Opinion | Impact Of Technology On Environment 

Discussions of the environmental impact of technology can be approached in many interdisciplinary ways. The natural sciences are concerned with anthropogenic planetary processes and transformations — those induced by human activities. In this respect, the analysis and discussions are concentrated on physical, chemical, and biological systems through diverse disciplines such as geology, atmospheric chemistry, hydrology, soil science, and plant biology. However, many social science professionals are also involved in these discussions, since analysis of environmental changes also involves social causes. The scope of human intervention in the environment and how it is managed, bear particular importance in that humans are now the main causes of environmental changes. People affect the biophysical system by diverting resources (e.g., energy and matter) to human uses,and by introducing waste into the environment, thus causing environmental problems. Some environmental problems occur locally on micro levels (water quality and quantity, noise, local air pollution, hazardous materials, traffic, overcrowding, etc.) and can be solved by local decision makers, while others take place globally on the macro level (acid rain, desertification, natural-resource depletion, climate change, depletion of biodiversity, hazardous materials, toxic and nuclear wastes) and necessitate international cooperation. However, there are crucial manifestations of global environmental problems as local problems accumulate to become global crises.
One of the major causes of environmental problems is technology and how humans use it. Technology can be both the source and remedy of environmental problems. It also plays a critical role as an instrument for observing and monitoring the environment on global and local scales. Although technology has a crucial role in finding solutions to environmental problems, by itself it cannot fix anything. Technology is a social construct responding to social, cultural, political, and economic demands and priorities. These factors determine not only whether technology is used positively or negatively, but which forms of technology are developed, accepted, and used in the first place. Environmental impacts of technology depend on what technologies are used and how they are used. Technology is an intermediary agent of global change rather than the prime cause of it; that is, the design, selection, and application of technology are a matter of social choice. Therefore it is important to maintain a continuous link between technology and human behaviour (economics, culture, demography, etc.).
Environment concerns all individuals and living things, as the issue is concerned; effect of technology on the environment, it is important to understand its meaning fully. Among many other definitions, environment is defined as, “the conditions under which an individual or thing exists, lives, or develops”. In the case of humans, the environment embraces the whole physical world, as well as social and cultural conditions. The environment for humanity includes factors such as land, atmosphere, climate, sounds, other human beings and social factors, fauna, flora, ecology, bacteria, and so on.
Technology is manmade hardware and knowledge used to produce objects to enhance human capabilities for performing tasks they could not otherwise perform. The objects are invented, designed, manufactured, and consumed. This requires a large system with inputs such as labor, energy, raw materials, and skills. Throughout history, humans have acquired powerful capabilities by developing and using technology to transform the way that they lived; formed societies; and affected the natural environment on local, regional, and global levels.
It is important to understand that the development and acceptance of technology is dynamic, systematic, and cumulative. New technologies evolve from uncertain embryonic stages with frequent rejection of proposed solutions. If they are accepted, diffusion follows, and the technologies continue to grow and improve with widened possible applications to be integrated with the existing technologies and infrastructures. Demand growth is the result of complex interacting demographic, economic, and lifestyle forces. Ultimately, the improvement potential of the existing technology becomes exhausted and the diffusion saturates, paving ways for the introduction of alternative solutions. At any time, three different kinds of technology can exist: (1) mature technology for which no further improvements are possible; (2) incremental technology that can be improved by learning and R&D; and (3) revolutionary technology.
Environmental Impacts of Technology
The atmosphere is divided into various layers: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, exosphere, and the ionosphere. Since the formation of the atmosphere, there has been close interaction between the biosphere and atmosphere, one influencing the other. This continues today as society affects the chemical composition of the atmosphere through pollution and deforestation. The biosphere contains the ecosystem and biological diversity (biodiversity) of the world. Biodiversity encompasses the number and variability of all living organisms, both within a species and between species. Estimates for the number of species in the world range from 5 to over 50 million, of which only about 1.7 million have been described to date. Estimates for the loss of species within the next 50 years are 5% to 50%. Anthropogenic factors responsible for loss of biological diversity may be listed as: (1) Destruction, alteration or fragmentation of habitats; (2) Pollution and excessive application of agrochemicals; (3) Greenhouse effects and depletion of ozone layer; (4) Overexploitation of flora, fauna, and marine life; (5) Deliberate annihilation of pests or introduction of pests; (6) Deliberate importation of exotic species;  (7) Reduction of genetic diversity.
The Impact of technology on the environment has been both direct and indirect. Direct impacts are mostly made by new technologies by the creation of entirely new substances (e.g., DDT and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) possible. Many of these new substances lead to novel and direct environmental impacts. Indirect impacts arise from the human ability to mobilize vast resources and greatly expand economic output by means of productivity and efficiency gains from continuous technological change. For example shorter working hours and rising incomes, has changed time budgets and expenditure patterns, allowing the manipulation of human behavior to cause significant environmental changes.
The impact of technology on the environment is not uniform throughout the world, since the development and use of technology is not uniformly distributed. That is because development, acceptance and use of technology by humans is uneven and varies vastly from region to region and nation to nation, depending on their economic and social conditions. Today, still, there are billions of people who have been excluded from current technology or have a very small share of it. The effects of technology can be divided into three main areas: agriculture, industry, and services.
Next to fire, agriculture is the oldest human technology and has affected the natural environment for millennia. Agriculture is the largest user of land and water resources. Intensive soil cultivation, reservoirs, and irrigation have been part of many civilizations since antiquity. Since the 1700s the world population has risen considerably. To be able to supply food for the rising population, an estimated 12 million km of land has been converted from forests and wetlands to croplands. One of the major impacts of technology is through vastly improved agricultural practices in the last few centuries. This improvement has permitted an increasing share of the growing population to move to cities. In most industrialized countries today, less than 3% of the workforce works on farms. Prior to the industrial revolution, and still in many countries, that figure was about 75%, and the shift out of agricultural employment has led to urbanization. Many countries are now in the process of this shift. Coupled with the overall population growth, the increasing rural-to-urban migration causes infrastructure, health, housing, and transportation problems.
While important technological innovations can be identified in earlier historical periods, the most important ones that significantly influence the environment took place in the eighteenth century. The rise of industry as we know it today began with the textile industry in the UK, which led to mechanization and factory systems by the 1820s. Steam power also started in England, led to powerful mechanized industries, and spread quickly to other countries, reaching its apex in the 1870s to 1920s. In this period, innovations combined with accumulation of knowledge and social transformations reinforced one another to drive the industrial revolution. During the industrial revolutions there were three main tendencies operating: (a) substitution of machines for human effort and skill on large scales, (b) substitution of fossil fuels for animal power, which greatly increased the available power, and (c) the use of new and abundant raw materials.
Today, industrialization is at the core of global change. Because of the success of industrialization, artificial transformations of matter and energy have assumed global dimensions. Industry mobilizes about 20 billion tons of materials annually in the form of fossil fuel, minerals, and renewable raw materials. The extraction, conversion, and disposal of these quantities produce 40 billion tons of solid wastes per year. In comparison, total materials transported by natural river runoff is about 10 to 25 billion tons a year. In addition to quantity, quality also matters. For example, release of less than one ton per year of dioxins and furans is responsible for major human health and environmental concerns.
An emerging and important technological sector, which is likely to dominate human behavior and environmental impacts of technology in the near future, is the services and information industry. In it, the consumption activities are decentralized and driven by complex motivational structures. Its constraints are no longer dependent only on the natural and economic resources and technological limitations, but also on human activities. In industrialized countries, the service sector typically accounts for about two-thirds of economic output and employment.
Technology and Economics
Most societies in recent human history have sought to increase their level of economic activity through economic growth and increased capacity to provide goods and services. Economic growth requires inputs and greater consumption of resources; it accelerates the flow of matter and energy through the society to produce outputs. Technology helps this economic growth; hence technology and economics are closely related. The main drivers of this relation are population, demography, income levels and living standards, and resource use. Since the onset of the industrial revolution in the middle of the eighteenth century, global industrial output and productivity have risen spectacularly.

– The writer, M.A, LL.M (Gold Medalist), is a Guest Lecturer and former Acting Principal at Sopore Law College. He can be reached at im1415151819@gmail.com

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