Destructive climate change is no longer a hypothesis or mere possibility; rather, the empirical evidence for it has become apparent in the form of increasingly frequent extremes of temperature and natural disasters – particularly the 2018 global heat wave and major wildfires that occurred in diverse parts of the world.
The policy recommendations to tackle the impending disaster have historically fallen into two categories:
(i) Neo-Malthusian, “back to nature” proposals to restrict the use of advanced technologies and return to more primitive modes of living;
(ii) elaborate economic manipulations, such as the creation of artificial markets in “carbon credits”, or the imposition of a carbon tax or a related form of “Pigovian tax” – ostensibly to associate the “negative externalities” of greenhouse-gas emissions with a tangible cost.
“Back to nature” solutions will cause extreme detriments to most people’s quality of life. Economic manipulations would ignore how human motives and incentives actually work and would inevitably only tackle the side effects of systems already in place today instead of inventing radical new approaches.
The solutions to destructive climate change are ultimately technological and infrastructural. No single device or tactic – and certainly no tax or prohibition – can comprehensively combat a problem of this magnitude and variety of impacts.
Because both human circumstances and current as well as potential technologies are extremely diverse, no list of potential solutions to deleterious climate change can ever be exhaustive. Here I attempt the beginnings of such a list, but I invite others to contribute additional technologically oriented solutions as well. There are only two constraints on the kinds of solutions that can feasibly and ethically combat deleterious climate change – but those constraints are of immense importance:
Constraint 1. The solutions may not result in a net detriment to any individual human’s length or material quality of life.
Constraint 2. The solutions may not involve the prohibition of technologies or the restraint of further technological progress.
Constraint 1 implies that any solution to deleterious climate change will need to be a Pareto-efficient move, in that at least one person should benefit, while no person should suffer a detriment (or at least a detriment that has not been satisfactorily compensated for in that person’s judgment). Constraint 2 implies a techno-optimistic and technoprogressive perspective on combating deleterious climate change: we can do it without restrictions or prohibitions, but rather through innovations that will benefit all humans. Some technologies, particularly those associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels, may gradually be consigned to obsolescence and irrelevance with this approach, but this will be due to their voluntary abandonment once superior, more advanced technological alternatives become widespread and economical to deploy. The more freedom to innovate and active acceleration of technological progress exist, the sooner that stage of fossil-fuel obsolescence could be reached. In the meantime, some damaging events are unfortunately unavoidable (as are many natural catastrophes more generally in our still insufficiently advanced era), but a variety of approaches can be deployed to at least prevent or reduce some damage that would otherwise arise.
As a Transhumanist I believe we can overcome the boundaries set upon us by nature, – we can live longer and better. However, climate change poses a significant threat to any Transhumanist ambition. Thus, I want to address this threat head on.
Equally I urge to proactively accelerate the development of emerging technologies to meet this climate challenge by actualizing the tremendous creative potential our minds have to offer.
What follows is the initial list of potential solutions. Long may it grow.
Direct Technological Innovation
- Development of alternative energy sources – such as unlimited solar and wind power that could compete with fossil fuels on the basis of cost alone
- Continued development of electric vehicles and increases in their range, as well as deployment of charging stations throughout all inhabited areas to enable recharging to become as easy as a refueling a gasoline-powered vehicle.
- Development of in vitro (lab-grown) meat that is biologically identical to currently available meat but does not require actual animals to die.
- Development of vertical farming to increase the amount of arable land indoors – rendering more food production largely unaffected by climate change.
- Moving to an Uber model of ownership for autonomous vehicles in urban areas – collective renting rather than buying.
- Development and spread of pest-resistant, drought-resistant genetically modified crops that require less intensive cultivation techniques and less application of spray pesticides, and which can also flourish in less hospitable climates.
- Construction of hyperloop transit networks among major cities, allowing rapid transit without the pollution generated by most automobile and air travel. Hyperloop networks would also allow for more rapid evacuation from a disaster area.
- Construction of next-generation, meltdown-proof nuclear-power reactors, including those that utilize the thorium fuel cycle.
- Development of IoT & smart meters – that enable each building to use available energy with the maximum possible benefit and minimum possible waste, while also providing opportunities for the building to generate its own renewable energy whenever possible.
- Development of technologies to capture and compress CO2 and export it via spaceships to the Moon and Mars, where it could be released as part of efforts to generate a greenhouse effect and begin terraforming these worlds.
- Redesign of home insurance policies and disaster-mitigation/recovery grants to allow homeowners who lost their homes to natural disasters to rebuild in different, safer areas.
- Development of workplace policies to encourage telecommuting and teleconferencing, including through immersive virtual-reality technologies that allow for plausible simulacra of in-person interaction. The majority of business interactions can be performed virtually, eliminating the need for much business-related commuting and travel.
- Elimination of local and regional monopoly powers of utility companies in order to allow alternative-energy utilities, such as companies specializing in the installation of solar panels, to compete and offer their services to homeowners independently of traditional utilities.
- Establishment of consumer agencies (public or private) that review products for durability and encourage the construction of devices that lack “planned obsolescence” but rather can be used for decades with largely similar effect.
- Establishment of easily accessible community repair shops where old devices and household goods can be taken to be repaired or re-purposed instead of being discarded.
- Abolition of inflexible zoning regulations and overly prescriptive building codes; replacement with a more flexible system that allows a wide variety of innovative construction techniques, including disaster-resistant and sustainable construction methods, tiny homes, homes created from re-purposed materials, and mixed-use residential/commercial developments (which also reduce the need for vehicular commuting).
- Abolition of sales taxes on energy-efficient consumer goods.
- Driving the adoption of electric or hybrid vehicles by repealing or not enacting any mileage-based taxes.
- Lifting of all bans and restrictions on genetically modified plants and animals – which are crucial for adapting to climate change and in reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural activities.
- Increases in planned urban vegetation through parks, rooftop gardens, trees planted alongside streets, pedestrian / bicyclist “greenways” lined with vegetation. The additional vegetation can absorb carbon dioxide, reducing the concentrations in the atmosphere.
- Construction of additional pedestrian / bicyclist “greenways”, which could help reduce the need for vehicular commutes.
- Construction of always-operational disaster shelters with abundant stockpiles of aid supplies, in order to prevent the delays in deployment of resources that occur during a disaster. When there is no disaster, the shelters could perform other valuable tasks that generally are not conducive to market solutions, such as litter cleanup in public spaces, or even offer inexpensive meeting space to various individuals and organizations. This could also contribute to the disaster shelters largely becoming self-funding in calm times.
- Provision of population-wide free courses on disaster preparation and mitigation. The courses could have significant online components as well as in-person components administered by first-aid and disaster-relief organizations.