Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shooting the Moon

A lot of my computer gaming came, unfortunately, before there were very many cool computer games and before I could afford the few cool computer games that existed. As a result of this, as a teenager, I played a lot of hearts in Windows 98.

Hearts is scored like golf: lower is better. Each heart you hold at the end of a hand is a point against you. The goal of the game is to wind up with as few hearts in your pile as possible. Except there's this thing called "shooting the moon," whereby you collect all the hearts in a hand and instead of adding 26 points to your score, you subtract 26 points from your score. Obviously this is quite a risky move, since, if you miss a single heart you are screwed.

I sort of feel this way about the idea of using technology to "fix" the environment. This planet has had a few billion years to work out the kinks. Humans, on the other hand, have had a scant few hundred thousand years to get themselves together and an even shorter time to figure out all this science and technology stuff.

Don't get me wrong: all this science and technology stuff is fabulous. I have been studying both quite hard for quite some time now and I still find them fascinating. I think using science and technology as a way to improve human life is a great boon to the generations surrounding mine. But technology is rarely without its consequences, frequently unintended, sometimes harmful to the environment.

The idea of piling one technology on top of the other in an attempt to curb these deleterious effects while maintaining our own comfort brings me back to the game of hearts: if we are successful in chaining all those technologies together to cancel out their negative side effects, if we succeed at shooting the moon, then everybody wins. But if we miss just one link in the chain, we risk making the world very uncomfortable or even uninhabitable for humans.

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