Conservation vs. Innovation

Recommended book review

A balancing theme I’ve been struggling with these days is:

[Conservation vs. Innovation]

For example — rather than promoting water conservation in American households (not really for the actual volume conserved, but more for the cascading consumer influence it might trigger), should we just put our coins into clean energy efforts like desal, which would pass along — behind the scenes — savings from farther-along technologies like solar? (Let’s ignore the need for transport for a moment.) Which will be the greater forcing function: Conservation or Innovation?

Of course, I want an easy answer, when there is none.

Eager to collect clues for this question I went to a talk by Charles Mann, who was on tour to promote his new book. Standing on stage he presented two personas: (1) The Prophet [the Conserver] — propelled by some fundamental belief of future finiteness and a responsibility to not exceed, and (2) The Wizard [the Innovator] — propelled by some indecipherable urge to do something more expansive than currently available. Two men, born in the early the 1900s, served as examples.

I left Mann’s talk with more questions. Most notably — how do these two personas interact? How might they motivate their respective teams? Assuming that they’re at conflict, would they counter-balance each other into nothingness? In the day and age of Twitter, I find myself creeping into a new cynical nature, believing they’d spend the bulk of their real-time battling back and forth rather than actually *doing* something.

Nevertheless: How can the two personas work together? How do we blend the Conserver and the Innovator?

A wise answer from the dinner table, post-talk, adventured: “The two blend in our minds — the minds of others. Each side pulls this way and that. And so we move from one side to the other, in a manner that moves us forward.”

Review: Going Beyond the Limits of the Earth With ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’

Review author: William Easterly



Yet if Prophets have overstated limits to growth, according to Mr. Mann, the Wizards have understated them. They have hubristic faith in the power of science to solve any problem, like the relentless techno-optimism today of TED talks. But not every finite resource is so expandable as petroleum. Even if economic incentives exist, innovation is unpredictable, not automatic.
The purpose of Mr. Mann’s indispensable book is not to declare a winner, but — with luck — to help us find the right mixture of Prophets and Wizards in the future.
Stripe rust on wheat

Public Domain,

Like what you read? Give Liz a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.