What are the adverse effects of technology on our environment ?

Technology leads to speedy developments and changes. But at the same time technology gobbles up resources very fast. It means that the depletion of raw materials is also very fast. If whatever cotton produced in one year is consumed by a textile mill in six months, what would happen ? The workers would have nothing to do for the rest of the year. If cotton is grown in larger areas where some important crops such as wheat and rice are grown, there will increased production be of which cotton fulfils the needs of the textile mill. But these will be a decreased production of food crops.

Can one afford to go hungry in order to wear more clothes? Sometimes it so happens that a farmer becomes tempted to grow a particular cash crop such as cotton in fields used for growing wheat and rice. But this is a short-sighted approach. If every farmer starts doing this, there would be shortfall in overall grain production. This is where national planning of priorities becomes important. At the national level, a decision has to be taken regarding the scale of cultivation of different varieties of crops so that the country may become self-sufficient and maintain adequate buffer stock for emergency situations.

Let us now take the case of forests. In olden days cutting of trees was done manually. These days machines are used for this purpose. Hundreds of trees can be brought down in a day. Unless there is a balance between reforestation and felling of trees, there will be no forests left on this earth, and it will spell doom on the environment. This will play havoc with the lives of animals including human beings. In the past decade, the tropical rain forest was reduced from 4.7 to 4.2 billion acres. In the past two decades one million species vanished from world’s tropical forest.

Let us do a simple case study. Assume that there is a forest with 100 trees and each tree takes 10 years to grow. People cut down 10 trees per year and also replant 10 trees. If we plot a graph of the number of fully grown trees in the forest every year, it will be like the one shown in Figure 7.1. After 10 years, we find that only 10 trees are left (remember, each tree takes10 years to grow). This goes on to show that the resources available to us have taken a long time to become as we see them today. It is very easy to use up these resources, but every difficult to get them back.

Coal and petroleum reserves are the products of millions of years of natural processing of dead trees and fossils. The manner and the proportion in which these resources are being used up, we shall be left with nothing of these in a couple of hundred years.

Whenever we adopt a new technology for our advantage, we have to look both the sides of the coin, i.e., we also have to find out whether it can indirectly create a condition or a situation in which man may find himself trapped. One of the basic questions that we have to ask is: How fast are we converting resources into non-resources and what will happen if all the resources (for example, coal and petroleum) are exhausted? Let us take another example should be grow more cotton than creates? Should we use fertilizers indiscriminately just because its application increases the yield? Growing more cotton may mean less gain production and excessive use of fertilizer may render the soil infertile. It is just possible that for our immediate and short-term gains we are causing irreparable damage to our environment.

Development of science and technology has no doubt improved living conditions and saved man from many diseases and calamities. These days’ people are not afraid of epidemics like plague, cholera and pox. Their causes have been determined and control measures have need worked out. Infant, mortality has gone down because of greater health care measures adopted before and after the birth of a child. Many life-saving drugs are available. The science of nutrition has helped in reducing the incidence of ailments. All these things have resulted in the decline of unnatural and premature death rates, and have increased life expectancy. To understand how fast the population of the world is increasing, try this. Plot y = zx, taking x= 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, … you will get rapidly increasing values of y and we call this increase an exponential increase. Figure 7.2. Shows the growth of world population in the past two hundred years or so and you will notice that the nature of the plot is similar to the one for y = zx. The population of the world was about 1 billion in 1830. It doubled to 2 billion in 100 years and is expected to cross the 8 billion mark by the year AD 2000.

If human population were to remain constant on this earth, the birth and death-rate should be equal. Earlier, when technology was not developed, a natural law used to be effective in maintaining the death rate in proportion to the birth-rate. Developments in medicine and surgery have ensured greater chances of survival and prolonged life-span. But there has been no corresponding reduction in birth-rate. As a result, there has been a steady increase in human population, leading to corresponding increase in the consumption of global resources and greater exploitation of the environment. This is the other side of the coin. Does it then mean that we should forsake technology? NO. All we have to do is to bring down birth-rate in the same proportion in which death-rate has been reduced. Again, technology offers us birth control methods to bring down birth-rate.