Energy Fact Sheet

Appropriate Technology

What is appropriate technology?

Appropriate technology is small-scale technology. It is simple enough that people can manage it directly and on a local level. Appropriate technology makes use of skills and technology that are available in a local community to supply basic human needs, such as gas and electricity, water, food, and waste disposal.

Appropriate technology is decentralized.

Today, many of our basic needs are handled by huge, complex systems These systems are managed centrally by large private corporations or the government. For example, our electricity typically comes from utility companies that operate across many states. Similarly, many of the fruits and vegetables we consume come from large-scale agricultural corporations in California. In contrast, with appropriate technology the person who produces a service or a product also becomes the consumer - the person who uses it. This has several advantages: For one, consumer-producers are more likely to care more about their work. As a result, service and goods are more reliable and of higher quality. Secondly, centralized systems remust invest a lot of money to purchase large, complex machinery and to employ thousands of workers. Often these systems are disrupted due to breakdowns in the technology, problems getting needed supplies, or labor strikes. When this happens a great many people are affected. Breakdowns such as a power outage may also occur in communities that use small-scale, appropriate technology. But these local breakdowns are not nearly so difficult and time consuming to track down and repair as those that cover a broad geographic area. Thus, a simpler technology tends to be more reliable, and the effects of breakdowns do not disrupt so many lives.

Technologically sophisticated, though simple in design.

It is important to realize that use of appropriate technology does not mean turning the clock back to the 18th or 19th century. Although the technology involves simple, easy-to use and repair designs, it is based on sophisticated, 20th-century technologies. One example is the invention of photovoltaic, or solar cells that convert solar energy, a renewable energy source, into electricity for homes and businesses.

Environmentally friendly.

Appropriate technology emphasizes the use of renewable resources, like the energy from the sun, wind, or water. These energy sources are available almost everywhere and need only the right technology to capture them. Unlike burning coal and oil, these local energy sources do not contribute to air and water pollution and they do not need to be transported over long distances. Food, energy, water, and waste disposal are also handled locally by ecological systems. These are systems that conserve resources by recycling organic nutrients back into the soil and re-using manufactured goods in innovative ways. Thus, appropriate technology makes it possible to satisfy our basic human needs while minimizing our impact on the environment.

Social problems.

Many people are coming to realize that neither our economy nor our population can continue to grow forever. We are running out of the natural resources necessary to sustain ourselves. In addition we are limited in our ability to deal with the social and environmental problems that result from continuous growth. There seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with the complexity and hectic lifestyle of 20th-century society. Many people would prefer to return to a simpler way of life. Appropriate technology is attractive because it makes households and industries more self-sufficient, and most things can be managed at a local level. We may have to do more hand labor instead of depending on automation to satisfy our basic needs. However, there are many advantages to simplifying our lives. By growing more of our own food and producing and buying goods in our own communitites, we spend less time and money on transportation, produce less waste and consume fewer environmental resources.

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