Technology, Energy and the
|Main Idea: The most serious negative
consequences of technological advance has been damage to the
environment. Nevertheless, history suggests that technology can be a
part of the solution to the environment and energy problems.
- Technological innovations damage the environment
through depletion of non-renewable resources and pollution.
- The widespread use of fossil fuels generates a large amount
of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which is responsible for the greenhouse
effect. While it is generally agreed that the greenhouse effect
results in global warming there is no agreement on the severity or
impact of global warming.
Possible effects include
- Melting of polar ice-caps and rise of sea level
- Rise in average temperature
- Loss of current crop-growing areas
- Other problems resulting from technological innovations include:
- Acid rain: the by products of burning fossil fuels
include nitrogen and sulfur which combine with water to produce
- Deforestation: 28 hectares are cut each minute. The
burning of these trees creates more CO2 and decreases the
number of trees to absorb CO2.
- Hazardous waste: 279 million tons are created each year.
- Depletion of fossil fuels: although it is difficult to
determine the size of oil and natural gas reserves and it is
impossible to know with certainty the future rate of
consumption, it is generally agreed that production will peak
- Loss of topsoil has increased cost of farming and potential
loss of food production capabilities.
- History demonstrates the potential negative impacts of technology,
but it also shows us how some threats have been
addressed. In particular, one can discern a pattern of
substitution of one energy source for another and development of new
- Technology may thus provide a substitute for fossil fuel and the
development of systems that use alternative fuels. Several
obvious options have serious problems, however:
- Requires 12 years worth of energy to create a nuclear
- Will not significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels
- Limited amount of uranium requires "breeder
reactors" to produce plutonium - which can easily be used
- Nuclear waste remains dangerously radioactive for tens of
thousands of years.
- Still in early stages of development
- Inefficient when one compares cost to actual benefit
- Some question its reliability
- Requires a means of storing electricity
- In the short term, technology may be most helpful in conservation
measures. In other words, we can reduce pollution and slow down the
depletion of resources such as fossil fuels through the use of
technology that increases efficiency and reduces pollution.
- Energy intensity is the ratio of energy used to
production output. It reached a peak around 1915.
Since that time, technology has helped us make more efficient
use of energy.
- The oil embargo of 1973 accelerated the decline of
energy intensity. As a result energy consumption level
remained constant between 1972 and 1985 even though the economy
- Technology led to increased MPGs for automobiles through
reduced weight, improved aerodynamics, and more efficient
- It will probably take a combination of government policy and the
free market to address the energy and environmental problems created
What are fossil fuels?
Explain the greenhouse effect.
What causes acid rain? What are some of the effects of acid
|What is a hazardous waste?
What does the
term "energy intensity" mean?
What are the potential
problems with nuclear energy?