New ideas don’t come out of thin air. They build on information that is already in the public domain, provided by past generations of innovative thinkers and on public education systems that teach people the skills they need to extend existing thinking.
If ever there was a time when new ideas were needed, it is now. The biggest problem facing the planet is climate change. And it is unique, in that if everyone doesn’t adopt measures to combat global warming, no one will be safe. What we do as individuals, or individual countries, is useless unless everyone elsewhere follows suit. This has major implications.
Climate change cannot be a business opportunity – a difficult pill for our neoliberal economic system to swallow. Knowledge will need to be pooled and shared. New ideas and innovations will need to be accessible to everyone to reduce the planet’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Finding a solution, patenting it, and using it to make your fortune will not work. It might make you rich, but the planet will still cook and your children’s children will not look upon you very kindly, despite them inheriting all your ill-gotten gains. When it comes to saving the planet, there can be no ownership of ideas.
Neoliberals will throw their hands up in horror and exclaim that if there is no money to be made, no one will be interested in new ideas and innovation. Naively they think that the truly great minds of our society are, like themselves, only interested in making as much money as possible. The concepts of working for the common good, or to advance knowledge, or just a passion for a particular subject, are alien to them. Yet our universities, research institutes, workplaces, even garden sheds and garages are full of people motivated by these factors.
A more plausible argument is that if money is the only motivation, no truly innovative ideas will emerge. Our continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy, despite the damage it is doing to the planet, is proof of that. Digging up carbon is the cheapest and easiest thing to do if you want to make money out of energy.
We need to stop using fossil fuels as a source of energy. We urgently need affordable and accessible alternatives to the energy created by fossil fuels. There are plenty of sources of renewable energy around us. As Professor Colin Campbell-Hunt states “If there are limits on our use of energy they are not ones imposed by our planet but by our technological imagination.” (‘Basking in an untapped flow,’ Otago Daily Times, Sat 14 April 2018)
We need lots of new ideas and we need to share them. A rear guard action by those who want to take ownership of all ideas and use them solely for their own profit has resulted in copyright and patent protection being slipped into our ‘trade’ deals. With the US making noises about re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement the likelihood of even longer periods for patents and copyright being back on the agenda is high. This cannot be allowed to happen.
The future requires the free and open exchange of knowledge and for important technological advances to be accessible to everyone.