Wings Instead of Brakes

Germany is the land of poets and thinkers. Germany is traditionally a nation of ingenious engineers and scientists. Countless technical innovations "made in Germany" have changed the world for the better over the last hundred years -- from useful, small inventions like the double-chamber tea bag or the condom to revolutionary inventions like X-rays, the diesel engine or nuclear fission. We are the world market leader in concrete pumps, shower fittings, and dentist's chairs.  

But would all this possible by renouncing and reducing innovations? Would it solve the world's problems if we grow less? After all, even nature has never been about reduction and renunciation. Consider a blossoming cherry tree in spring: it saves nothing for the future. On the contrary, it is totally wasteful. But in its wastefulness, it creates life for 200 other species. Much is created for the sake of new possibilities.

"Transformative ideas only emerge by broadening our vision"

Vince Ebert
Physicist and cabaret artist

That is exactly what a well-designed strategy for the future should look like. It must be less about reducing and doing without, and more about inventiveness and creativity. After all, the history of innovations clearly shows that revolutionary breakthroughs usually came from routes that were never initially considered. Porcelain was invented because alchemists wanted to make gold. Tesafilm was originally intended to become a sticking plaster. Viagra was discovered because male test subjects refused to stop taking a heart medication during the test phase. 

Unfortunately, current policy does not set a framework with the open-minded attitude of "let's see what ideas, technologies and forms of energy will emerge in the future.” Instead, it claims "we know exactly what technologies we want to have in 20 years. And those are the only ones we're promoting." Everything else is regulated, prevented, or even banned: genetic engineering, stem cell research, combustion engines, oil heating, nuclear energy, fracking… With such an attitude 500,000 years ago, fire would never have been approved.  

To solve the great challenges of the future, we need more openness to technology and more competition. Because if anything can be said with certainty about innovations, it is only that they will take us completely by surprise.  

150 years ago, people were sure that the biggest environmental problem in big cities would be horse manure. Obviously, this is not our biggest problem at the moment. It's possible that our great-grandchildren will be similarly amused to learn that we worried about our petroleum supplies in the early 21st century. Humans are innovative and inventive. The Stone Age did not end because there were suddenly no more stones.  

True, we don't currently have a globally implementable solution to the problem of climate change. But we will certainly not get such a solution if we go through the world with tunnel vision in terms of environmental policy. Revolutionary ideas will only emerge if we broaden our view and conduct research in all fields of technology.  

Science may be able to determine the level of global temperature in 2050. But no researcher can make an informed statement about what technologies a future society will have available to deal with that situation. Therefore, science does not provide us with patent remedies, let alone solutions, on how to shape our future. It merely offers us methods for gaining ever better knowledge on the basis of which we can define new paths for the future. But this future remains open.  

You can, of course, put the brakes on a vehicle that is heading for an abyss and thus slow it down. But you can also give it wings on the remaining path. The CEF stands for exactly this latter kind of future-oriented design.  

There are thousands of alternate scenarios as to when exactly the production society will run out of raw materials. But there is not a single scenario that mankind will ever run out of good ideas.  

So, let's build wings rather than brakes! 

AuthorVince Ebert

Vince Ebert, born in 1968, has a degree in physics, worked as a management consultant and started his career as a cabaret artist in 1998. The FAZ calls him as "sharp as he is subtle". Known from the ARD program 'Wissen vor acht - Werkstatt', he has been delighting audiences with his scientific stage programs for over 20 years. His motto: "Make Science Great Again" - this applies more than ever in times of scientifically based debates. Vince Ebert lives in Vienna.