It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.
This is a lovely piece of news to be greeted with at the end of the year. I disagree with the article in some ways – for example, it lauds fracking as delivering an era of energy abundance – but the message is one that’s easy to get behind. Our modern age is bringing about unprecedented human prosperity through connectedness and technology. One of the hallmarks of the Internet age is that national identity is being slowly replaced by an international identity – more and more, individuals are forming strong bonds with people in other nations, who they may never meet in person. It’s got a long way to go, but nationalism is slowly becoming extinct.
Wonderful! So, isn’t it time we dealt with the elephant in the room?
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 54% higher than the 1990 baseline. That means it’s going to be almost impossible to limit global warming to the 2°C limit that was set just three years ago – which in itself wasn’t enough to prevent environmental disaster. That disaster isn’t abstract, and should worry you even if you don’t care about the environment itself: it translates directly to the death of at least 100 million people and severe economic troubles by 2030. Climate change touches everything, and again, even if you’re a money-orientated Randian who couldn’t give a jot about the rest of us, it will make you poorer. That should be enough to make even the staunchest conservatives sit up and take notice.
Of course, there are people who don’t believe in climate change at all, but the arguments against don’t hold water scientifically. (That last linked page is so good, so full of fact-filled resources, that I’ll link to it again. Go take a look.) There are fatuous religious arguments from the Christian right, which I’m not sure even adhere to their own internal logic. In general, the arguments against rip climate change into the realm of politics, when it stands pretty firmly in the realm of scientific fact.
So what can we do about it? Here, then, is how technologists like us can make 2013 even better than the year gone by, both for our own individual prosperity and for everyone’s. We can continue to make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place in the short term by doing all the things we already do – and additionally work towards making it a sustainable peace and prosperity, in all senses of that word. We should all be striving to minimize resource conflicts, and to make all of our communities sustainable in their own right without polluting anyone else’s – while ensuring that we don’t lose any of the wonderful things the last hundred years has brought human society. Global travel, the Internet, widely-accessible personal computing, medical advances – all of these things need to be here to stay (and should have the freedom to evolve and progress).
I strongly believe that while neither technology nor individual action can bring about this change by themselves, together they have a chance. I’m not alone: Google, for example, has invested nearly a billion dollars in clean energy, and green investors (when they have domain expertise) are thriving. VCs are warming up to energy efficiency platforms, and of course, Tesla Motors became cashflow positive this year, raising further interest in the space.
Customer interest in green technology is already increasing, due to high fuel prices and better general awareness. I think 2013 could be the year that investor interest in green technology takes off, and correspondingly, I think we’ll see a slew of new companies whose interests are aligned with their customers’, not just in the short term, but with a very long term view as well. That’s a great thing for the startup ecosystem, it’s a great thing for web customers, and it’s a great thing for every single person on the planet.