Would you like to live without a washing machine? Would you like spend hours each week hand washing your clothes, bedsheets, and towels? Just how green would you really be willing to go? It isn’t until you’re asked to give up some key things that you realize your limits.
But the truth is you can be green and have your washing machine too. There are people who live off-grid and have a washing machine, clothes drier, microwave oven, and even a jacuzzi.
As individuals we want to live in a technologically advanced civilization. To continue to do so we need to be smart about it, to do it in a sustainable fashion. We need to make use of renewable energy and efficiency and conservation.
But there are other things that technology brings you that you wouldn’t want to do without. What about vaccines, antibiotics, MRI machines, defibrillators, ambulances and fire trucks to name just a few? These are all the results of technology.
That means the whole pipeline has to be sustainable, and that turns out to be the trickiest part. The washing machine has to be shipped to your door, and before that it has to has to be manufactured, and before that the raw materials need to be shipped to the factory, and before that the raw materials needs to be mined.
Large chunks of civilizations no longer vanish due to regional crop failures, tsunamis and volcanoes. Why? Food and aid can be brought from great distances, sent by nations filled with compassionate people, compassionate because of a feeling of empathy brought on largely by a connectedness due to video and audio communication. How many people daily twitter, email or chat with distant peoples who are considered close friends? How many people have travelled to distant countries? How much easier is it to identify with a person living in a distant city having seen them on television, online or in person than it was three hundred years ago when your only connection to them would have been through paintings such as the one below.
So while being individually sustainable is entirely doable with some knowledge and effort, making the entire system sustainable is trickier. The reason such a massive system works now is because of cheap oil and abundant coal. It’s no coincidence that our current technological civilization got its start with coal driven steam engines in the 1800s and truly exploded with the utilization of oil at the start of the 1900s.
But with climate change, pollution and cheap oil running low the system really needs to run on something else. That’s where the search for non-conventional energy sources such as through the conversion of quantum vacuum energy to electrical energy on a macro scale comes into play, however pie in the sky it may be. Alternatively, the pipeline would have to be tweeked at every step, even shortened where possible. That’s where local foods and products can play a part, saving the oil for the things that are inherently remote.
And in case that fails, we can try to have an off-world civilization as a stand-by. And that definitely requires technology.