Naturally the organisers and their friends have been arguing about many of the issues surrounding RT 2.0. Here are some that are bound to arise in the conference.
Is technology as such irrelevant? Is any given technology ethically and politically neutral, and the only questions are how we use them? Is the problem a matter of software, not hardware? That there never was any RT as such, and there never will be? Or are some technologies intrinsically malign, demanding rigorous control or abolition? A case for constructive Luddism?
Another take on this would be: are all the big questions now about ICT and the electronic smart technologies?
Not the old, lumbering industrial technologies?
Most contemporary technology is about expanding choices and opportunities. Is RT necessarily about solving problems, many of them caused by misapplied technology? RT1.0 was partly addressed to the existential, ‘alienating’ aspects of mainstream technology.
Does this still apply?
Is RT2.0 principally about solving major global sustainability problems irrespective of their effects on the fine tissue of human life?
Is this an aspect of “Red vs. Green”, and is this another potential divergence?
Is Small still Beautiful? Was it ever? Arguments between the top-down tech-fix centralisers and the bottom-up radical lifestyle decentralisers. The essence of RT1.0 was mostly low-tech. Does this still apply to RT2.0? It is notable that the most significant focus of practical RT, the Centre for Alternative Technology, published a significant plan for a national top-down energy strategy in 1977, and has continued this ‘ecological modernisation’ approach in its subsequent Zero-Carbon Britain reports.
Here perhaps is an opportunity to test an optimum point. Many green enthusiasts assume that because the great big corporate world generates large-scale top-down solutions, the antidote must always be small and bottom-up. In the view of many ‘RT realists’ this is mistaken; what is required is a judicious mix of the large and small wherever they suit the circumstances best.
Let’s make some lists….
Is the great modernisation experiment likely to stall, perhaps catastrophically? Is the role of RT to help prevent this, or to help adapt to it? RT1.0 was somewhat apocalyptic; should RT2.0 follow suit? We could perhaps explore
- Eco-modernisation, most modern aspirations met: is it physically achievable?
- ‘Super-Cuba’: rationalised degrowth, para-modern “2 kW” societies.
- Slow deterioration, RT acting to slow and mitigate effects
- Collapse scenarios, functional RT enclaves.
In view of the urgency of the global situation, it is frankly bizarre that research and teaching is not transforming itself to meet the challenge. The patterns of contemporary research are driven partly by market forces, and also career patterns and intellectual fashions. If the priorities of scientific research and technical development were radically shifted to match the current emergency needs, would this be RT2.0?
There are historical precedents for redirected research, notably in war-time, but the Apollo programme also comes to mind.
Are these new directions better driven by competitive entrepreneurs or by national/international publically-funded teams?
What should we do less of, or stop doing altogether?
What would be the implications for university curricula?
What would a sustainability-oriented university look like?
The original work was written largely by young, educated, activist dissidents. They are now (inevitably) 40 years older and have had the opportunity to experience, or at least to witness, the working out of their ideas. Most of them, it is fair to say, are in a completely different cultural space, would define the problems differently and support (in many areas) different solutions. Meanwhile a new generation of young, educated, activist dissidents appear to be occupying the same cultural niche that the ‘aboriginals’ have vacated, largely in ignorance of what went before. Which of these groups has a greater claim to set a new agenda for ‘radical technology’?
There a big difference of perspective between those who did it/do it and those who theorise it. It is surprising how little contact, dialogue and shared knowledge there is. The strands have carried on in their own worlds. Activists claim that by definition what they are doing must be the genuine article, and that their work should be the principal subject of theory. Theorists can retort that they’ve worked out what is really needed; that most activists are pursuing irrelevant pathways; and should cleave to what the theorists are saying.
These ‘oil and water’ effects might be particularly strong between academics and activists. Academics usually prefer safe, dull, bite-sized, ready-framed, non-wicked approaches that facilitate quick and uncomplicated publications. They prefer a professional, corporate ambience. In contrast, activists prefer exciting, speculative, ambiguous, polemical approaches that suggest altered visions and practices. They prefer a relaxed, informal style and can find a slick, corporate ambience uncomfortable or even offensive.
Perhaps we ought to try and turn such contrasts to advantage, and even make it into a key feature of the conference. We should try and mix up different approaches, styles and standpoints, and expect active tolerance; while at the same time we can probably offer a few safe havens where compatibility can be indulged. But how do we do this?
Who is entitled to speak for the subject?
Or do we now have essentially different subjects?
How can they be encouraged to communicate?
Cliff Harper’s graphical satire on the alternative dream. The viewer was originally drawn in to the scene in the central panel within the white lines. The side panels were then opened to reveal the ever-present eco-anarchist’s nightmare. Recreate the effect yourself by covering the side panels.
What would this look like today:
- It can be clearly demonstrated that physical solutions do exist given the appropriate organisational machinery, but are there humane ways to implement these solutions?
- Is “What if everyone did it?”
- A good guide?
- Can we generate compelling ‘parallel narratives’ that gradually become familiar and motivating?
- Does RT2.0 have a distinct perspective, or is it simply part of progressive evidence-based environmentalism