Elon Musk has grand plans to save the world. Bill Gates has just published his book How To Avoid a Climate Disaster. They both envisage tax-payer funding for their solutions. But beware of gurus toting the solution to the planet's crisis.
If you don't think that our home planet is in an ecocidal crisis, then you've been blissfully unaware of global heating, over-population, biodiversity loss, waste crises, plastic pollution, overconsumption of energy, water shortages, deforestation, nuclear danger, space junk danger, perpetual nuclear war risk.......
Visionaries like Bill Gates and Elon Musk have brought extraordinary, and beneficial advances to our human society. On the way, they have become billionaires. And good luck to them. But their wealth and fame has made them all too ready to be seen as world leaders, and to see themselves as having the solutions to world problems. This can be problematic, as in effect, some of their solutions exacerbate the problems.
The future envisioned by both Bill Gates and Elon Musk has one huge blind spot. They both foresee ever-expanding energy use, and they plan for that - problems can be fixed with technology.
On a finite planet, endless energy use just cannot work. But the concept of enough is just not in their plans. If the human species does not take up the concept of enough, we could just become an extinct species. Technology could be used to reduce energy use, but that idea fades away as Gates, Musk, and other technocratic leaders see progress as being to have ever more exciting and energy-guzzling gimmicks and activities.
The digital revolution. It should be a benefit, enhancing our lives, and in many ways, it IS. But an energy price is paid in our unbridled use of digital technology. Every email, emoji, Facebook post, tweet, blogpost, Youtube, uses electricity. It's not as if these actions just disappear ''into the cloud''. What a dishonest term that is! There is no such cloud. What there actually IS - is a host of vast areas of dirty great data'' farms''. There's another dishonest term. They're not farms. They are soulless collections of great metal servers, using ever growing amounts of electricity, and of water, to keep them cool.
Then there's the price at the end. It's very hard to find out the details and the extent of toxic materials from digital technology, that are dumped in poor countries.
And, to be fair, companies like Apple, have made some efforts to reduce their ewaste.
However, planned obsolescence is rampant in the high tech world, resulting in the utter tragedy of ewaste pollution, - from discarded smartphones, laptops, computers, printers, TVs, fidbits, smart fridges, robots etc, the tragedy of the thousands of children working as waste-pickers in India and Africa, in slum conditions. E-waste includes many toxic materials such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, that release dioxins. . ''With no health or environmental protections in the slum, the toxins contaminate the air, water, and the food consumed in the slum........ The area is constantly covered in thick, toxic smoke from the burning of electrical cables that goes on all day and night," - High-tech hell: new documentary brings Africa's e-waste slum to life
Both Gates and Musk are enthusiasts for renewable energy, and in the climate crisis, they are to be applauded for their work in this direction. Yet, as with all kinds of digital technology, renewables should not be unlimited, and do have their downsides, both in the production (pollution from rare earths mining/processing), and in the final disposal, with toxic wastes, and components that are difficult to recycle. . The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that solar panels produced 250,000 metric tonnes of waste in 2018 alone.
Bill Gates and Elon Musk do show their awareness of the planet's grave environmental problems, but we don't hear from them about energy conservation, or about moving away from the consumer society. Both talk quite enthusiastically about the great increase in energy use that we can expect. They complacently predict endless energy use, just as the nuclear lobby did in its glossy advertising film ''Pandora's Promise''
Elon Musk now plans to put 24,000 satellites into space, and is well known for his dream of colonising Mars, and This idea has, of course, been taken up by many others, and there's a sort of general public delight in space travel and interstellar rocketry. People seem oblivious to the fact that this will require huge amounts of energy, and that the space scientists already are turning away from clean solar power, to the far more dangerous source of nuclear fission. They're also oblivious of the state of affairs in near space, where the trillions of bits of space debris pose dangers, floating about just like the plastic pollution in the oceans. Meanwhile the military planners in USA, Russia, China are already planning for nuclear weapons and war in space.
No surprise then that Elon Musk sees nuclear power as necessary - not just for his predicted need for much more electricity on Earth, but for this obsession with satellites and rockets.
Less well understood than his push for electric cars and Tesla technologies, is Elon Musk's investment in the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. Running Bitcoin demands enormous amounts of electricity, as Timothy Rooks explained recently.
Bill Gates, while motivated to help fight climate change, has also long been trying to make a success of his nuclear technology company Terra Power. The climate emergency presents him with the perfect opportunity to promote this, and especially, to get tax--payer funding to do it, as he suggests in his new book.
Wake up people! These two gurus have done some good stuff. But don't let them manipulate us into dangerous territory - with nuclear technology, so connected with weaponry, and with its dangers, and the unsolved problem of radioactive trash. Sure, technology has got to be part of solving the planet's crises. But we need much more imaginative leadership to steer our species away from infinite consumption and infinite energy use.