Peter Haff on the Technosphere


Peter Haff is an earth scientist who thinks that technology has become an autonomous system: the technosphere. This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a real, physical thing.  And he’s begun identifying rules that describes its behavior.

Read his article and listen to the conversation (coming soon) that Matt Luedtke and I had with him.  There’s some big ideas here, but it’s head-scratching stuff.  And it sometimes borders on the sci-fi.  Are environmentalists really serving the technosphere’s interests by preventing its demise?  Is the best solution to pollution an increase in energy use?  Does the technosphere (and other systems) have a purpose?

I’m left with these takeaways:

  • We need to better understand technology, and do so in a holistic, systems-based way.  Prof. Haff says that our current, popular idea of technology is similar to the way people viewed biology before the concept of “the biosphere.”
  • If we recognize the technosphere as a real thing, this would alter the way we view environmental problems and – as a result – the potential solutions.
  • If humans are dependent on the technosphere, we need to re-think environmentalism to consider the needs of the technosphere, and do so in a way that is consistent with human happiness.
  • Environmentalists need to formulate a vision for the future that is dynamic. The current idea seems to be a static picture of nature-human coexistence…a Garden of Eden before the fall.  Prof. Haff reminds us that the Earth is a chaotic place, prone to disruptions and crises and flux.  How can we imagine a future that is possible to pursue and worthwhile to do so, yet takes into account inevitable change and evolution?

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