Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 1900's sustainable technology time-warp

We live in an era of "buzz words"- the flow of information in our lives is increasingly linked by key, meaningful words that elicit an instant reaction and carry a great deal of meaning. Luckily for mother nature, many of those buzz words that we're hearing now have to do with one word in particular- sustainability. This term has connected everyone, from off-the-grid neohippies to stalwart businessmen. The vast majority of people in our modern world are beginning to fathom the repercussions of a century of unbridled, almost limitless development and resource consumption. The challenge of sustainability has become: "What do we do now?"

Many people, however, are asking a different question: "What did we do back then?" There's a surprising variety of organizations, websites, etc. that examine the significance of past technologies and lifestyles. Low-tech Magazine is one interesting example. The Sail Transport Network is another. As we try to respond to the sustainability crisis, the debate rages on between saving the world through more technology and saving it with less technology.

Earlier this week, I was browsing for green coffee beans on the Sweet Maria's website, and came upon their home roasting tradition page. Whodathunk that the Sears Roebuck catalog would have offered single origin green coffee beans... in 1900! It would be 100 years before the everyday consumer would even care about single origin coffee again.

Well, this got me thinking about what seems to be a very strange phenomenon- the 1900's sustainable technology time-warp. Somehow, around the turn of the 20th century, things that are just now becoming popular answers to the sustainability crisis where back then both present and unremarkable.

Electric cars are a common suggestion to ease our fossil-fuel consumption, though they remain expensive and lack a suitable infrastructure. However, back in the 1900's, electric cars were every bit as abundant as gasoline-powered. In fact, there was even a fleet of electric taxis in New York City in 1897. Arizona and New Mexico weren't even states yet, and we had an electric taxi fleet.

We had electric cars before we even had 50 states to drive them in.

How bout solar energy? Many a new invention has been proposed in recent years to help with our overuse of combustible resources, increasingly based on solar energy. Here's an ad from 1901 of a solar water heater system.

Strange? You bet. So what's the astrological connection with today? Well, technology is generally connected with the planet Uranus. Being a slower-moving outer planet, Uranus indicates gradual changes in technology, innovation, and organized freedom. Pluto, the slowest of the outer planets, binds us by generation and shows where deep power and transformation come from. Around the turn of the century, Uranus in Sagittarius was opposing Pluto in Gemini. Uranus here would tend to indicate innovation and new frontiers in philosophy, in our ideals, freedom of information- possibly an element of do-it-yourself technology? Pluto in Gemini, on the other hand, indicates deep changes to how we communicate and get around and added significance to new ideas and technology. The opposition of the two is a slow-moving tug of war that seeks to balance innovation and freedom of ideas with deep changes in communication and day-to-day technology.

These two planets are also in aspect today- this time Uranus in Aries squaring Pluto in Capricorn. The same energies of the planets are in slightly different clothes- this time the rights of the individual versus the power of a transforming business and government structure, in an uncomfortable and conflict-inducing square. However, part of this new square connects us to the turn-of-the-century opposition. The connecting theme is innovation. We are challenged to pioneer new technology and new ideals that challenge the status quo. No wonder, then, that we find ourselves looking to innovative eras of the past to answer questions of sustainability today.

Maybe not such a mysterious time-warp after all...

What do you think readers? Is the technology of our last Uranus-Pluto opposition the answer to the problems of our current Uranus-Pluto square world? What's the future of "sustainable" technology? Leave a comment!