Addicted to the wheel

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
17 October, 2017
Editorial: 142
Fecha de publicación original: 17 noviembre, 1998

Better to have no wound at all than to recuperate from one well

The Climate Summit in Buenos Aires ended like half a bottle of wine. For some, the bottle was half full and for others it was half empty. The “pessimists” are those in the front line, those that know that it rains down on us all but that they will have no place to shelter or dry themselves off in time to carry on with the business of living. The “optimists” put all their trust in the fact that their coffers are full enough to make themselves an umbrella sufficiently big to protect them from the inclement weather which scientists predict. Somewhere in between lies the patent inability of government, and the indolence of the economic powers, to take measures to reduce, as far as possible, the effects of the glaringly obvious climate changes which are destined to shake the whole globe. More than ever before, the possibility of doing this – the design of innovative, viable, efficient strategies -is being left in the hands of the citizens of the world. This is all very well, but it can only be done via networks created to this end.

There are those on the look out for illnesses that are going to have a field day over the next few years. For these people, climate change will become a cause in search of a long list of pathologies. Just like the Internet. At the present time there are at least six known studies dealing with the impact of the Net on the health of its users, particularly our relentless propensity for becoming addicted to web pages, e-mail, the FTP, or anything else, as long as it has to do with computers. As far as a “desperation” to establish relationships with virtual communities for a particular purpose, such as a greater participation in decision -making processes (like Telefonica for example) or the possibility of transferring “environmentally friendly” technologies, we have heard nothing. But I dare say its turn will come some day.

Meanwhile, hardly anything even relatively intelligent is said about the incurable fondness millions and millions of people all over the world have for owning cars. And that is certainly a global drug-addiction, irresistible and unstoppable, lasting from puberty to the grave. A place many get to, precisely, by car. The pathological effects of this being “hooked on wheels” are obvious on all sorts of levels, from climate change to the emotional well-being of drivers and pedestrians, in other words, of whole cities. Not to mention the impact cars have on the physical health of one and all, some of which have “Game over” type consequences.

Cars are responsible for 30% of the contaminating emissions causing the greenhouse effect in the world. In addition, it is the factor which most influences decision-making when it comes to transport planning and expanding the urban environment via multiple road networks. It is on the periphery of these that urban development, waste, pockets of pollution and recipient zones for far-flung immigration, spring up: those that have arrived most recently in the city, sometimes arriving from distant lands in the hope of survival, or the professional classes in search of the illusion of a piece of built-up countryside, or those that are banished to the outskirts as part of the growing spatial segregation between home and work. The connecting thread that weaves this human and environmentally unsustainable chain is the car. If there were anything similar to it on the Internet, with its claim to privacy and aura of individual freedom above all other considerations, the Net would die in a couple of days. Fortunately the planet is still holding out.

The meeting in Buenos Aires has turned that “still” into a question mark in search of a date. The rich countries have played the card of setting out to adapt to climate change, whatever that might mean. In this macabre game more than 4/5ths of humanity has very little say at the moment. Each typhoon, flood, and drought is immediately converted into an appreciable increase in foreign debt, dependency on external aid and the reproduction of an inescapable cycle of poverty. Given the present position of governments of all persuasions, in the years to come the questions that will gain more and more social weight will be whether the citizens of the rich countries will be prepared to use their abundant resources to actively and personally bring about the fundamental changes in this situation. And when I say resources I don’t mean donations or humanitarian aid, but instead providing appropriate education, information, knowledge and technology. Because, more and more the management of these resources lies in the hands of individuals and social groupings thanks to information technology.

Since the first meetings of what later became the Group of Non-Aligned Countries, way back in Bandún in the 50s, right up to today, the stumbling block for all of these countries in their efforts to change their destinies has been the question of technology transfer. The industrialised nations have used their intellectual property rights over technological innovation as a filter for dispensing favours to countries who tow the line, no matter what their political regimes, the state of their population or the specific needs of each nation. The argument about human rights has, in the great majority of cases, served to cover up a hidden agenda dealing with the control of technology and the rate of its transfer.

Logically enough, the Buenos Aires Summit also discussed technology transfer, as this plays a crucial role in the complex construction of the Climate Treaty. It is only if “clean”, efficient, cheap technology is available that one can begin to talk about reducing the rate of emission of contaminating gasses, improving production processes and modifying some of the more wasteful life styles. And, just as has happened so often in the past, the discussion on the transfer of technology concluded with the promise that “countries who are the most vulnerable to climate change will receive more aid to help them plan specific measures for adaptation”. In other words, nothing at all. Nevertheless, technology transfer, with all its adjuncts of information, education, training and applications, is one of the aspects of North-South relationships where the Internet can potentially play a central role because of its capacity for the anarchic dissemination of knowledge above and beyond borders. In this respect, the Net offers us an opportunity to find some of the answers to environmental challenges which politicians have not yet even been able to pose as valid questions.

Translation: Bridget King.