Is technological innovation really the only answer to global warming?

Public debate and the media are finally talking about global warming. To combat this, one voice can be heard on televisions or among our politicians: the one that says that technological innovation will be able to save us over time. A techno-solutionism that actually hides a more complex reality.

The dissonant voices are trying to make themselves heard, calling for the use of already established methods, not trying at all costs to innovate and create an ultra-modern invention that will save the world. So, will the use of new technologies save us? Are we “destined” to use what is called low technology ? And if the answer is ultimately the meeting of these two visions?

Solutions high technology controversial

Last year the FIFA World Cup was held in Qatar. A very controversial event, both because of its attribution and the conditions of the workers working in many preparation sites, and also because of its ecological stupidity, which has already been pointed out several times. He said that many modern solutions have been implemented in the country to cope with the persistent high heat in the region even as winter approaches.

The point that attracted the most attention was apparently the story of air conditioning in open-air stadiums. “Once it is conditioned in the open air, there is a significant loss of energy. It is obvious and an aberration. Air conditioning is not done by itself, electricity is required. So the greenhouse effect obviously has consequences.told the newspaper Southwest Éric Aufaure, building specialist at the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe).

To make the 2022 World Cup crowd more comfortable, Qatar has installed air conditioners in its stadiums. ©Firas Abousido / Shutterstock

A speech shared by many others, which complements that of Qatar, which announced it had achieved carbon neutrality during the event. A claim made without taking into account the emissions during the event itself, thus created by these open air conditioners, or the many internal short flights the government has put in place for visitors to quickly get from one stage to another.

Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, offered innovative solutions to reduce our emissions in 2021, announcing the development of low-carbon aircraft, the electric vehicle sector and the use of green hydrogen. This discourse about so-called innovative solutions to combat global warming has taken a prominent place in television shows around the world, in the words of our politicians, and in the communications of big companies. Such a vision, if it borders on greenwashing for some participants, has a name: technosolutionism, and it is far from unanimous in the scientific community.

A debate that takes up all the space in France

“When we face a crisis, there is more of a techno-solutionism concept: technology will save us, and the current crisis absolutely does not question our way of life.”says Carlos Moreno, a Franco-Colombian urban planner, author and professor at Sorbonne University, best known for his early work on the smart city, then the concept of the quarter-hour city.

“Technology must serve use. It has value there, not otherwise. »

Carlos Moreno

Urban planner, author, professor at the Sorbonne

Instead, many scientists and experts call for doing exactly the opposite: using soft and sustainable technologies or low technologyto reduce the effects of global warming. They explain that believing only in innovation to save the world is simply a cover-up and an oversimplified view of things. Because where some talk predicts the arrival of gigantic wind farms in ten years, the climate will have moved much faster than the technology. In the long run, the country would definitely have more renewable energy, but emissions will continue to increase during this time.

In the same way, designing and manufacturing these solutions high technology requires both time and considerable resources on a planet that has only a limited supply of them.

So there is a debate between techno-solutionist partisans who advocate using the latest technology to reduce our footprint on the world, and low technology, rejecting this first idea to act immediately. A debate that doesn’t seem to be moving things forward either, as Carlos Moreno explains to us: “It’s a biased debate that benefits no one. We need to go back to the sources of technology in human history, technology has always been an ally but not an end in itself. The question that needs to be asked now is not “Is high or low technology better” but whether the means used are useful. »

A teacher has something positive to take from both sides, just as there is something negative to reject. “It’s up to us to adjust it and get it right”he finishes.

Find the break-even point

According to the UN, by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. A situation that, together with global warming, which spares no one, requires phenomenal adaptation to guarantee decent living conditions in these dense areas. It is to meet these needs that the concept of a smart city has emerged. Cities that need to be able to smartly manage transport networks, water distribution services and the energy efficiency of their buildings. For Carlos Moreno, who has been working on this concept for many years, building the perfect smart city requires both solutions.

“The so-called new technologies have many applications in the smart city, because they help to solve issues thanks to the knowledge we have acquired and to develop solutions to save water or combat heat. For example, new technologies make it possible to develop new, stronger and more efficient materials. They are the ones that have made it possible to replace many street lights, for example, with LED bulbs that consume less energy. For optimal use, you need to know what is really useful. »

“A good example of a smart city is a city that combines all technologies (both low and high) with one goal: to help citizens meet their social needs. »

Carlos Moreno

Urban planner, author, professor at the Sorbonne

The man continuing his demonstration: “A good example of a smart city is a city that combines all technologies (whatever they are called low Or high) with one goal: to help people meet their social needs, which include the fight against global warming. The technique must serve the use. It has value there, not otherwise. The countries of the world that have realized this are mainly the countries of Northern Europe. »

In other words, flooding the area with the latest technological products and gadgets in the development of a smart city makes no sense. It is based on real utility and usage research that cities such as Helsinki in Finland, Oslo in Norway or Copenhagen in Denmark regularly appear in the rankings of the world’s best smart cities and most sustainable cities. It is therefore time in France to shift the debate and reach out to all stakeholders to develop sustainable and rapid means of combating climate change as soon as possible.

Georgie Collins

"Falls down a lot. Writer. Passionate alcohol maven. Future teen idol. Hardcore music practitioner. Food fanatic. Devoted travel fan."