I was reminded of this by the question regarding technology to react to pandemics.
In high school, senior year, we were given in-class essay assignments once either every month, or two weeks, I forget which, but one time, the question was “What modern discovery (this was 1984-85) would we take back in time in order to help humanity, and what time would we take it to?”
The teacher had us read another person’s essay, and summarize it, then the class would discuss it. The one I read was by someone who wanted to take antibiotics back to the time of the Black Death.
Noble enough, but I sensed a bit of wanting to be a hero as well. I argued that doing this would accelerate the current problem of over-population, and would affect society poorly by removing the impetus for the class system reform in western Europe, which happened when so much land became available after so many people had died-- basically, the serf system ended.
I have not thought about this assignment in a long time, and I’m getting chills now, because I can’t believe how prescient my idea was. I was not an especially activist kid in regard to the environment-- I’d walk an extra block to throw my trash away, and I recycled, but there were a lot of things I didn’t do, like think twice about driving an old car that burned transmission fluid, and got about 12mpg.
Anyway, my idea was to go back to just before the industrial age, to the time right before the electricity grid was created, with solar panels and wind turbines, and convince investors in electric companies that manufacturing the means to tap into free power sources were more profitable than mining fossil fuels, and paying all those suppliers and other middlemen.
I was aware that coal was already being mined as a heat source, and would probably continue to be for some time; but if mining coal on a the large scale necessary for running electricity plants as well as mining oil never really became things-- maybe oil would be mined as a lubricant, but that would be in negligible amounts-- it would be much better for the environment.
I had no idea about holes in the ozone or climate change. I mostly knew that mining itself damaged the environment (I had read about slag heaps in Wales in How Green Was My Valley, and it made me look in coal mining states like Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and sure enough, I saw slag heaps), and that fossil fuels were a finite resource. I had lived through the US miners’ strike of 1977-78, and anticipated a point in my adult life when fossil fuels became scarce, and were rationed.
So what’s your answer? What would you take back? To what time? Why?