David Keith: Technology, Energy and Nature – Human Values and Open Choices

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM ET
8 June
Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas, Perimeter Institute

Public Lecture: David Keith

As humans, we have developed technologies to control energy transformations from agriculture to nuclear weapons. Increasing technological ability has co-evolved with increasing intensity of energy use and growing complexity of our civilization. These forces have shaped our environmental footprint and our very conception of nature.

However, resource shortages are looming. The obvious shortages are oil, coal, gas, and other petroleum based resources. However, less commonly discussed are shortages of water. Even less obvious is a shortage in lithium. As solar panel technology expands, it increases the need for batteries, which require lithium, a finite resource. Mobile technology depends on lithium as well.

As these shortages become more apparent, problems grow exponentially worse. Native cultures which lived in balance with nature could tell us that. The world is getting a lot smaller. We are now using 1.5 earths. Because there has been a taboo against research, knowledge to improve these areas is meager, and there is little technology available for implementation. And on top of that, even if we develop better technology, for solar panels as an example, even that won’t prevent serious climate damage that is causing the melting of major ice caps, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and rapid warming of the Arctic as sea ice retreats.

It’s tempting to believe that physical limits constrain our energy and environmental choices as never before; but Dr. Keith argues precisely the opposite: our growing technological leverage makes access to energy and materials cheaper (for example, solar technology), opening up our options for co-existing with the natural world. These options force us to confront hard choices about our values. Should we treasure nature as it is, or purely as an instrument to human welfare? Our growing ability to engineer the planet makes these choices ever more pressing.

Here is his talk:

David Keith holds the Research Chair in Energy and Environment, and is a Professor at the University of Calgary and Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He has worked near the interface between climate science, energy technology and public policy for twenty years. His work in technology and policy assessment has centered on the capture and storage of CO2, the technology and implications of global climate engineering the economics and climatic impacts of large-scale wind power and, most recently, the land footprint of solar energy technologies.