We live in a society that believes technology will always save us from ourselves. Unfortunately, contrarians, such as I, have great fun poking holes in such a simplistic intellectual balloons! Our current, collective attitude towards energy and carbon is a case in point.
Before exploring the specifics of cultural views that need changing, I would like to shed light on some old research about technology and human behavior that will hopefully highlight a key idea from one of my favorite free on-line books: Target Risk by Gerald J. S. Wilde.
“Part of a taxi fleet in Munich was equipped with an anti-lock brake system—also known as ABS. ABS brakes offer a perfect example of what’s called a change in intrinsic risk.” By intrinsic the author means that we expect a change in the objective accident rate even though drivers don't change their attitude towards safe driving because a "safer technology" is made available.
However, according to his risk homeostasis theory and research done in Germany , drivers who have better technology without a change in attitude towards the risk of accidents DO NOT have fewer accidents! As a matter of fact, they simply drive faster and tailgate closer to cars in front of them because they know that ABS gives them a reduced braking distance and greater sense of security. Ergo, the challenge in designing any technology that hopes to change human behavior—in our case perceptions towards energy and carbon use—is to simultaneously change the attitudes and values that people have about the real problem that the technology is trying to address.
So now, let’s apply this theory to energy and carbon use. Currently, energy is relatively cheap again because of shale gas fracking and new technologies to develop hard-to-extract tar sands oil deposits. It appears that technology has saved the day! But really there are at least two problems with this rosy picture:
1. Fossil fuel energy is a finite resource that WILL increase in price; and
2. The carbon emissions from burning are contributing to climate change.
Both the above factors guarantee an expensive energy future and without a deep change in BOTH energy technology—like that offered by FirstCarbon Solutions—and behavior, as illustrated in Target Risk, our current standard of living and high-energy-consumption lifestyle are doomed.
So, to survive and thrive, in a high-cost and highly volatile energy future, we will require the expertise of professionals like FirstCarbon Solutions. We must not only implement energy-saving technologies and solutions, but also facilitate the cultural changes required to affect lasting changes in our behavior regarding energy efficiency and reduced carbon footprints.
Did you enjoy this post? The author of this article is Gordon Kubanek. Learn more about him here.