Technological innovation alone will not create a more sustainable world | by Ari Joura, PhD | February 2024

What if more efficient use of resources is an incentive to consume even more resources?

Innovation can help us save the planet, but it can also help us destroy it faster. Image created by Leonardo AI

In the early 19th century, total economic output planet was around a trillion dollars. In past years it overcame it 100 trillion dollars.

Current trends suggest that the world economy could surpass $130 trillion by the end of this decade.

Humans have been able to become amazingly productive due to technological advancements. From the steam engine to artificial intelligence, each new generation of technology has not only freed up workers’ time, but also increased the productivity of each worker in the hours they work.

In most countries around the world, few people spend 16 hours a day growing crops. However, this was sad everyday reality for most people over the past few millennia. Today, a tractor can do this job in an hour.

Thanks to automation, humans now have the time to create entirely new industries and raise the standard of living of entire countries within decades.

The problem with the comfort many of us experience is that it is dependent on the resources we take from the planet. Many technological innovations focus on achieving more work with less manpower. This increases the overall standard of living as more goods can be produced, but also natural resources are used up faster than they can be replenished.

The result is the world we live in: We live in unprecedented comfort, but much of that comfort is borrowed from the future. Humanity has passed six of the nine planetary boundaries. To name a few, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been in the known history of the planet, the biosphere is being disrupted by genetic and functional variants, and changes to the Earth system threaten entire ecosystems. Humanity is also close to crossing the seventh boundary by making the oceans too acidic for healthy marine life.

Technique helped utilize resources building valuable goods, but we were unable to replace and…

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