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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

. . . and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, no less.

Commodities and basic resources (like water and good arable land) are in increasingly short supply worldwide, notes the Journal. And while we’ve managed to avoid the wholesale disasters Malthusians have regularly warned against in the two centuries since Thomas Malthus wrote, this time, say authors Justin Lahart, Patrick Barta and Andrew Batson, things could be different.

One issue, they say, is that we already appear to have pushed the earth past a tipping point on climate change. Quoting Dennis Meadows, co-author of the 1970’s classic, “The Limits to Growth,” the article suggests that “environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even ‘if you quit damaging the environment.'”

The threats we currently face may, as in the past, spur technological innovations that enable both human populations and their living standards to keep growing. But unless and until that happens, competition for scarce resources will mean that “violent conflicts could ensue,” the article notes.

It’s interesting to see carbon-tax proponent Joesph Stiglitz quoted so much in the article as an authority and to see that the Journal takes human-caused global warming as, essentially, a fact.

All in all, it’s a clear-eyed look at the global-scale economic and political challenges we face when it comes to the distribution of our most fundamental resources. Although hardly revelatory, its conclusion is still welcome:

Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus, an English economist who died in 1834, isn’t that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then tough action.

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As befits advocates of ‘slow’ living, here at EarthQuaker we’re just now working our way through last year’s New Yorker magazines.

Back in May, Steven Shapin reviewed books about technology and innovation. One interesting point he discusses is the connection between technology and maintenance.

The importance of maintenance becomes even clearer if we take a global view. . . . as things get older they tend to move from rich countries to poor ones, from low-maintenance to high-maintenance environments. In many African, South Asian, and Latin-American countries, used vehicles imported from North America, Western Europe, and Japan live on almost eternally, in constant contact with numerous repair shops. Maintenance doesn’t simply mean keeping those vehicles as they were; it may mean changing them in all sorts of ways—new gaskets made from old rubber, new fuses made from scrap copper wire.

It’s a perspective that’s both refreshing and almost completely alien to American consumer culture. The dollar costs of a repair in the US (if you can even find someone to do it) relative to just buying a new version of whatever you broke means that repair is something most Americans never consider for a huge range of goods.

While Shapin’s main concern is to show what thinking about maintenance does to our concept of innovation, it impacts our wider understanding of consumer culture, too.

If we used an environmental lifecycle accounting model to price all goods, for example, repair would become much more economically attractive.

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