, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 17–22 | Cite as

The limits of technological optimism

  • Andrew D. Basiago


‘Technological optimism’ is the doctrine that a growing number of technological improvements in such areas as food production, environmental quality and energy will sustain life as human population soars. It evolved as a response to the Malthusian study The Limits to Growth (The Club of Rome, 1972). Like population biologist Paul Ehrlich, Professor James Krier of the University of Michigan Law School believes that the technological optimists may be wrong. Krier describes how the marginal costs of pollution control increasingly rise. He faults biologist Barry Commoner for neglecting population growth as the cause of pollution and positing the postwar technological transition as its cause. He argues that population growth forced this transition as science searched for substitutes for dwindling resources. Krier criticises as “an article of faith” the technological optimists' belief that ‘S-curve’ patterns of technological advance will always arrive in response to the ‘J-curve’ of exponential population growth. He thinks that the technological optimists may be deluding humanity by predicting the continual emergence of technological breakthroughs at ever-increasing rates. He favours growth policies that would allow humanity to ease into a steady state of resource use and minimise the maximum cost, which would be a global crash after technological innovation fails. Krier laments that modern technolgy can worsen pollution and invites problems of latency, irreversibility, ‘zero-infinity’ risk and remoteness. He thinks that approapriate technologies which have failed economically may fail politically because the political process has been captured by opposing interests. Krier urges that the population crisis should be adressed instead


Population Growth Marginal Cost Political Process Technological Improvement Economic Geology 
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Copyright information

© Science and Technology Letters 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew D. Basiago
    • 1
  1. 1.San Luis ObispoUSA

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