Meet the techno-greens

Former US President Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are among those supporting innovation in agriculture. (Source: UN)

While many of the goals and good intentions of the green movement have not changed, technology has allowed the methods to advance significantly. 

Writing exclusively for RTCC, Dr Darren Hughes of the Rothamsted Institute introduces the new generation of ‘techno-greens’.

For those of you old enough to remember, Tom and Barbara Good were the iconic ‘green’ couple from the BBC’s mid-1970s sitcom The Good Life.

Decades before terms like sustainability and climate change were mainstreamed, Tom and Barbara were doing their bit to lessen the negative impact humans have on their environment by being more self-sufficient and seeking natural alternatives to consumer products.

Much credit should be given to the Goods. Whist their lifestyle was considered “alternative” and comedic in the 70s, they can also be considered as being well ahead of their time, influencing an entire generation to think ‘green’.

Today, nearly 40 years on, their messages still resonate. Whilst Tom and Barbara did try and embrace modern technologies, for example Tom’s fairly disastrous methane-powered car, they did not have, nor could they imagined, the technologies at our disposal today.

Meet the tablet-wielding techno-greens 

Technology has been embraced by activists, academics and NGOs in the green movement. (Source:Flickr/Rightthinkingbrain)

Yet, even today there are those of a particular generation or persuasion who believe that the only way to move forward is to go backwards.

That is, some people in the community of the environmentally conscious (those who consider themselves to be “green”), still feel that a regression toward simplicity is the way forward, or (if you’ll pardon the pun) to go back to the ‘good’ old days.

Fortunately, there is also a more youthful generation of tablet-wielding, smart phone-holding, technology-savvy ‘techno-greens’, who believe that it is only with the appropriate use of technology that we will be able to tackle the many complex, interwoven issues that will allow humans to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Whilst no spring chicken, I would be proud to consider myself a ‘techno-green’.

There are already an amazing array of technologies that exist now, for example the technologies that allow us to harness energy from wave, wind and the sun, or systems and machinery which allow us to utilise energy far more efficiently, GPS and clever water sensors that allow highly efficient precision farming, even the technologies supporting social media that allow us to take Responding to Climate Change’s messages to new audiences (see my earlier blog). These are to name a few.

What’s more the progress of technology is so rapid that we have stuff of science fiction waiting for us round the corner.

And yes, this does include genetic modification of plants. Love it, or loathe it, there is no doubt that this type of technological tool does offer us new possibilities.

The arguments raging over GM crops are well rehearsed and available elsewhere e.g. in Mark Lynas’ blog.

I must admit to being a little bored by the arguments as to whether GM is right or wrong, good or bad. The only thing that matters to me is whether GM technology will allow us to produce crops that benefit our heath, the environment and the resource poor, faster or better than other conventional techniques.

My hope is that this ‘techno-green’ generation are coming of age and getting themselves into more influential positions in academia, government and industry and will provide some ballast to the arguments posed by some of the noisier technophobe Luddites.

Death and progress

The famous scientist, Max Planck, rather brutally explained what happens when there is a paradigm shift: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

That said, I also urge a bit of caution to the techno-greens, that some of the wisdom of simplicity is not lost. Ironically, it is the complex technology that allows us to have simple lifestyles!

Although historically, it is also the farmer who has led the way for rapid and dynamic adoption of technology into their business. The farm has inadvertently become the experimental platform where traditional knowledge and modern technologies combine.

Tom and Barbara Good were not wrong; their fundamental principles were the same as ours, for humans to coexist more symbiotically with their environment.

But technology has given us a real opportunity to do this better now. I believe it is the technology-savvy generation that will make this happen, so move over Tom and Barbara and let the ‘techno-greens’ have a go.

Dr Darren Hughes is head of communications and public policy for Rothamsted Research


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