Machine versus Mankind

Let us begin on a sarcastic note, in the words of George Carlin:“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticide grain, for strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain.Dear Earth, man sheds his waste on thee,and hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.”


Environmentalism is an issue that seems to suddenly top the lists of global concerns, political agendas or NGOs priority lists etc. Whether it is antithetical or complementary to scientific progress remains an ongoing debate. Here’s a brief assessment of the prevailing situation.


The Nuclear technology. It may indeed have been one of the greatest discoveries of mankind, when we talk in terms of the dire need for energy. But the wastes of these reactors are often conveniently disposed off under sea beds. Not only has this been extremely hazardous to aquatic life, but has also increased radiation levels alarmingly. And of course nuclear weapons by their very nature are destructive. The attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima have caused some irreparable damage that even today Japan, being one of the technologically most advanced countries in the world, may produce perfect robots but cannot produce perfect human beings. Such were the genetic and somatic effects of the blasts.


Secondly, one must realise that by supporting environmentalism, we are not at any point being regressive in our approach or undermining science. We are not seeking to cease technical research or development but yes, it needs to be compromised or altered, for the environment is not an isolated concept, but synonymous with human race.


Moving on, one does concede that we cannot live without the comforts of electricity. Belonging to a near equator developing nation, one knows exactly how essential it is, and also that it unfortunately remains a luxury for most. But if construction of a dam means displacement of a thousand people and destruction of flora and fauna, one ought to reconsider it. Many developing countries have also become dumping grounds for e-wastes and are literally paying the price for technological progress taking place elsewhere. Even within the debate of conservation for resources, there exists a commercial lobby.


Be it global warming, ozone layer depletion, acid rain or any kind of pollution without bringing in any statistics, to put it in simple words, Bangladesh would soon submerge into the Bay of Bengal, if the conditions do not alter. A worldwide catastrophe is waiting to happen. One cannot, and must not underestimate the gravity of the situation; there is almost a need to put the environment in the category of national security!


Besides issues such as gene patenting, animal experimentation and partial birth abortions, may question technology on ethical grounds. Dolly gets arthritis; DDT causes sterility, a recent study also proved that genetically modified seeds remained ineffective. Example being, the frost resistant cotton plants never ended by ripening. The history is literally littered with overwhelming damage done. For successful technology, reality must take precedence over greed, for the nature can not be fooled.


Relative success of the Kyoto Protocol, the carbon credit system binding nations to reduce emissions and the innumerable United Nations conventions are definitely a step forward in this direction. But on the international level, the issue of whether the credit system must be based on per capita income or the amount of emissions remains a bone of contention between the developing and the developed nations.


The basic solutions sometimes are offered by science itself, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, bringing solar energy into affordable limits and wind and tidal energy contributions to a greater percentage would together constitute a step towards ‘sustainable development’, which is, and should be a way of life in itself.


Saumya Saxena

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