for July 29 post – Green Technology, Sustainable Development, IPR, etc

A growing trend today is the emphasis on Green Technology.  But, what is it really?  Is it just about producing goods and services that are environment-friendly?  And what exactly is environment-friendly?  How about sustainable development?

One significant and inherent disadvantage of having business and the power elite define terms and conditions is that it will always be skewed in their favor.

Take the case of Intellectual Property Rights.  Quite a number of moons ago, I was in a Corporate Social Responsibility seminar and during the Q&A segment, someone posed a personal quandary.  On the one hand, the couple were assisting schools in Mindanao acquire cheap PCs and accessories for educational purposes.  On the other hand, they know about the reputation of China products, many of which are “pirated”.  So, the dilemma is whether to observe IPR and be legal but leaving students and schools without decent equipment to help them in their education (due to high cost of acquisition and after-sales support and essentials), or violate IPR and continue bringing in China products but helping the less fortunate avail of the fruits of progress and development.  Original and IPR-compliant products are priced so high that they are way out of reach for those who need them badly.

Our college regent stepped in and stated (and I paraphrase because I can no longer quote him verbatim), For as long as the products one is providing, regardless of whether pirated or not, has no financial or economic gain and many in need are benefiting, IPR and anti-piracy laws do not apply.  I share the same opinion – It is not only cruel and unethical but downright immoral (and unChristian) to deprive people of needs so they can uplift from their poverty when such are available and the only hindrance is cost.  He continued to say, After all, it is the rich elite who defined what is (modern) piracy and intellectual property.  It is but expected that they would define it in such a way that it will be advantageous (only) to and for them.  In other words, the piracy and IPR, as they are defined and applied today, has neither ethical nor moral basis.

Due to the long time it took to write this post, I came across a (relatively) recent article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/books/review/Darnton-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print) which discussed the issue of common heritage and property.  At first glance, there does not seem to be an obvious relation to the topic of this post – Green Technology.  However, upon closer inference, we find that in the day and Age of Information, it is very relevant.

Somewhat similar to the concept and principles of Open Source, of General Public License, and of Creative Commons (and I hope I understood it correctly), of all things, knowledge and information should be freely available to all – notwithstanding privacy issues.  Contrary to the prevailing argument that “corporate trade secrets” are necessary for progress because they serve as incentive for inventors and innovators to be creative and productive, it is actually more an obstacle.  This counter-argument is because there is no such thing as a perfect solution.  In this sense, the inherent flaws and defects of someone’s creation may be solved by another.  By keeping these so-called “trade secrets” hidden, the imperfections cannot be discerned and may even be repeated by other parallel creations.  This will prevent – if not, at least, slow down – real progress and development.

Moreover, in the argument with respect to proprietary rights in software, the built-in logic flaws will be identical in all mass-produced replicas or versions.  It is, precisely, for this reason that cyber attacks on proprietary software products (the prime example being Microsoft products) are not only common but also to be expected.  It is because, once a cyber cracker breaks the code one software copy, all other copies will have the same weakness and, therefore, be vulnerable to attack.  On the other hand, open source software have the codes readily perusable by all and hackers (the white hats of the cyber world, as differentiated from crackers or those with black hats) can change and improve the logic.  This way, the logic flaw would be corrected in another copy and the weakness of the “original” is no longer the weakness of its “derivative”.  Further, by sharing the “improved” version with all and sundry, others may “discover” other logic flaws and perpetuate the ever-improving perfection process.  In this manner, progress and development is superior to the closed proprietary system.

In the closed proprietary system, greed is the primary driving force, whereas in the open system, it is recognition or homesteading – the only requirement being that due credit or acknowledgement be given.  Knowledge and information must be freely available to whoever needs it and can use it.  The only times that it is permissible to profit or earn is when the recipient is unable to use them – either because they are too lazy or too mentally- or intellectually-challenged to benefit from receiving them.  In this way, “talented” people will not be unduly “penalized” by being kept from knowledge and information that may otherwise benefit them.  Lazy and stupid people, on the other hand, should pay for their laziness or their stupidity.

After this long digression, let us get back to the original topic of Green Technology.

Because business, the powerful, and the influential are the ones defining what Green Technology, what Sustainable Development, and what Ecologically-friendly means, (thanks to them) many have a skewed concept of (what started out as honest-to-goodness) impact-neutral progress.  Much of Green Technology, of Sustainable Development, and of Eco-friendly products and technologies are still very much dependent on traditional methods of production – this means usage of fossil fuels.  It is for this reason that some recent articles on biofuels have emerged claiming that not only are their production using up more energy and increasing the global warming but also significantly impacts on the food supply, especially for the more than 1 billion people who are surviving way below the poverty threshold.

Biofuel is one of the first proposed solutions to the growing problem of exhausting fossil fuel stock.  At first glance, it seems that shifting to a renewable source of energy is godsend because we will be assured of a continuing and virtually inexhaustible energy supply to our insatiable energy demands.  However, upon closer examination, it was found that the means of producing (i.e., refining) biofuel will use fossil fuel and the energy output of biofuel is said to be less than fossil fuel.

In addition, among the first proposed sources for biofuel is corn.  This means that industry will compete with man; and, since it is more profitable to sell to industry than to man for food, corn is gradually being diverted from the tables of man to the bowels of machines and industry.  But, the good news is that we are developing 2nd and 3rd generation biofuel sources – meaning, instead of extracting biofuel from our food supply, it will be derived from the discards, such as wood chips and shavings, as agricultural wastes (leaves, stalks, pulp, etc), or from algae.

One ominous and devious program resulting from our attempts to curb – if not reverse – global warming is carbon trading.  To an untrained mind, it is very attractive because it not only purportedly provides income to many otherwise-unemployable people, but also offsets the global warming emissions.  The argument here is that industry will buy carbon credits, meaning that they will pay for the right to dump carbon emissions into the atmosphere that belong to people with no capability to do so – in other words, some kind of proxy dumping.

Carbon trading is just another of the insidious means by which industry dons a “environmentally friendly and responsible” image while continuing with their destructive activities.  And, they are using money as a means of enticing the poor and needy into becoming their co-conspirators in the destruction of our environment and the planet.  Because of the malice, carbon credit trading is doomed to fail, as a solution to global warming and climate change.

Green technology – to be true to its connotation – should be a closed system, where raw materials are taken from renewable sources and are optimally used (with very insignificant waste generated), the production process will use renewable energy and insignificant impact on the environment, and the product shall be intended only for local consumption with excess production kept to a minimum and exported only after the needs of the local consumers have been satisfied.  Excess in production should only be a precaution to ensure that local consumers will not be left wanting.  Finally, the product must not only be recyclable but also be something that is essential to the needs (in contrast to wants) of local consumers.

In this manner, green technology is not only synonymous to sustainable development but it shall be truly environmentally- and ecologically-friendly.  Profit is not the primary motivation or intention of production.  Instead, business exist to improve the lives of the people – and “improve” means that people will live in harmony with nature and will engage in human activity that will uplift the morals and dignity of man.

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