us?

Some big changes aren’t headline stories. And that’s what Ed Meek of Somerville, Massachusetts, writes about in this Boomer Opinion piece where he asks, with fingers crossed: Will Science and Technology Save Us?

Tony Seba, a futurist, thinks we are on the cusp of a number of big changes in transportation, energy, and agriculture, changes that will be driven by new developments in technology and science. The question is, can science and technology save us?

To generalize, there are two sides to the climate change debate. On the right are climate deniers represented by President Trump and his loyalists in the Republican Party. On the left are climate change activists represented by Democratic candidates running for president, from the progressive Sanders and Warren to the more moderate Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Futurist Seba bridges the gap between these groups.

In a number of presentations (like this one), Seba displays a photo of New York City from the year 1900 in which the streets are full of horse-drawn carriages. Next, he shows a photo of the same streets thirteen years later crammed with cars. As Seba points out, the adoption of cars happened very quickly. He then brings up more recent examples of cell phones and digital cameras. In just a few years, those technologies came to dominate the market.

In 2014, Seba predicted that because of the falling price of lithium batteries, there would be electric cars for sale by 2018 for under $40,000. His prediction proved true with the Tesla 3 and the Chevy Bolt. Now he is saying that we will soon have electric cars for $20,000 and because they have very low maintenance costs and last longer than combustion engine cars, they will be cheaper to own and run. So, everyone will buy them and gasoline powered cars will become worthless and disappear from the roads. By that metric, electric vehicles will replace our present-day trucks, trains, and planes.

Tesla charging stations.

Seba goes on to say that those vehicles will all be autonomous by 2030, which would really transform our lives because we would need far fewer cars and less space for them. Cars will become a service that we subscribe to or pay for, like Uber. Seba makes similar claims about solar power and the coming devaluation of fossil fuels. As soon as solar power becomes cheaper and more available, he believes, people will make the switch.

Meanwhile, Seba’s associate, Catherine Tubb, has created a report about the coming disruption in food and agriculture. You can find this at rethinkx.com. The report refers to the new science of food production that begins in the lab. Take the “impossible burger.” This is not actually fake meat but “meat” made from soy protein. You can also see this trend in products like almond milk and soy milk that are a substitute for milk from cows.

The idea is that as soon as a decade from now, it will be cheaper and more efficient to buy food that is manufactured or created than it will be to buy food that comes from livestock. And when that happens, it will disrupt the food industry, leading to the end of cattle farming and dairy farming! This would free up one quarter of the land in the United States where we can then plant trees to absorb all that carbon we’ve been producing. These new foods will also enable us to create healthier, locally-sourced food, eliminating a lot of the need for long distance shipping.

Ed Meek with his wife.

These developments in transportation and in agriculture will be good for our environment. Whether the changes driven by the market will occur in time to lower carbon emissions enough to save us from the costly and devastating effects of climate change is an open question. There are many reasons to change our lifestyle, whether it concerns the way we eat or how we get around or where the products we buy come from. The climate crisis, as author Naomi Klein points out, is an opportunity for a Green New Deal–the chance to shift toward a healthier, sustainable way of living.

2 Comments

  1. Good points, and something to work towards. Realistically I don’t see it happening that soon.
    One, mining the minerals (lithium, cobalt, etc) currently used in the batteries is very hard on the environment. “Unlike most metals, which are not toxic when they’re pulled from the ground as metal ores, cobalt is uniquely terrible” said a battery company founder. And “Like any mining process, it is invasive, it scars the landscape, it destroys the water table and it pollutes the earth and the local wells,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, a lithium battery expert from the University of Chile, in a 2009 interview. “This isn’t a green solution – it’s not a solution at all.” And recycling of the batteries has been hit&miss. Tesla is good at it; China isn’t…
    Two, given the antipathy of many towards any kind of GMO modified foodstuffs, going to “manufactured food” will raise their hackles like nothing ever seen.

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