If you've been reading for a while, you might want to swallow and put down the coffee cup. I've posted several times about technological progress and have been favorable to it. And it's correct to think that I'm favorable to technological improvements and expect more to come.
But not all uses of technology represent progress. And not all things can be cured by technology.
I first recognized over-optimism about technology when I was taking physics in college. We had gotten to discussing how particle accelerators work. The professor noted that a certain design (the cyclotron, if I remember right) was limited in how fast it could accelerate particles because eventually you couldn't switch the electric field fast enough. You were limited by the speed of light in this. One of my classmates promptly suggested that there was no problem -- just have a computer do the switching. ... er, computers are also limited by the speed of light. But 'computers can solve all problems' was a popular idea even back then.
This weekend, I encountered a reminder about what I'll call technological regress. For progress, the new technology lets you do old things better/cheaper/faster. At least two of those. I was at a small road race. Small enough that the traditional old technologies would have worked fine -- stand someone at the finish line with a stopwatch, clipboard, and pen to take times and order, and another person with popsicle sticks or pieces of paper (numbered) and a pen to take names. Zero set up time, and almost no more time after the end of the race to have complete results. Plus, you have partial results available at any time.
The regress was to get a computer involved. Higher tech, but poorly suited to the job. The computer required data entry before the start of the race, which delayed things by about 15 minutes. And it can produce no results until after the last runner finishes and you feed the electronic timer (much more expensive than a stopwatch) results in to the computer. First runner finished in about 17 minutes, last in 51. That's a long time to wait if you don't have to. And, with only 20-30 runners, you shouldn't have to. (I've done the low-tech version myself for races up to about 150 runners. I wouldn't want to go past that, but up to about 100 is no problem.)
I'll leave off here and invite comments as to technologies regarding climate change prevention, mitigation, or adaptation, and your thoughts -- and reasons for thinking so -- as to whether it's overoptimistic to expect them to work (as cheaply as advertised, at least), and whether some might be technological regresses. Conversely, what technologies show some serious promise to provide real progress regarding climate change prevention, mitigation, or adaptation?
2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #51B
3 hours ago