Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6t h edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. III: HOW TECHNOLOGY AFFECTS THE HEALT H OF THE EARTH AND ITS INHABITANTS.
CHAPTER 6: TECHNOLOGY, ENERGY, AN D THE ENVIRONMENT
(97-117) The most obvious and long-lasting consequence of tech nological advance — the alteration and
destruction of the natural environment. There is a strong possibility that environmental problems
will worsen as more nations make greater use of indus trial technologies. Today, the U.S. (with
less than 5% of world’s population) consumes about 25% of the world’s resources. And by 2030,
China, India, and other developing countries will acco unt for an 85% increase in worldwide
demand for energy, according to the U.S. Dept. of En ergy. The deleterious consequences of
technological advance can be grouped into two broad ca tegories: DEPLETION POLLUTION (Harmful
Substances) loss of
skies deforestation acid rain extinction
Read: “greenhouse effect” (99-100).
Effectively addressing climate change will require development and application of new technologies
— and technological fixes usually need complement ary political actions if they are to be
Wherever it occurs, deforestation contributes to the extinction of plant and animal species
through the destruction of their natural habitats. Also , deforestation can contribute to global
warming when carbon stored in wood is released into t he atmosphere as the trees are burned
and, depending on how farmers/ranchers manage the land after is has been cleared, the soil
itself can become a large source of carbon emissions (1 01).
portion of which is hazardous.
Industrial societies generate massive amounts of refuse, a significant p
Restoring contaminated sites is expensive. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), cleaning up existing and yet-to-be-disco vered hazardous waste sites may cost
as much as $280 billion over a 35-year period (102).
Fossil fuels — essential to process of industrialization since at least the middle of the 19th C.
Petroleum-based fuels — basis of world’s transportation systems. The amount of oil that can be
economically extracted from a known reservoir depend s on prevailing market prices as well as
on the technologies available (102). Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 Another vital resource is the earth’s topsoil. Between 24 and 75 billion tons of soil are being lost
annually around the world. New land is unavailable; erosion and land degradation are removing
about 1% of existing arable land annually. Severe loss of topsoil has converted some regions
into deserts, resulting in widespread famine. And the continual growth of the world’s population
calls for the production of more food (102).
These environmental ills pose multiple threats to our standard of living, and perhaps, even to
our continued existence:
Reliance on fossil fuels .....Leaves atmosphere contaminated by various pollutants.
Agricultural pesticides .......Have poisoned groundwater and depleted topsoil.
Industrial processes ..........Produce thousands of tons of toxic wastes.
Nuclear power plants ........Leave radioactive waste — potential health hazards for 1000s of years. (103) Read: Some Technological Fixes of the Past (103-105).
Beginning in the 1950s, nuclear energy was thought to be the
next stage in the evolution of energy sources, but it is far from
certain as many problems still attend its widespread use (105).
Nuclear wastes present serious disposal problems that will only
intensify with expansion of nuclear power. If global production of
nuclear energy went from current annual output of 350,000
megawatts to one million megawatts, resultant waste material
would fill a disposal facility the size of Yucca Mountain in only
3½ years. Alternatively, nuclear plants could use a “close cycle”
process through which nuclear wastes are recycled into nuclear
fuel — but this entails additional costs. More ominously, it
results in production of large quantities of plutonium that could
be the basis of a nuclear weapon if only a small amount fell
into the hands of terrorists or hostile states (106).
Solar energy — large source of potential energy. Solar power
will likely become more significant as technologies improve
while conventional sources become increasingly costly (106). (Source: Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia) Wind power — use will increase as more efficient turbines are developed and the costs of
carbon-based sources steadily rise. The most efficient wind turbines can produce electricity for
4 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour — a price competitive with conventional power plants (107).
Many other sources of energy might become significant as reserves of fossil fuels are depleted
and their environmental consequences become intolerable but, for the immediate future, none
can rival petroleum as a relatively cheap and convenience source of energy (107).
Much of the expansion of production (and consumption) that has taken place since the Industrial
Revolution has come through the development of technologies dependent on external sources
of energy. Instead of substituting one source of pollution for another, a better course of action is
to try to reduce pollution by cutting back on energy use. New technologies along with better
management of heating, lighting, and ventilation systems have reduced energy costs by billions
of dollars. Example: Today’s refrigerators use only 25% of energy used by 1974 models (108).
Even greater savings follow when fuel consumption of private vehicles is reduced. It is likely that
new automotive technologies will be able to at least partially compensate for diminished fuel
Read: Economic Systems, Government Policies, and the Environment (111-114).
Page 2 of 2 ...
View Full Document
This note was uploaded on 11/15/2010 for the course SOC 415 taught by Professor Swift,d during the Fall '08 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '08