The impacts of technologies on our environment are obvious and witnessed by everyone Nigeria. In fact, environmental issues are the biggest challenge facing our planet earth today: depleting ozone layer, global warming, reduction of vegetation, extinction of animals, climate change, etc. These problems are largely associated with technological advancements in industries and establishments of power plants. Let us take examples from coal combustion and conversion technology to illustrate this point.
Coal is an energy source whose preparation goes through several gaseous industrial processes. It is formed by the decomposition of the remains of plants in swamps or river deltas and consists of two stages of formation: Biochemical and Geochemical. Coal contains elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur. Experts have predicted that the large-reserves of coal world-wide ensures that coal will remain crucially important energy source in the forthcoming era of energy shortage (e.g. crude oil and natural gas, the energy sources upon which the present economic growth of the industrial world depends ).
The preparation of coal involves the removal of its elements. In the process, these elements results in pollutants (particulate malter, sulphur, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, etc) which affect human health, ecology, global climate, and leads to haze and smog, among others. For example, Merrick states that the gases produced as a result of coal combustion contain particulate material, some of which is carried into the atmosphere with the flue gases. This particulate emission results in respiratory diseases urban smog that increases mortality. The London smog of 1952, for example, has been estimated to have caused 4000 additional deaths.
Emission of Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming
Another very important element in coal technology is carbon dioxide, the fifth most abundant gas in the atmosphere (after nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour and argon), and which plays important roles in life processes. Usually, carbon dioxide is not regarded as a pollutant, but its increased concentration in the atmosphere is reputed as the cause of climate change and global warming. According to Merrick, reliable measurements show that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 315ppm (by volume) in 1958, 338ppm in 1980 (an average increase of 0.3 percent, or 1ppm, per annum). “For comparison, it has been esti mated that the carbon dioxide concentration at the beginning of the industrial revolution was 290ppm”.How does carbon dioxide cause global wa rming?
Global warming can be easily understood (given our discourse from the foregoing paragraph) as an increase in the average temperature of the earth as a result of natural calamities (such as volcanic eruptions, movement in the technonic plates, exploding of sunspots, etc) and man-made activities (such as deforestation, power plant installations, burning of fossil fuels, generation of poisonous gases, etc). Global warming is not an emerging environmental issue associated with technology; its consequences are already being felt: the melting of glaciers, rising of the sea levels, disintegration of wild-life, drying up of forests, increasing rain fall, etc. RajibSingha properly highlights these effects in his assertion that global warming…
- Is causing changes in the climate which are too rapid for some living things to adapt to
- Is causing earth’s ice sheets to melt thus, increasing the sea level
- Is causing weather to become extreme; characterized by the development of major storms, longer spells of drought, more rain than required, and alterations in the life-supporting ranges for the survival of plants and animals
- It may, or is causing heavy precipitation even in places which stopped receiving heavy rainfall
- Also, causes water bodies to absorb heat more than usual. This is because, with the glaciers melting down, heat is reflected in low amounts and absorbed in high amounts by sea and oceans thus, further increasing the temperature.
The constant day-to-day variations in climate and its consequent effects raise fear as to what become of our world a couple of decades from now, and what would be the fate of future generations.
In order to properly understand how carbon dioxide causes global warming, scientists came up with the ‘greenhouse effect’ theory. A greenhouse is a building where plants are grown under a controlled environment. Control in the sense that the building is rooted with different but transparent materials like plastic or glass. With this, the building allows solar radiation to be absorbed by the plants by letting it in, but it disallows the heat generated from getting out or escaping. Water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and carbon dioxide are the main greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. “What t hese gases do is, they form a kind of wall over the atmosphere, which although lets the solar radiation to enter, but keeps some of the heat that is radiated back from escaping into the space; similar to what is done by a greenhouse”.Thus, these greenhouse gases are seen as the immediate causes of global warming since, by their activities, the heat that is to be radiated back is trapped and results in the increase of atmospheric temperature.
However, carbon dioxide is considered the worst culprit because its emission and concentration rates in the atmosphere are higher than those of other gases. These higher emission rates result from combustion of coal and fossil fuels in factories, vehicles, homes, and in electricity generation, the burning of bush and forests, etc. Therefore, the trapped heat that results from the other gases is relatively small compared to carbon dioxide given its increase number of emitting sources in the world.
As we have seen, the impact of technology on nature is troubling and its effects cannot be overemphasized. In fact, some scientists have predicted that some cities of the world would be submerged by water 100 years from now as a result of global warming (Lagos inclusive). This problem generates issues of ethical reflections both in the ethics of technology and in environmental ethics in particular relation with responsibility. Governments and people of the world must take responsibility) or their actions and in actions) and stop paying lip-science to efforts of combating global warming, especially in the area of reduction of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere.
Effects of Global Warming on the Environment
- Rapid changes in the climate which is detriment to the existence of some living things.
- Melting of earth’s ice sheets, thereby leading to rise in sea level.
- Extremely harsh weather condition characterized by the development of major storms, longer spells of drought, excessive rainfall, and alterations in the life-supporting ranges for the survival of plants and animals.
- Heavy precipitation even in places which stopped receiving heavy rainfall.
- Water bodies’ absorption of heat beyond the normal due to the melting of the glaciers. Heat is thus reflected in low amounts and absorbed in high amounts by sea and oceans thus, further increasing the temperature.
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Technology
We must bear in mind that even though technology has emancipated itself into semi-independent cognitive discipline, it still has many links with science. That is to say, science and technology are intimately related to the extent that you can hardly talk of the one without the other. This idea has led to a blending or hybridization of science and technology into what is now known as techno science. That said, it is irrational to hold that al technology is evil or neutral. Some technologies are inherently good and, perhaps, neutral; while others are inherently evil and non-neutral. How do we maintain a balance between this inherent goodness and evilness? Since technology, according to Heidegger, enframes us and deprives us and nature of essence, some scholars have interpreted Heidegger as suggesting a retreat to a non- technological past. Is this possible?
There is no gainsaying that modern society is constituted or shaped in various ways through technological systems and networks. For instance, human experiences such as birthing babies, education, exercising citizenship, combating sickness and diseases, going to work, etc, are all mediated by technology. Given this inevitable tangle of technology with society, Thomas Misa has argued that there is no way of retreating or responsibly escaping this condition of modernity.
Despite these positives, technology cuts deeply with its other edge and endangers humanity, the environment, and all of nature. Our inescapability forms the enframement and, according to Marx, alienation of technology suggests that we must seek ways of confronting it (technology) constructively. We need not rebel against all technology because as humans we have wisdom and free will to choose between which technology to use and which to rebel against. This calls for a more responsible use of technology by consumers and, most importantly, a more responsible creation of technologies by engineers and managers who cannot run away from the fact that they are morally responsible to humanity. This and many other related issues should not escape the critical gaze of the philosopher of technology.