20071011

Breakthroughs

I'm a fatalistic thinker. Every time I move apartments, every block of IKEA-tofu I purchase, every scrap of thrifted merch that I haul into my space, it occurs to me: one day, I may have to burn this for fuel. I might abandon this by the side of the road. I'll leave this behind as I speed on toward the post-apocalypse. I don't know if it's a love of minimalist living or if it's that I'm good at exit strategies or if it's just that I don't trust anything to last, but every material good seems plausibly expendable. I could always live off of less.

So anytime I see something that enables people to get by using less, or utilizes simpler technology, especially in places where people can't plug in their laptops, I just fall in love. Popular Mechanics' 2007 Breakthrough awards went to two notable ideas: one's a camper-stove design that fits the cooking pots used by the fugees living in Darfur, enabling them to save firewood (and, by extension, avoid mortal danger - every time they have to leave camp to gather firewood, they risk encounters with the Janjaweed.) Low tech and cheap. Another is a simplified, cheaper way to generate electricity from wind.

If life on earth were a giant game of Civilization, this stuff would be just what lets you win the game. (But then, I guess life on earth is exactly that.)