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Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 16, No. 1, January 2020
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Certain Technologies Are an Existential Threat.
Is Technology Itself an Existential Threat?


Randy Hayes

This article was originally published in
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, 5 December 2019
under a Creative Commons License


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“We need to see that our human technologies are coherent with earth technologies so that they protect and advance the earth’s technologies in a positive way as regards the future of the planet……. But to begin genetic engineering, getting into the DNA and selecting a DNA element from one species, inserting in into a completely different species, is working against natural patterns. Our cultures now have become pathological in so far as they are responding to industrial advances at the expense of the life systems of the planet.”

Thomas Berry, interview in Resurgence Magazine

Panacea technologies include: Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, Geo-engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics.

Emerging technologies including biotechnology/genetic engineering, nanotechnology, geo-engineering, artificial intelligence, and robotics represent both a symbolic and a concrete challenge to the creation of an ecology based society.  Symbolically these technologies are being touted as a panacea for the collapsing Industrial System and a boost to capital investment. Rarely does a day go by without the media promoting some “miracle” potential of these technologies and their potential financially lucrative future. The implicit message is clear: the answer to the catastrophic impacts of modern mega-technology is ever more mega-technology.

For example, the larger implication behind the promotion of biotechnology is that we do not need to transform and downsize our destructive mega-technologies so they fit life systems but rather change life so it fits with the current technological/industrial system. So as climate destabilization brings increased droughts and higher temperatures, we are assured that genetically engineered crops can be designed to be “drought resistant” and even grow in desert regions. Similarly, media stories suggest that the ongoing large-scale destruction of our soils will not be a problem because we will be able to genetically design crops to fixate their own nitrogen out of the air.  There has also been a major recent publicity campaign claiming species extinction can be reversed through cloning lost species from their DNA.

These same panacea claims are made in regard to our technical capacity to fundamentally alter the inanimate aspects of nature and continue the Industrial System indefinitely. Some scientists promote the idea that climate destabilization can be significantly mitigated through a variety of geo-engineering technologies including large-scale spraying of sulfur particles into the atmosphere or “iron fertilization” of the oceans (i.e., dumping massive amounts of iron into the ocean). Oceans and rivers choked with pollution will be cleaned up by specially designed nano-robots that eat that pollution. We do not have to halt the manufacture of dangerous toxins, or worry about hazardous workplaces because robots will soon be doing all the heavy lifting. 

It is not important that there be any proof of the feasibility of these technologies to perform as advertised. There only need to be the constantly repeated claims that the answer to current anxieties about the problems that threaten to overwhelm the planet’s natural systems will be solved by these mega-technologies. This keeps the research dollars coming and seriously undercuts appropriate public calls for urgent action to address the looming crises that humanity has brought on itself and the rest of nature.

Besides their symbolic importance for those promoting the Industrial System, these technologies present a very real and concrete impediment to a transition to an ecology based future. This is their immense potential for fundamentally disrupting the natural order. Experiments in biotechnology, including so called synthetic biology and “gene-editing,” are extremely unlikely to achieve any of the utopian claims.  Nevertheless, mutant microbes, plants and animals released into the environment could fundamentally alter entire ecosystems and in certain instances create mass extinctions. Given their novel capacities, nanotechnology created chemicals and machines released en masse in the environment could have a similar systemically disruptive and destructive impact on both the inanimate and animate elements of the earth.

Program Areas Addressing Technologically Based Obstacles to the Transitional to an Ecologically Based Human Society. Work program ideas: 

The work in this program area involves among other efforts:

  • Conducting and disseminating in-depth analyses on the myths surrounding these panacea technologies, demonstrating both their complete inability to address the depth of the crisis we are in, and to further show that far from a solution, they bring entirely new and potentially disastrous threats to the natural world, including human health.
  • Informing and uniting organizations opposing these technologies to better synergize their efforts and more fully understand that simply calling for better regulation of these technologies is not sufficient. Rather the Institute will promote national and international policies banning these technologies because they are fundamentally antithetical any ecological based future.
  • Informing and uniting organizations and activists working in this area with widespread communications and messaging to expose the myth that these technologies can be a panacea to the inevitable downfall of the Industrial System, or can be the “Next Industrial Revolution” that will save the capital markets and the Industrial System.

Throughout, this program area will base its analytic work on the principle that the answer to the environmental and social destruction caused by mega-technology is not evermore mega-technology but rather a transition to an ecology based society.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Randy Hayes is the founder of the Rainforest Action Network and works from the U.S. as the USA Director at the World Future Council. Based in Hamburg, Germany, the World Future Council is a global forum composed of 50 respected individuals from around the world championing the rights of future generations and working to ensure that humanity acts now for a sustainable future. Hayes, a filmmaker in the 1980s, is a veteran of many high-visibility corporate accountability campaigns and has advocated for the rights of Indigenous peoples throughout the world. He served for five years as president of the City of San Francisco Commission on the Environment, and for two-and-a-half years as director of sustainability in the office of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. He also spent four years working at the International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco-based think tank tasked with analyzing the cultural, social, political and environmental impacts of economic globalization. Randy sits on eight non-profit Boards of Directors and numerous Boards of Advisors including the Academic Advisory Board of the Presidio School of Management’s green MBA program. Hayes has a Master’s degree in Environmental Planning from San Francisco State University (Inducted in Alumni Hall of Fame scheduled May 2010).  His master’s thesis, the award-winning film The Four Corners, won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award for “Best Student Documentary” in 1983. He contributed to Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible, published by San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., in 2004. Not satisfied with short-term thinking, his 500-year plan offers a vision of a sustainable society and how to get there. His corporate campaign activist peers honored Randy Hayes in 2008 with an Individual Achievement Award, given by the Business Ethics Network. Additionally he was one of the original set of inductees in the Environmental Hall of Fame. Randy Hayes has been described in theWall Street Journal as “an environmental pit bull.”


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