2: There's No App For That

Book: There's No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss

Author: Richard Heinberg

Freely available at: https://www.postcarbon.org/publications/theres-no-app-for-that/

People present in the book club meeting: Lior Arbel, Alex Lucas, Charlie Reimer, Alexandra Tibbitts, Johnny Sullivan, Raul Masu.

This book has been proposed by Adam, who could not attend the meeting but wrote the following:

"I following the Postcarbon Institute and Resilience.org for a while now, reading a number of Richard Heinberg's blogposts. His essay There's no app for that, was the first time I really became aware of the problems underlying a techno-solutionist approach to combating climate change and related issues. In addition, the focus on post- or de-growth has struck a chord with me.

While we certainly should embrace low- and zero-carbon technologies, there are pitfalls in externalising solutions that propose to fix our problems while allowing us to live the way we always did. It's been a while since I read the text, but it drove the point home for me, that we need to rethink our entire system and not only implement green technologies. We cannot consume ourselves out of this problem, but need to address the problem by questioning the habits that got us here in the first place.

And I suspect there may be parallels to draw and lessons to learn for a community such as ours, that heavily relies on technology (although I agree that technology is not a new invention; the plow was a very succesful piece of modern technology once).

Richard Heinberg has been criticised for his appearance in Michael Moore's depressing and error-prone documentary Planet of the Humans, where Heinberg talks about population growth as a global problem, which of course, from a resource-perspective is not the whole truth: the real problem is the overconsumption of the privileged and a failure to distribute resources evenly. This is not expressed in the Moore documentary, but from what I know of Heinberg's writing, this is also his point of view. In the end, he is a privileged white male and, as such, his thinking is likely to be biased in more or less obvious ways.

During the discussion there was a general agreement about the importance of some points of the book. For istamve, the book is a very effective introductory text laying out the main issues related to techno-solutionism applied to environmental issues. The book is quite effective in pointing out that the idea that someone will invent a technology able to solve climate change is such a huge illusion, and argue that a moral switch is necessary to really address it.

A particularly appreciated point is the fact that the book addresses the need to rethink the constant growth in the number of members of our species. In our discussion, we particularly value this point as this topic is scarcely touched in public debate if not denied at all. Population is the ultimate taboo when it comes to climate change discussion.

Another topic that the book touches on is the necessary continuous increment in energy production necessary to sustain our economy and the request for continuous growth in production. The continuos grow, is also connected to social disequality. In particular, Heinberg highlighted the following connections.

"Policy makers seemingly must do four things at once in order to keep social and ecological chaos at bay: (1) reduce economic inequality, (2) accommodate a growing global population, and (3) reduce human impacts on the environment (notably climate change and biodiversity loss), all while (4) growing their economies. Yet from a practical standpoint, the second aim is at odds with the first and the third: a growing population tends to increase (not reduce)environmental impacts" pag 33

Related to economic inequality, we found the following quotes with reporting in this document:

"Henry Wallich (1914--1988), an American economist and central banker once said 'Growth is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials tolerable.' If Wallich's quote is true, then so is the reverse. Greater equality of income is a substitute for growth, and it's an indispensable one, given the economy's expansion beyond biophysical limits" Pag. 34

One of the possible ideas to solve this issue is decoupling GDP growth from energy and resource consumption. However, decoupling that has been claimed to be achieved, seems to actually be the result of false accounting.

"Without decoupling, the contradiction between reducing inequality on one hand, and resolving our environmental problems on the other, remains firmly in place. Worse still, it turns out that "demographic transition" is really just a theoretical construct that doesn't fit the data evenly and doesn't necessarily have much predictive value*" pag 35-36

During the discussion, Alex Tibbitts proposed the following reflection: "One thought for the group, this was written in 2017 -- so the perspective is rather dated now. What aspects of the book would Heinberg update today?"

This challenge led to a reflection on the following point "The notion that all technologies are neutral is naïve: each embodies an agenda, and that agenda may or may not align with the priorities and values of a majority of citizens." pag 54

Dopamine rush in phones and tablets is becoming a problem in today\'s relation to technology that was not so central in 2017. Charlie "Dopamine rush is a topic that comes up a lot in the media that I read." Here are two basic articles on the topic:

One limit that we found in the book (particularly raised by Lior) is that it is quite mild in suggesting solutions. Apart from strong sentences on the need to reduce the number of children per family, with we acknowledge as a strong point, we did not find any strong enough suggestions in this book.

In the final part of the discussion, we reconnect the discussion to the design of music technology, trying to reflect on how this book could influence the development of an agenda of our music technology.

Alex commenting on her project with Johnny about the augmented harp (https://bionicharp.ist/), said that one element she was happy about it was the fact that they were not creating a new instrument, so no creating waste, but adapt an instrument that they already had (the arp). This idea can probably be extended to augmented instruments in general and to systems that integrate traditional instruments with digital systems. However, more thorough research should be done to surely assess this.

One question that we propose as an outcome of this discussion is how much "waste" is ok in the design process of a new musical instrument?

The idea to make nice NIMEs made for standing, crafted in nice materials with the collaborations of artisans, whose ability would craft wooden or other tangible (non-digital) components siding the crafting ability needed to program the digital components.

What about the old instruments" There are many research centers that probably have DMI graveyards. Johnny mentioned that at McGill Univerity, they are trying to reuse old instruments for new studies and performances. Such an approach is definitely valuable in reducing waste and prolong the benefits related to the creation of new DMIs.

In a final remark, we also pointed out that reducing consumption can have an economic impact on those who produce stuff. Despite we do not like waste and have a general agonism toward the current economical model, we agreed that a general economic collapse is not desirable, as it would most likely primarily affect the poorest layer of the population. Hower making good product design for last and maintaining it could (hopefully) be an alternative model. It is important to note that none of us is an expert in economy, so this final remark is more though than an actual informed reflection.

Book club telegram group: https://t.me/joinchat/sFbB7cmED3BiYjNk

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