Impact of Technology on the Environment
Technology has a significant role in shaping the world, countries, society, the economy and also the environment. When we say ‘technology’, we mean the application of scientific practices and knowledge for practical purposes. It also includes the devices and systems that arise out of it. The world is rapidly changing and so is technology. There are major technological advancements and breakthroughs in every field. Today we will look into the connection between technology and the environment.
Technological advancement is a boon, and both a curse. The advancements have two-sided faces. On one hand, it has given solutions to address issues like degradation of the environment, climate change, acute scarcity of food, waste management, and other global issues. And on the other hand, it has also caused several environmental and social problems and led humankind to catastrophe, starting with resource scarcity across the globe. There is both a good and a bad connection between technology and the environment.
Advanced technological tools like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, block-chain tech, IoT, geo- mapping are some of the powerful tools that help humankind to effectively tackle climate goals. Major organizations with climate goals and resource goals use these advanced tools as a part of their strategies.
In the present world, where preserving the environment and its resources have become a priority, it is crucial to utilize the digital revolution to ensure environmental sustainability. This can be done with efficient use of both high and low tech solutions and build a proper positive linkage between technology and the environment. With proper use of the digital revolution, one can empower governments, corporations and people to adapt to environmentally sustainable practices, and implement environmental policies in their regular lifestyle.
The Industrial Revolution has introduced several new technologies that possess tremendous power to change the world. There was the transition to innovative manufacturing processes across Europe and the United States from 1760-1840. There were also several technological advancements and superior tech tools that left its impact on the environment including the misuse and damage to the nature.
Technology has damaged the globe in two primary ways- pollution and fast depletion of natural resources.
Air and Water Pollution
Air pollution refers to the situation when harmful or excessive amounts of gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and methane emit into the atmosphere. The primary sources (in reference to technological tools) emerged post the industrial revolution and a negative connection between technology and the environment. These include excessive burning of fossil fuels, tech tools in factories, power plants, mass agricultural practices and vehicles. This led to massive air pollution which subsequently gave rise to adverse health impacts both for humans and animals alike. Additionally, we also see global warming, where the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere trap thermal energy and causes global temperatures to soar rapidly.
Water pollution refers to the pollution of different water bodies of the planet like lakes, rivers, oceans, and groundwater. The pollution is primarily caused by human activities. Some of the major water pollutants include domestic waste, industrial waste effluents and agricultural insecticides and pesticides.
An example of water body pollution is the release of poorly treated wastewater into the natural water bodies. This adversely affects the aquatic ecosystems and also causes diseases like typhoid and cholera, eutrophication and degrades the ecosystem, making it uninhabitable. It also affects the food chain of that particular ecosystem.
Fast Depletion of Natural Resources
Rapid depletion of resources is another adverse impact of the connection between technology and the environment. It refers to the excessive consumption of a natural resource in comparison to replenishing power. Natural resources are those resources that form from nature, and are not created by humans. These can be either renewable or non-renewable.
There are many types of resource depletion. The major and most severe of them all are aquifer depletion, deforestation, rapid mining for fossil fuels and minerals, resource contamination, soil erosion and excessive consumption of resources. The overexploitation of natural resources occurs primarily due to practices like agriculture, mining, and wastage of water and consumption of fossil fuels. These are all aided by advancements in technology.
Global overpopulation is also another factor that leads to the degradation of natural resources. There is an estimation that the eco-footprint of the world stands at one and a half times compared to the earth’s ability to sustainably provide every individual with sufficient resources to satiate their consumption needs.
Technology and the Environment
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, large-scale mineral and oil exploration is on the rise and it is causing a superfast depletion of these resources. Adding to this, with the advancement in technology and R&D, the mineral exploitation process has become easier. Humankind is digging deeper into mother earth to get more resources. This is subsequently causing a production decline. It is an adverse connection between technology and the environment.
Deforestation is another harmful effect of technological advancement. With more earth cutting and tree felling tools, it has become much easier and more convenient to deforest an entire region in a span of days! Also, the consequences of acute deforestation have never been more severe than now. The World Bank has reported a net loss of around .3 million km2 of global forest between 1990- 2015.
Though this is more specifically for agricultural reasons, there is also logging for fuel and creating clear spaces for constructing residential areas. The rapid deforestation is causing a massive loss of trees, green cover and habitat for plants and animals. There is a dearth of trees, the crucial natural resource that takes up the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for us. There is a loss of habitat for the wild animals and exotic species of them, which ultimately are becoming extinct either from being poached or dying out because of excessive weather conditions.
Despite the adverse effects of technological advancement on the environment, there has been a recent uproar about global concern about climate change and a positive incline in the connection between technology and the environment. This has subsequently led to the innovation and development of environmental technologies that aim to solve crucial environmental concerns. These technologies strive to make the planet a sustainable and a low-carbon global economy. Environmental technologies are also referred to as ‘green’ or ‘clean’ technology. It works to conserve, strategize and reduce the negative impact of technology on the environment and natural resources.
The Paris Agreement of 2016 is a vital document that obliges every country in the world to make ambitious efforts to tackle climate change. The countries aim to keep the rise in the global average temperature at less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
There are several innovative environmental technologies that crop up every year. Some of these are ready to use and some at their prototype levels. However, all these tools are bound together by a desire to offer sustainable practices and solutions for the environment and create a positive connection between technology and the environment. Let us see the positive effect of technological advancement on the environment through the list of environmental technologies.
Renewable energy is also called ‘clean energy’. It refers to the energy collected from renewable resources that are naturally replenished. Examples of renewable energy are sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. The environmental technological tools of today enable humankind to capture these naturally occurring energy elements and transform them into electricity or useful heat. With the use of technological tools like solar panels, wind and water turbines, we are able to collect sunlight, wind and water to generate electricity. This leaves a positive impact of technological advancement on the environment.
Europe has overtaken coal as the second largest generator of electricity in 2015 to adapt to renewable resources. At present, renewable sources produce around 30% of the total electrical power in the UK. Though most of the renewable resource projects are specifically for large corporations, there are also projects meant for remote areas and developing countries, where energy is of utmost demand. This is a positive incline in the connection between technology and the environment.
The cost of renewable energy technologies like solar panels and wind turbines at present is falling and government investment is rising. For example, in Australia, it has contributed to the total rooftop solar installations increasing from around 4,600 households to more than 1.6 million between 2007- 2017 alone.
When we say smart home technology, we mean the use of devices like linking sensors and devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) that one can remotely use to monitor and program to become energy efficient.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of several internet-connected objects that can easily collect and exchange data with the help of embedded sensor technologies. The data collected enables devices of the same network to autonomously ‘take creative decisions’ based on real-time information. For example, the advanced intelligent lighting systems of today illuminate only the specific areas that need light. Additionally, an advanced smart thermostat will keep homes at specific adequate temperatures during specific times of day. These devices reduce the excessive usage of energy, reduce wastage and create a positive vibe between technology and the environment.
This advancement in technological devices is due to easy connectivity to the internet through Wi-Fi, and connection through Bluetooth and smart sensors in buildings and huge cities. Experts predict the cities of the future will have scenarios where each car, phone, air conditioner, and light will be interconnected and each city will then be an energy-efficient ‘smart city’.
Internet technology also has a positive impact on the environment through social media, wherein corporations and people too can raise awareness of global issues and motivate people to take up major climate goals. They can portray the good of the connection between technology and the environment. The internet can also facilitate the creation of global virtual laboratories for people, where experts from various fields can remotely share knowledge, their research experience and innovative ideas to give improved solutions. This will subsequently reduce pollution from transportation as people will be connected virtually from their homes/cities.
The electric vehicle is another innovative environmental technology that is a good way to conserve the environment. The electric vehicle is propelled by one or more electric motors with energy from rechargeable batteries. Ever since its introduction in 2008, there has been a dramatic increase in the manufacturing of electric vehicles because of their popularization as a positive transportation element to reduce environmental degradation like air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Electric vehicles are a positive vibe in the connection between technology and the environment as they don’t emit any carbon. Carbon emissions are a massive contributor to the ‘greenhouse effect’ and global warming. Electric vehicles don’t cause air pollution and are a cleaner and safer substitute. They are also less harmful to humans, animals, and plants alike.
Of late, several global governments have adopted electric vehicles and introduced many environmental technology government incentives that encourage the use of plug-in vehicles, tax credits and subsidies. These aim to promote the use of electric vehicles in countries. Electric vehicles are a way forward to a clean and green society. Organizations like Bloomberg predicted that electric vehicles could become much cheaper than petrol cars by the year 2024. In fact, Nissan states that in the UK there are more electric vehicle charging stations than fuel stations.
‘Direct Air Capture’ (DAC)
DAC is the environmental technology that removes carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. The process of DAC is to capture carbon dioxide from the ambient air. It then generates it into a concentrated stream of CO2 for sequestration or utilization purposes. After that, the air is pushed through a hi-tech filter by several large fans, where CO2 is efficiently removed. This technology can aid in handling emissions from various distributed sources like exhaust fumes from vehicles. It creates a good effect on technology and the environment. The full-scale DAC operations possess the capability to absorb carbon amounts. As much as equivalent to the annual emissions of around 250,000 average-sized cars!
Several scientists and environmental specialists argue that DAC is efficient for climate change mitigation and its prospective elements that will facilitate the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the major source of the problem, DAC will be a good solution. However, the extremely high cost of DAC makes it unfavorable for use on a large scale basis. Also, several experts believe that relying on the DAC technology will be a high risk. It is because it will make people believe that all the emissions and pollution can be easily removed from the atmosphere!
Environmental Monitoring Tools
Environmental monitoring is a crucial component of government and global organizational policies. They are a good tool for connecting technology and the environment. The environmental monitoring work includes the following methods:
- Sampling: Sampling of the ecosystem or the environment to study its quality is crucial. The sampling method is effective in establishing basic measurements like the chemical composition and salinity of an environment.
- Monitoring: Projects that need regular analysis monitor the environment with the help of sophisticated environmental monitoring tools and equipment. The monitoring may occur constantly or at pre-determined intervals.
- Passive sampling: In low budgeted projects, passive sampling occurs. The equipment used here is budget friendly and enables maximum coverage and data analysis at low costs.
- Remote surveillance: There are several projects that require remote surveillance equipment. In this process, there is a usage of a communications network that links the on-site technologies to the base station. The monitors can then easily store and analyse data feeds and also micromanage individual sites.
- Remote sensing: Remote sensing occurs in two ways– passive and active. In the passive way, there is tracking of reflection levels of natural radiation like sunlight. This process applies to detecting changes in plant-based ecosystems. In the active way, there is collection of topographical information. The active mode is applicable in remote areas like the Arctic. The process includes actively releasing energy and using devices to record the radiation levels that the region reflects back. Remote sensing is useful to monitor and study major issues like deforestation, climate change, depth sound and environmental conservation.
- Bio-monitoring: In this process, there is regular monitoring and study of plants and animals as they provide invaluable insight into the quality of an ecosystem.
Humankind can never reverse the adverse effects of technological advancement on the environment spurred by industrialization. However, there is hope in positive environmental technologies like renewable energy, smart-efficient logistics and electric transport. These can actually create a rapid de-carbonization of the planet and control further harm to it. It should be our utmost concern to create and promote the positive in technology and the environment. It is for our future generations to enjoy a clean and green planet!