Open Thinkering


Tag: Vinay Gupta

Bright green, blight green, and lean green futures

Vertical garden

Last month, Vinay Gupta wrote a series of three blog posts Can the World Computer Save the World? The trilogy is an attempt to reconcile the world of crypto and the climate emergency.

I’ve always found Vinay a compelling speaker, and I found a podcast episode embedded into the first post of the trilogy especially illuminating. Around 49 minutes in, he talks about three different approaches to ‘green futures’ which I haven’t seen documented elsewhere. So I’m doing so here, mainly for my own reference.

Bright green

A “useful lie” according to Vinay, who says that to suggest we’re going to zero huge, zero-footprint skyscrapers covered in solar panels and vertical gardens just isn’t scalable. You’d have to be making $250k/year to live in one but hey, at least you’re no longer part of the problem.

Effectively, bright green is “luxury branding for a sustainable” world which might end up paying for technologies which can then “cascade down”. It’s the “iPhone model of a green future”.

Blight green

This is “next door” to bright green, and is “blight as in leaf blight”. This is using technologies to solve the environmental crises which risk creating much worse crises by doing so: nuclear power and heavy biotech (e.g. salt-resistant wheat), genetically-engineering animals.

This area is “filled with hail-mary passes” like geo-engineering, but desperate people do desperate things. Our success rate for interfering with complex systems is “approximately zero” so things will inevitably go wrong and we’re going to be “totally screwed”.

Lean green

This is Vinay’s preferred option, and the only one he thinks is scalable and realistic. It’s “numerical” by which he means quantitative, not qualitative. You simply imagine that every human being has equal right to the planet’s “material bounty”, and then divide up what’s available, and how much they can emit.

This may vary from area to area, but, for example, Vinay has calculated the amount of copper would be about 5kg per human per lifetime. That’s not a lot, and would include the copper in cables providing power to people’s houses, for example.

This approach, he says, involves thinking differently. Instead of single-use plastics, we could have stainless steel which can be reused until it’s melted down and recycled.

So bright green for the few, and lean green for the many. As new techologies begin to scale up, prices come down and “more elements of the bright green lifestyle become infused into the lean green lifestyle.

Remember, Vinay says, half of the human population does not provide any barriers to sustainability at all as they grow their own food and have tiny carbon footprints. We in the west are the ones “in a fascist relationship with the future,” not them.

Everyone has an eschatology

Eschatology n. the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.

Whatever our professed spiritual beliefs I reckon everyone has an eschatology. That is to say, we have a theory, either explicit or implicit, about how the world will end ⁠— and whether that will occur in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, or neither.

My own personal eschatology became a bit more up close and personal after reading Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy this morning. I downloaded it immediately after listening to the author, Prof. Jem Bendell, appear on the Emerge podcast in 2019. I’d stumbled across that podcast (currently on hiatus) due to the episode with Vinay Gupta, which I’ve discussed here.

From the conclusion of Deep Adaptation:

Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive… In assessing how our approaches could evolve, we need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible. Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals (Bendell et al, 2017). Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.

Bendell’s paper is an interesting one, and like my doctoral thesis, takes an academic yet personal tone. I need to read it again and follow up on some links, cross-referencing with some of the material from the Dark Mountain community and Vinay’s Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps (SCIM).

For now, I just wanted to encourage anyone reading this to read the paper and to encourage myself to think about realigning my work around the 4R’s outlined by Bendell:

Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”

Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”

Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

Reconciliation asks “with what and whom can we make peace with as we face our mutual mortality?”

One other thing that I note in terms of operationalising this work is that Bendell seems to have done a particularly useful job of employing what I would call productive ambiguity. As a result, people can take something practical, while being able to contextualise it for their own situation.

This post is Day 91 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Image by Vinay Gupta used under a Creative Commons license.

Your liberty will not survive combat drones

Back in 2008, Vinay Gupta wrote The Second Amendment in Iraq, Combat Robotics, and the Future of Human Liberty. He shortened this long title in his blog sidebar to ‘your liberty will not survive combat robots’. I think he was spot on, but the technology is not robots, but drones.

Over the last couple of days I’ve seen tweets like these about fairly disturbing developments in the news:

I don’t want terrorists threatening the peace and stability of where I live any more than the next person. But I also don’t want a situation where a government I disagree with has the technology to hunt me down and kill me with drones.

As Vinay states in that article:

Developing robotic combat capabilities will have three effects. Firstly, it will enable governments to successfully fight insurgencies abroad… Secondly, those combat robotics capabilities are very similar technologically to the capabilities required to control and oppress the domestic population… Finally, use of these technologies in foreign wars will force those who wish to do battle with the US for their political autonomy to strike at the US civilian population, as there will be no effective way of combatting US foreign policy in the field.

Our liberties are being slowly eroded and chipped away in the name of convenience and the ‘war on terror’. And, right now, I (and many other people like me) feel pretty much powerless to stop it.