What if climate REALLY becomes cooler than Silicon Valley?
That may be good. If it does not turn bad.
What’s happening, and why
Once upon a time, the most ambitious kids wanted to work at Wall Street. Then they all started going to the Silicon Valley. Now, says Protocol,
“In search of more excitement, purpose and impact, engineers and top talent from big tech companies like Apple and Google are quitting their jobs to join climate tech startups."
The reasons, as unsurprising as they are reassuring, would be both money AND purpose:
“compensation at climate tech startups is on par with that at similarly staged tech companies” where, quoting an engineer who made just that transition, “you’re fed the idea that you can change the world, and then you end up working on ads”.
Besides, working on climate tech “you can be excited and proud of what you’re doing and not ashamed of it”.
For the rest of us, this may be both good and bad. Let’s see why.
With any luck, the more engineers flee the Big Tech of the last years, the harder it will be for big “software platforms” to sustain the toxic, FEUDAL business models that made them bigger than banks.
On the hardware side, it may also become harder to keep dumping on society even more idiotic “smart” devices like this “lock”, these cars or these fridges. Maybe we will finally get really smart toilets, instead.
What’s bad, and could go wrong
A minor risk of this trend may be that it lasts too little, because it was only driven by boredom. If, under the hood, the only or main reason for a developer to seek a climate tech job is that “in traditional tech, all the cool and impressive things that are happening have already happened," that developer is equally likely to jump on another ship next year, once he sees that technological climate fixes are a bit harder to get right than the next iPhone. Or that they don’t really matter anyway.
Because the really dark side of this escape from the dull Big Tech of yesteryear to Doing The Right Thing for Climate is that it still has solutionism written all over the place. This is plainly visible in statements like these:
“I think Apple is doing the right thing with a lot of the environmental work, but ultimately their scorecard is How many products did you sell?” she said. “Our scorecard is ‘How much carbon dioxide did we remove?’"
Fact is, probably there is nothing to disrupt here… except the economy and the cult of GDP growth no matter what. But those are not technical problems that could be fixed starting from technology. They are just old style politics, even more boring than traditional Big Tech.