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Obstacle 6 - Techno-optimism: the blind faith in the deity "Technology"

that should solve any problem

Updated December 2021

Techno-optimism is the belief that technology will solve any present or future problem that could eventually arise, an almost omnipotent solution for everything. It has been identified as a main obstacle to sustainability by numerous authors (e.g., Gardezi and Gordon 2018; Allwood 2018; Alexander and Rutherford 2021) because it provides general public and decision-makers an escapism to ignore the issue and delay decisions.


The believers in this new deity (e.g., Pinker 2018; Rees 2018; Rosling et al. 2018; McAfee 2019; Ferretti et al. 2020) quote the past and present impressive developments of technology as indisputable proves that it will convey humankind to paradise. The techno-optimists prefer to ignore the persistent failures of technology, as the incapacity to feed the increasing billions of undernourished people in the world in spite of the tremendous technological advances (revolutions) in food production (Table 1, Figure 1). Or the fact that feeding the other 5.7 billion people with a better diet is being made on the account of disintegrating the biosphere (see Biosphere diagnosis). Technology tends to solve specific problems while creating others down the line (Nature Food editorial 2021). As stated by Alexander and Rutherford (2021) "we cannot solve our problems using the same kinds of thinking that caused them". Last but not least, even the best technological innovations may have a limited application in local, indigenous or traditional communities.


Maintain that there is no need to worry with present problems and forecasted ones because technology WILL overcome them is blind, elusive and too risky, an excuse for indolence (Greta has reasons to be angry).

Table 1. Number of people suffering starvation or undernutrition in the world – end of Middle Ages versus 2017. Global food deficit has increased fourfold in spite of technological developments.

Table - Hunger middle Ages and now.JPG
Starving people since 2005.jpg

Figure 1. Number and percentage of starving people in the world since 2005 (pre COVID19 data). Redrawn from: FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO (2019). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. FAO, Rome, 239 pp.


Alexander S and J Rutherford (2021) A critique of techno-optimism - efficiency without sufficiency is lost.

In: Kalfagianni A, D Fuchs and A Hayden (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Global Sustainability Governance, ISBN 9781032086552,

Allwood J (2018) Unrealistic techno-optimism is holding back progress on resource efficiency.

Nature Mater. 17:1050-1051.


Ferretti S, B Imhof and W Balogh (2020) Future space technologies for sustainability on Earth.

In: Ferretti S. (eds) Space Capacity Building in the XXI Century. Studies in Space Policy, vol 22. Springer, Cham.

Gardezi M and J Gordon (2018) Techno-optimism and farmer’s attitudes toward climate change adaptation. Environ. Behavior 52(1):82-105.

McAfee A (2019) More from Less:The surprising story of how we learned to prosper using few resources–and what happens next. Scribner, NY. 337pp.

Nature Food (2021) The limits of a technological fix. Nature Food. 2(211): Editorial.

Pinker, S (2018) Enlightenment Now – The case for reason, science, humanism and progress. Penguin Random House, UK, 556 pp.

Rees M (2018) On the future: prospects for humanity. Princeton Univ. Press, 272 pp.

Rosling H, O Rosling and A Rönnlund (2018) Factfulness: ten reasons we're wrong about the world - and why things are better than you think. First edition. New York: Flatiron Books.

Comments are welcome - write to 

R Pereyra wrote 14/1/2022

Although I tend to agree with most of the observations that you make case by case, obstacle by obstacle, in the overall picture, Pareto´s 80/20 rule applies. Although individual indicators of environmental degradation may behave linearly, the net cumulative result of their interaction seldom does in natural systems. This works in both directions, for the worse and the better, and it is our strongest tool to effect meaningful change. In other words, 20% of our solutions (being the right ones, of course!) will address 80% of our problems, and will do so non-linearly. There is good reason to hope in that.

How many People? - I agree with you that the current global population size is a problem today, but (I believe) the current population distribution is an even greater one. I have not yet come across anything like a scientific consensus as to the actual carrying capacity of earth ecosystems as far as human population is concerned. (If there is one, can you please point me to it?). In other words, total number of humans is a problem today only with our current population distribution and economic model, but may not (yet) be in other scenarios.


The 4th agricultural revolution - In your report you touch this superficially in several obstacles, but in my opinion, it warrants a bit more in-depth treatment, since our current staple monoculture industrial agriculture model is the prime cause of natural habitat degradation and destruction on the planet. This, coupled with our 200 year old addiction to consuming non-seasonal exotic produce on demand. Finally doing away with this archaic and  unsustainable model to produce what we eat is one of those solutions in the 20% of Pareto's rule and - here I am speculating - easier to implement through economic policy measures than other solutions you propose. 

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