Technology won’t save us.

Greta Grüne München Klimawandel Digitalisierung

Air taxi! Synthetic kerosene! Only no prohibitions!

That’s the way it sounds from FDP and Union when it comes to climate protection. The FDP/ Unions thesis: With new technologies, climate protection will be the answer.

My thesis: We urgently need technologies for climate protection. But without the right framework conditions, without instruments such as a CO₂ levy, without regulatory policy, without market incentives and without social innovations, for example changes in mobility behaviour, even the greatest technologies are of little use.

Take the example of an air taxi: a small electric aircraft can be operated with renewable energy and requires relatively little infrastructure. A great mobility solution! For example for remote villages on the Norwegian fjord coast. But an answer to the traffic problems of European cities? Rather not. Other technologies make much more sense. The bicycle, for example. This is 200 years old, but it is not the case that nothing has happened since then, see e-bike, which makes it much easier to commute by bicycle over longer distances or to transport loads.

Take electric cars, for example: the e-drive principle is not new, but we are currently experiencing a technological revolution in terms of practicality and range. The electric car is important for climate protection. But hardly any other example makes it so clear how important the interaction of new technologies, regulatory law and other framework conditions is.

If we replace 44 million passenger cars in Germany with (similarly large and heavy) e-cars, that would be anything but sustainable.

Of course, the many resources that are in such a battery also leave a footprint at CO₂ . We will only achieve sustainable and climate-friendly mobility when we have the right of way for bicycles in our cities, the right of way for trams, trains and (electric) buses, and for all those who walk. And when cars are smaller and lighter and are often shared.

We must not be afraid to set limits: No new registration of vehicles with combustion engines. Speed limits. Reduce parking spaces and lanes, make inner cities (largely) car-free.

I am convinced that if we do not make digitization usable for climate protection, then we will fail in climate protection. Whether it’s the smart control of traffic or the intelligent control of power grids and building technology, digital innovations are the key in many areas. Without smart digitization, there can be no consistent turnaround in energy and transport.

However, if we rely on the fact that digitalization is good for the climate per se, we are making a huge mistake. Digital technologies are already causing more damage at CO₂ than air and sea traffic combined.

Only if the electricity for data centers comes from renewable energies, only if we rely on efficient cooling in data centers that use waste heat, only if smartphones and the like are durable and repairable will digitization also become ecological.

And only if we think harder: Where does digital control, the use of an AI, really make sense? And where not? We don’t blindly trust that any inventions that may be invented at some point will magically save the climate. Technologies are never a goal, technologies are tools. For effective climate protection we must use new technologies, but blind trust in technological breakthroughs does not help us.

This text first appeared in the member magazine GRETA of the Munich Green Party.