Exnovation , the not applying of innovations

When something gets old, outdated, we don’t care very much anymore. Or in other words: we don’t derive any ‘commercial democratic happiness’ from it anymore. Its there , fulfills its function, without pushing up the adrenaline in us. Its the again and again offer of new things that trigger us and forces us to discard doing nothing, and start doing something: either buying, or saving money to buy later, or lending money to buy directly.

The government plays a crucial role here. In general: remember Tatcher, and the still Anglo-American buying anger going around, but also with regards to environment: in her enthusiasm to promote energy and environmental measures, the government acts the same: the solution is sought after in new products and stimulating technology development. Its the ideal distraction maneuver for reducing environmental impact: buying new technology! That should solve it, and we should invest in that. In other words: if the engineers don’t find new technologies, its out of their hands to act upon it. Its running forward, without analyzing the problem properly. Its a very poor attitude.

Take transport and infrastructure, which shows beautifully how this unfolds: If roads get too busy, the minster and civil servants should: ‘Mobility is a right’. And new roads are financed by the government. If smog is the result, and fine-dust problems, the same people call: ’technology development’ and catalysts are developed and mandated. Then people complain about to high noise levels, and the government goes to industry and demands: “we need silent asphalt! “

The environmental lobby shouts for measures to combat climate change, and the government installs a stimulation program: cleaner production. And wants to capture carbon and store it underground. And lately its new electric cars, and a complete new infrastructure that is promoted.

The problem itself is seldom addressed, only side effects that again and again require new measures to combat new side effects. As Huesemann stated in his book Technofix[1]: Technology solves problems which technology has created.

Another measure in this battle is the limited CO2 credits for the industry (ETS) . But by creating limits to CO2 at industry level , they become scarce and privatized, which makes it ideal to earn money with it. Besides, the industry gets the basic amount of credits for free. How unworldly should you be, to choose this strategy? As Kenis and Lievens [2] describe it: “Its not the polluter pays, but the polluter earns”. CO2 credits should be given to people, consumers, end uses.

In none of the examples the initial problem is tackled: How to prevent driving at all, the non-transport option? Or less driving , or differently?

But as we saw before: without valuing “ nothing” , the choice will always be ‘something’. So how to value nothing? , for instance not not building? In other words: intensive use of existing buildings: (sheltered) space organization management. And the not-heating of parts of the building… In the past hundred years we have seen many changes in ways of heating. A lot of technology development, similar like transport. And the past 30-40 years there have been a lot of efforts to make heating more efficiently. But what is the result? Around 1900, a family in a Amsterdam canal house, used around 6 mud of coal to survive winter. Later, we found gas, had central heating, insulated houses , use double glass etc etc. But the energy consumption did not reduce: the use in 1900 per m2 is the same as in a new reference house in 2000: ! (170 MJ/m2) The difference is: in 1900 only one room was heated, and only in the evening when all were at home. Today the whole house is heated, for the whole day! We have gained in comfort, but not in energy efficiency. Despite 30 years of energy efficiency campaigning. Its bout the art of not heating, of not applying all new technologies…

And today we are busy with even more drastic measures: The whole house ‘make over’: new facades, new roofs, new installations, The whole house comforted only to cover a few real cold weeks in winter, which even get warmer and shorter . Which will cause an enormous rebound effect in materials consumption and impacts. All sold under the motto of being more comfortable. With lighting the same : from the first lamp, to energy saving lamps, not a single kWh was ‘saved’. The other way around, It has led only to more lighting points, more lighting hours . Its questionable if LED will be the solution. It reduces energy, per lighting point, but using more scarce materials, and maybe even create more lighting points again. Investments lead to more comfort and more health, or in some cases maybe even to financial savings, that will however be spent on other energy and materials consuming devices.

In the Netherlands, but I suppose also in other ‘ rich’ countries, the comfort and health arguments are used to make some alleged advancements in environmental areas. Which is a dead end road: not only is the result everything except environmental progress, but it makes people think that anything that is good for comfort and health automatically is sustainable. Which will backfire. Something is either good for the environment or it is not. Let us keep that clear. All so called marketing techniques, are precisely what the name suggests: to market products. , enlarging the market, not reducing it. And not to improve on sustainability. And while in the European approach there is still some social and cultural sense, the Anglo-American approach is exclusively aimed at enlarging markets, earning money, even with WTO and Worldbank advocating to commit others to the same attitude.

Not only energy consumption is increasing, also the materials consumption per capita still rises, despite dematerialisation policies. The governments facilitates these processes, prompted by industry lobby’s.

Its however not a governments task to protect ‘individuals’ interest, either of persons or industries, ( which is different from protecting the weak) . The major task is to guard the collective interest. If some individual wants to live in larger house for instance , its his choice, ad if he succeeds , fine. But its not the tasks of a government to facilitate this. As for a company that wants to grow: fine, but not a common interest. Both will create a larger environmental impact, and thats common interest: to reduce the environmental interest to prevent climate change. For instance. If the individual demand is supported, it requires new and added technologies that leave the individuals wishes intact, to reduce climate impact. If the common interest is supported, generic measures are taken that probably will limit individuals interests .

For the last one, there is no need for technologies tot be introduced. It requires a different order of organization of society. Which I would like to describe as “ Exnovation” . What we need is not innovation, but Exnovation ! The rejection of innovations, not using technology, or even going back to low-tech (-nology). The Wu Wei of the previous article. Not buying a laundry dryer that is A + , and in a few years a new one that is A+++ , but drying the laundry in the wind. Or not buying and installing a electric doorbell, with 50 tunes to choose from, which later will be coupled to a camera and so on, so that you can see from your holiday address who rings , to tell the delivery boy to bring the package to the neighbors, but installing a simple push or pull bell. The delivery man will understand that your not at home and that delivering the package to the neighbors is an option…. And so on.

Back with two legs on the ground, and realize whats really at stake, and not running forward with every new innovation, as a medicine to make us forget what should have been done if we would be honest. Thinking about ‘Exnovation’ , as an option.

[1] Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us Or the Environment Huesemann & Huesemann

[2] Kenis A and Lievens M (2015) The Limits of the Green Economy. From re-inventing capitalism to re-politicising the present. Routledge Studies in Environmental Policy, London: Routledge

Author: ronald rovers