The technical fix

A third common attitude to the Earth is to invoke the 'technical fix'. As a senior environmental official from the United States said to me some years ago, 'We cannot change our lifestyle because of the possibility of climate change, we just need to fix the biosphere.' It was not clear just what he supposed the technical fixes would turn out to be. The point that he was making is that, in the past, humans have been so effective at developing new technology to meet the problems as they arise, can it not be assumed that this will continue? Concern about the future then turns into finding the 'fixes' as they are required.

On the surface the 'technical fix' route may sound a good way to proceed; it demands little effort and no foresight. It implies that damage can be corrected when it has been created rather than avoided in the first place. But damage already done to the environment by human activities is causing problems now. It is as if, in looking after my home, I decided not to carry out any routine maintenance but 'fixed' the failures as they occurred. For my home that would be a high-risk route to follow: failure to rewire when necessary could easily lead to

The golden toad is an amphibian which was indigenous to only a 5-km2 region of Costa Rica, and is now believed to be extinct. It is considered by some as one of the first creatures whose extinction can be definitively blamed on global warming. These toads only mate during a few weeks in April and May and depend upon seasonal pools of rainwater in which to lay their eggs. Warming sea surface temperatures in the adjacent oceans are blamed for decreased rainfall and drier conditions in the cloud forest where the golden toad made its home.

The golden toad is an amphibian which was indigenous to only a 5-km2 region of Costa Rica, and is now believed to be extinct. It is considered by some as one of the first creatures whose extinction can be definitively blamed on global warming. These toads only mate during a few weeks in April and May and depend upon seasonal pools of rainwater in which to lay their eggs. Warming sea surface temperatures in the adjacent oceans are blamed for decreased rainfall and drier conditions in the cloud forest where the golden toad made its home.

a disastrous fire. A similar attitude to the Earth is both arrogant and irresponsible. It fails to recognise the vulnerability of nature to the large changes that human activities are now able to generate.

Science and technology possess enormous potential to assist in caring for the Earth, but they must be employed in a careful, balanced and responsible way. The 'technical fix' approach is neither balanced nor sustainable.

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