by Brad Rowen

Automation in is increasingly in the news. In particular, the suggestion that American workers are going to lose out in the coming robot revolution. It’s a genuine concern of course. We’ll have to work hard to help those displaced, as we have always had to. But that doesn’t mean we can or even should try to stop the displacement.

Consider the lamplighter. It was certainly an honorable profession, lighting oil and gas lamps along city streets. They improved the safety of the populace and enhanced our leisure. The electric light ended their work, however, except where nostalgia and novelty override efficiency. Light bulbs, whatever their construction, account for about half the emissions and energy use of the various fuels employed for street lamps.

Elevator operators are no more, at least in the west, as control systems improved to allow for easy operation by any novice. The youngest child can press the button now, and generally insists on doing so. That too, though, is no comment on the profession.

Coal was a huge boon in home heating, regardless of the opinion held by most today. Neither party is wrong; it’s simply that times change. Our preferences become more particular as our options improve. That is as true now as it was then. Remember, the ice man’s age ended, even as another age began.

The point is that humans are often anxious, when they enter a new phase, a new way of living, to denigrate the one from which they’ve just emerged. It still happens, and at a faster rate than ever before. “That was so five minutes ago,” is the saying, discarding everything we were without a second thought. And yet, there is no now without a then, no tomorrow or even today, without the day before.

So, as we call for an end to the indiscriminate use of plastic, we do so with gratitude for all it has meant to society. To say that that plastic’s time is drawing to a close is no rebuke; it is simply the way of things. We can now do better, for our landscape, for our health, for our oceans. And so we must.

It is always today, you see, and the future is always tomorrow. Go boldly if you can, but go we must. Do so with pride in what we achieved yesterday, and insistence on achieving more the next day. Whatever our past successes, there is always A Refreshing Alternative.

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