An essential read is finally being translated from French: The Age of Low-Tech, Towards a Technologically Sustainable Civilization by Philippe Bihouix will be published by Bristol University Press on October 25th.
Bihouix worked for 25 years as an engineer in various industrial sectors including construction, energy, chemicals, transport, telecommunications and aerospace, in Europe and Africa. In The Age of Low-Tech Bihouix draws on his experience in resource management to build a very strong case for an unavoidable shift to a low-tech civilisation. He demonstrates that, due to the finitude of available resources, no technological solution exists that will enable sustaining the level of comfort enjoyed by western societies since the 1950s. Instead the human race must shift to a truly low-tech, frugal mode so as to ensure resilience and sustainability. Using down to earth examples and an approachable style, Bihouix denounces the fallacy of techno-solutionism.
For example he addresses the idea that the Sahara desert receives enough sunlight to provide energy for the whole world, and that a giant solar farm in the dunes would solve forthcoming golbal energy crisis. He calculates that producing 23TWh (global energy consumption in 2011) would require installing 500 years worth of global solar panel production, that would have to be renewed after 40 years at most. This would necessitate an enormous amount of fossil energies, metals and synthetic resources issued from petrol for building and resourcing the giant factories required to supply the panels. And who would wipe the sand off these tens of thousands of square kilometers of panels?
Bihouix, using informed resource usage data and practical scenarios, claims that reducing our needs is an urgent priority. In a nutshell the bicycle is the future, not the electric car.
I recommend reading In the Guts of the World Expresso Machine, a short online essay by Bihouix on the necessity of a low-tech shift.
Extract from the Bristol University Press summary:
People often believe that we can overcome the profound environmental and climate crises we face by smart systems, green innovations and more recycling. However, the quest for complex technological solutions, which rely on increasingly exotic and scarce materials, makes this unlikely.
A best-seller in France, this English language edition introduces readers to an alternative perspective on how we should be marshalling our resources to preserve the planet and secure our future. Bihouix skilfully goes against the grain to argue that ‘high’ technology will not solve global problems and envisages a different approach to build a more resilient and sustainable society.