"If you can dream it, you can do it," Walt Disney routinely exhorted his theme parks' Imagineers. Faith in our ability to design our way out of predicaments is fundamental to the American psyche. A Pew Research poll conducted in the run-up to the millennium found that 89 percent of Americans believed science and technology would play a major role in making things better in the 21st century. After all, science and technology brought us electricity, computers, longer life expectancies, the moon landing, and Pop-Tarts. What's not to like?
Well, nuclear weapons, napalm, global climate change, and Internet spam come to mind. The growing litany of technology's undesired effects justifiably fuels fears of a Mad Maxian postindustrial apocalypse. But running for the hills seems as skewed a response as relying on sugarplum visions of a future based on limitless growth, consumption, and the magic of science. The sobering reality of more than 6 billion humans eating, sleeping, and defecating on one small planet suggests we come to grips with the issues that ail us.
After all, as Jared Diamond, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, points out, it's human factors such as selfishness, the inability to foresee consequences, and ingrained biases and behaviors that can seal a civilization's fate.
With the rallying cry "Technology can help save us — it'd better," we bring you Sierra's take on tech.
Futurist Bruce Sterling offers an unblinking look at its environmental effects — but sees a way out, using that very same technological prowess. Reporter Dashka Slater ushers us into the laboratories (and mind-sets) of engineers, scientists, and tinkerers who are conjuring solutions large and small for our environmental ills. Then we look at products that can help us reduce our impact on the earth. And Executive Director Carl Pope reminds us that inventors invent only what we as consumers and our legislators as policymakers ask them to — and reward them for.