Note — Apr 10, 2022

Low-Technology: Why Sustainability Doesn’t Have to Depend on High-Tech Solutions

At The Conversation, Chris McMahon, a Senior Research Fellow in Engineering, University of Bristol, provides a nicely turned overview of low-tech solutions, E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Kris de Dekker’s online Low-Tech Magazine, Julia Watson’s book Lo-TEK (where TEK stands for Traditional Ecological Knowledge), and more. It’s not about living in caves, but about simplicity and durability, a better balance, an emphasis on sobriety, local manufacturing, and rediscovering ancient methods. The crux of the matter is actually right at the beginning of the piece, quoted first below; to be built, all the green growth ‘solutions’ require more destruction. Technology will bring some solutions, but the main thing to do remains the same: we need to change our lifestyles.

Many modern technologies use materials like copper, cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements. These metals are in devices like cell phones, televisions and motors. Not only is their supply finite, but large amounts of energy are required for their extraction and processing – producing significant emissions. […]

“Low-tech” does not mean a return to medieval ways of living. But it does demand more discernment in our choice of technologies – and consideration of their disadvantages. […]

[T]he first principle of low-tech is its emphasis on sobriety: avoiding excessive or frivolous consumption, and being satisfied by less beautiful models with lower performance.