Let me start by unpicking the title. It’s a slogan, and a slightly quirky one. But it contains the absolute core philosophy that EU Tech Chamber, EU Senate and Mustard Seed IHD stand for, and Visions for Europe exists to support and explain. Slogans, as we know, are necessary in any sort of promotion, whether you’re selling toothpaste or a political policy. In the modern world with its reduced attention span two or three words that encapsulate your message persuasively are literally priceless. But, as we also know, slogans can also limit and by-pass thought rather than extend horizons.
‘Technology Obliges’ is a telescoped version of ‘With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility’, which may express our foundation philosophy more clearly, but misses that snappy memorable urgency we felt we needed to convey our belief that we in the West have an overwhelming moral obligation to share and spread our technological prowess as widely as we can, for the benefit of all mankind.
Cynics may sneer that this is merely virtue-signalling masquerading as altruism. But we assure you it is not. There is a weight of undeniable evidence to warn that without altruism our world, our culture, our civilisation will be imperilled. During the Cold War, the world was more dramatically imperilled by two opposing ideologies armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons facing up to each other across the globe.
Each had a large enough arsenal to destroy the world several times over, and the hawks on each side were only kept in check by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). A first strike would have resulted in barely an hour’s world domination before the world itself was destroyed in nuclear Armageddon. And no one could be stupid enough to trigger that.
all mankind. Cynics may sneer that this is merely virtue-signalling masquerading as altruism. But we assure you it is not. There is a weight of undeniable evidence to warn that without altruism our world, our culture, our civilisation will be imperilled. During the Cold War, the world was more dramatically imperilled by two opposing ideologies armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons facing up to each other across the globe. Each had a large enough arsenal to destroy the world several times over, and the hawks on each side were only kept in check by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
A first strike would have resulted in barely an hour’s world domination before the world itself was destroyed in nuclear Armageddon. And no one could be stupid enough to trigger that. As we now know (and suspect we probably don’t know the half of it) we came pretty close to that suicidal shoot-out on several occasions, and happily mankind has been stepping back from the nuclear abyss ever since the Berlin Wall came down. And we all feel safer as a result.
Climate change and the elimination of biodiversity won’t end the world in a day; but if not addressed and reversed there will come a tipping point beyond which the planet cannot be saved as a benign home for the billions who inhabit her. Year by year, month by month, even day by day, decisions that we make will push us all towards that a point of no return.
Of course we need political focus, governmental commitment and individual lifestyle changes. But only technology can bring the carbon free energy and all the other changes required to save the world we know and love; and only altruistic rolling out of that technology, can halt and then reverse the current downward trend.
So “With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility: Technology Obliges”.
The rest of this article breaks down into three interconnected parts: Competitiveness, Sustainability and Growth. Competitiveness may strike some readers as counter intuitive. How can you be in favour of altruism if you believe in competition, which surely implies getting the better of a competitor? The fact is that altruism, if it is going to be effective, requires character and strength of purpose. Thinking benign thoughts gets nothing done. Altruism requires action.
We in the West have the power to help others, and a strong motivation to do so. But we are not the only ones. We hear a lot about Soft Power, the influence one nation can have over others through cultural and financial influence. An obvious example is China’s One Belt, One Road strategy.
With a huge war chest of money, the Chinese can approach much poorer nations – in Africa for example – and offer them huge infrastructure deals with generous loans and full engineering support. Similarly, Arab countries have vast wealth that they can invest in gaining influence.
But the question is how soft this Soft Power really is. It’s obviously less brutal than the colonialism of the past; but much do the huge infrastructure projects that the money makes possible actually benefit the majority of the population in the recipient countries?
Hydro-electric power may not be what you really want, if the dam built to create the reservoir that generates it means your village disappears beneath the waters for ever. And in the political sphere, it will not benefit you if the dictator who controls your country is bolstered by the massive injections of cash provided by the donor nation.
Whatever the past, our Western values are now grounded in respect for democracy, free speech, improved educational, especially for girls, gender equality and freedom of religious observation. We are, and have every right to be, proud of what we stand for, and should not be shy about getting out into the wider world with all that we have to offer.
For many years after the Second World War, the US led the way, driven by altruistic aspiration along with ideological self-interest, and sustained by the confidence their mighty economy gave them. They backed themselves – and capitalism – against Soviet communism in the global battle for hearts and minds, rolling out aid programmes and providing vast sums of money to support industrial and educational development. Critics will point to the disaster of Vietnam, the brinkmanship of the Cold War and the failure to practise what they preached at home. But there is no doubting they made a huge impact on the world.
With a new face in the White House, the Americans are beginning to return to a leadership role, but we Europeans must not stand idly by and hope they do what is needed. From now on, every country has the duty to join whole-heartedly the movement for concerted change. One thing is certain: cynicism, pessimism and indifference are not going to get us out of the mess we’re in.
The gloom mongers can shake their heads and make their prophesies of doom self-fulfilling. But fortunately the majority of us are made of stronger stuff, and Technology Obliges us to support Sustainability as at the root of our mission. It is the foundation stone of the United Nations’ SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals and should be the yardstick by which all investment and development should be measured.
The world economy is basically having to undergo a radical gearchange, reversing so much of the ‘progress’, as we thought it, of the last century and a half. Now that science has opened our eyes, we cannot continue to rely on the carbon economy. Fossil fuels were seen as a gift: there they were waiting to be discovered and then exploited, with an industrial economy designed to dig deeper for them and make them go further to help mankind drive ever faster to greater prosperity.
Now we realise what a catastrophic tragedy that ‘progress’ has been as the icecaps melt, the rain forests fall, desertification spreads and the weather turns violently and devastatingly unpredictable. How can we have stumbled blindly towards Apocalypse? No wonder the young are so terrified – and so critical, turning their accusing eyes on us as the generation that came close to terminally compromising their future.
And such reproach must not be ignored or rebuffed, but answered by coherent action, grounded in our burgeoning technological expertise. Properly directed, the powers at our disposal can check and replace the outmoded toxic industrial models that we can now see threaten our world, and at the same time roll out the growth and development the world’s population demand as their right.
Which is why Technology Obliges Growth as well as Competition and Sustainability.
Growth means more – obviously. But more what? Certainly not the carbon-spreading, fossil fuel dependent model that still holds sway in far too much of the contemporary world. But, cry the nay-sayers, you can’t shut down the coalmines or the power stations they drive, along with the steelworks and other established industrial processes. We need steel, and we need jobs! And they’re right. We do need steel, and we do need people to have jobs.
The challenge is to make steel in a new way, and to introduce new careers for a new generation. (After all, a lot of the old jobs, bluecollar and white-collar, will be going anyway whether they add to the carbon burden or not. AI is here to stay!) But a challenge is something to be embraced rather than ignored. Kicking the can down the road is no longer an option.
What we need is to find a new way of producing the can. At the moment there is no viable commercial process to make steel without coke. But more and more steel is being recycled, and the even better news is that the German company Thyssenkrupp plans to build a plant to produce carbon neutral fuel using hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources by 2025.
Hydrogen looks like being one of the surest route to a carbon neutral future, and the world’s first ever power station burning hydrogen could be built in the UK this decade, as a reliable and carbon neutral back-up to the expanding range of solar and wind farms. So growth means no diminution of industrial activity. On the contrary.
We just need to make it greener and cleaner – better for us all, and for the planet itself. And growth also means more jobs as the roll-over of the new technologies occurs. And with a healthier planet, millions more will lead longer and healthier lives. So we will need more growth in terms of the food we produce. And this, too, will be made possible by reforming agriculture so that forests are not sacrificed to produce more burgers, and by developing technologies to increase yields while making agricultural land sustainable. With the astonishing success of the world’s scientists in producing viable vaccines to counter Covid 19, it may even be time to invite GM (genetically modified) food back in from the cold.
Nothing should be off the table given the undeniable facts that confront us. CO2 levels are 50% higher now than they were before the industrial revolution, and even with the measurable deduction during the lockdowns of the last year, the graph is still rising. Professor Simon Lewis of University College London said recently that the acceleration in CO2 levels was having the impact of a ‘meteorite hitting Earth.’ He went on: ‘The world is at a turning point.
If countries make plans to put society on a path of sustained and dramatic cuts to emissions from today, we can avoid ever-rising emissions and the dangerously accelerating impacts of climate change.’ So that is the challenge – arguably the greatest ever faced by mankind – and Technology obliges us to meet it head on. We must prove ourselves strong enough and committed enough to do so, and I for one have every confidence that we will.