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Sci Tech    H2'ed 12/3/20

A brief history of electricity and telecommunications

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Letter #8

A brief history of electricity and telecommunications

A letter to Greta Thunberg

by Katie Singer

Dear Greta,

When Wall Street International asked me to write this column, I thought of you. You stand with people who seek a livable future, a healthier balance between nature and technology.

You call yourself a communicator, not an expert. I do not consider myself an expert, either. I'm a writer. I learn about life by asking questions and writing about what I learn. In the last 25 years, I've talked nearly every day with scientists and engineers who patiently respond to my questions. These conversations have changed my thinking about technology's impacts on nature. I want to share what I've learned, and these letters give me a place to do so.

I see that we are sustained by nature. We also depend on technology. After decades of taking much of my world for granted, I'm learning the true costs of electricity and the Internet. I'm learning what it takes to grow broccoli for two people for one meal. (Because of California's wildfires, broccoli and kale are not available at my grocery store. To grow our own, my husband and I got two raised beds with insulating covers.)

Greta, I've started to ramble. In short, your name helps make my letters recognizable. Thank you.

A brief history of electricity

When I started learning about electricity, physicists sent me back a few billion years, when our planet was a mass of gasses, water, dust and rock. After a buildup of charge, lightning began to strike. Over millions of years, the Earth was bombarded by lightning storms. This led to nucleic and amino acids, the building blocks of life. Early plants made oxygen and paved the way for animals.

Homo sapiens arrived about 200,000 years ago.

To make our lives easier, we made tools: Knives, bows, arrows and spears. Shovels, wells and cisterns. Cream separators, butter churns, clay pots, copper pots, iron pots. Oil lamps. Hand-operated drills. Wheels and carts. Sewing needles. Knitting needles. Spinning wheels, looms. Calendars, compasses and measuring devices. Grain storage bins. Numbers, alphabets, symbols, paper and ink. Libraries and printing presses.

Even with all of these tools, people lived at the edge of starvation and disease.

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Katie Singer writes about nature and technology in Letters to Greta. She spoke about the Internet's footprint in 2018, at the United Nations' Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation, and, in 2019, on a panel with the climatologist Dr. (more...)
 

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