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Manufacturing, jobs and low technology

By Valerie Yule - posted Thursday, 9 October 2008

A recent Lowy Institute poll reports that Australians are more concerned about jobs than about climate change. What about the jobs that are needed in order to respond to climate change and the other challenges ahead?

The report said, “Asked how much extra each month they would be willing to pay on their electricity bill to help solve climate change, 53 per cent of Australians were only prepared to pay $10 per month or less.” What about an option of using less electricity? Why is this not mentioned?

The powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution was human energy, even more than coal. This mental energy can surely be directed to the new challenge of adapting our economic system away from its fatal dependence on consumption regardless of the consequences.


One “low consumption” strategy is “Low Technology” - technology that does not involve highly advanced or specialised systems or devices. This is hardly being mentioned as a way to help cut carbon emissions faster than carbon-trading-in-the-sky around 2010.

Rather than abandoning all our manufacturing and skills, we could at least develop, manufacture and sell simple appliances to complement the rapacious “big” machinery that we now use automatically, without thinking and on every occasion, to save household labour.

“Labour-saving” has become so over-valued and excessive that Westerners now suffer from lack of exercise, and drive to gyms to get healthier. Our brains need exercise. Let's apply scientific method to our life-styles, and obtain our exercise for free, by running more sustainable households which uses “low technology” whenever we do not really need the costly appliances we have come to assume are essential for every little job. Drastic cutting of fossil fuels, carbon-emissions and other pollutions, bills, maintenance, water, material resources, noise, and hard-rubbish waste is all possible once the attitude that “small” is not fit for men’s talk is abandoned.

For example, in every two-car garage, one car could be a small cheap model like a “citicar” used when motor transport is needed for only one or two bodies - which may be most of the time, and includes government and company car fleets. (City traffic behaviour can adapt to their safety.)

Most of the time, for our smaller suburban lawns, fast, efficient, maintenance-free manual mowers can replace the large power-mowers which both symbolise and contribute to our waste and pollution.

Cheap backyard solar cooking and heating with reflectors, and versatile pedal-power for more uses than just stationary exercise, adapt “low technology” developed for developing countries. Long-lasting clocks, toys and emergency equipment do not all need the environmentally-hazardous batteries which are often used to eliminate the infinitesimal exercise required to wind up a clock, for example.


Laundry: have a think about what you really need, and when. An improved twin-tub washing machine to compliment your large fully automatic washer would be versatile and economical for the times when the household is small and there are no children, heavy workers, or invalids.

Other ideas can include carpet-sweepers and brooms for when vacuums are not really required; shopping jeeps for when a car is not really needed. Radio as low technology has an advantage over television as an intellectual accompaniment to "housekeeping exercise’"

A surprising range of old household equipment was more versatile and sturdy than what we use now. A “What They Did Well” exhibition could inspire the development of improved replacements for short-life plastic, based on the ingenuity of our grandparents before electricity.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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