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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 16. Can technology solve all environmental problems?

by Eco Generation | 06-10-2016 20:06 Comments 0 recommendations 0

20 Must Know Series-Title

16. Can technology solve all environmental problems?

20 Must Know Series-16_1

1. Can science and technology stop global warming?

     How will the world look like when Jenny turns 50? Will there be self-driving cars flying in the sky and underwater cities thanks to the development of science and technology? Or, as described in the movie 'Snow Piercer,' will artificial refrigerants spread out in order to lower global temperatures make the Earth freeze or trigger the next Ice Age?

      Many scientists predict just 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise would make a huge difference in the world. Can science and technology stop global warming? Some scientists suggest various methods to absorb carbon dioxide, the main culprit of global warming, or block sunlight to lower global temperatures. Creative and colorful ideas such as installing mirrors in space to block sunlight, farming seaweed by spreading fertilizer to absorb carbon dioxide, throwing gasified carbon dioxide into the ocean, or making artificial volcanoes erupt to block sunlight and heat have been suggested. How great it would be to stop global warming using these ideas. However, wouldn't there be some unexpected side effects when we actually used them? Let me tell you a story to remind you of the pros and cons of science and technology.

      In the late 1990s in Indonesia, malaria mosquitoes were vicious in farm villages, so people sprayed insecticide here and there. The chemicals, however, ended up exterminating not only mosquitoes but also other insects and bees. In those days, houses in Indonesian farm villages were similar to Korean thatched houses and insects lived in the roofs. After bees that used to feed on those insects were killed due to the insecticide, the number of insects in the thatched roofs rapidly increased, which eventually brought the roofs down. Additionally, cats were poisoned with the chemicals and the number of rats started increasing. In the end, a lot of people lost their lives.

     Humans also live in nature as part of it. In nature, numerous living and nonliving things create a huge ecosystem. Therefore, if you focus on only one and ignore other related things when solving a problem in nature, unexpected side effects will occur. Sometimes people think little of the principles of the ecosystem and overuse science and technology. This results in more side effects than benefits. Although mankind has been able to develop a convenient civilization thanks to science and technology, they should be more careful about it for these reasons. Back to Jenny's story, it seems right to come up with methods to live and create societies emitting less carbon dioxide instead of absorbing the main culprit of global warming, carbon dioxide, or blocking sunlight.

2. What if we had created electric cars instead of gas cars?

     Do you know about hybrid cars? Hybrid cars are vehicles that run on both electricity and gas. In response to environmental pollution and global warming, they have been getting attention. Can't we reduce more air pollution and global warming by using only electric cars? Electric cars, compared to gas-powered cars, generate little exhaust and noise. Then why are electric cars rarely used in our everyday lives? Is it a lack of technology? Is it because they are not practical? No. The biggest obstacle of electric cars, the battery, has been developed recently so that 40 minutes of charging enables a round trip from Seoul to Busan (around 400km), delivering a maximum speed of 200km/h. They are equal with gas cars. There are some reasons why electric cars cannot be used in our daily lives despite the advantages. Let me tell you the sad history of electric cars—which are superior to gas cars, but not as widespread.

     The very first electric car in the world was rolled out in 1881, even before gas-powered cars. Electric cars were more popular than gas cars, as they were easier to control and generated less noise and pollution. In the early 20th century, however, the discovery of cheaper petroleum led to a decline in the use of electric cars. Again at the end of 20th century, worsening environmental pollution and problems brought back the popularity of electric cars. This time, however, social issues such as pressure from petroleum companies and intervention from the legal and car industries discouraged their commercialization despite advanced technologies.

      Fortunately, many support the idea of widespread use of electric cars these days. Of course electric cars do not always cause less environmental problems than gas cars. If electricity used to charge electric cars are produced using thermal power plants or nuclear power plants, electric cars will also affect the environment as negatively as gas cars. However, if it is provided with solar power as in the US and Canada, electric cars will be clean, safe and eco-friendly vehicles.

      Technologies for protecting the environment in our daily lives require a lot of effort. We shouldn't just leave the selection of technologies in the hands of scientists, government officials or entrepreneurs. Ordinary citizens like us should think over which technologies are more environmentally-friendly and encourage all of society, including governments and companies, to actively select and invest in environmentally-friendly technologies.

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3. Is there good technology that doesn't harm the environment?

     Whether science and technology can solve climate change or exacerbate it depends on which technologies we choose. There are some technologies that enable people to live more conveniently while reducing environmental effects. These technologies have different names, and recently the term 'appropriate technology' has been popular. Appropriate technologies such as portable water filters, foot pumps, and micro-hydro power have been useful in improving the quality of life for the needy in the developing world. Even in advanced countries, appropriate technology-based products that are substitutes for gas- or electricity-powered appliances have emerged: gravity-powered lamps, solar backpacks, windup radios, solar cookers, and fridges made using sand. As these products do not consume electricity, there are no worries over environmental pollution or depletion of oil. They are so easy to make that you can make one if you pay a little attention. Scientists studying appropriate technology roll out these ideas in the world for nothing, so you can figure out how to make these products through a simple Internet search. What do you think? Don't you feel like having your own solar cell phone charger?

     However, environmentally-friendly or appropriate technologies can't solve all our problems. We need to try to change our attitude toward life by using more good technologies. We can't squander energy and create the energy with environmentally-friendly or appropriate technologies at the same time. By saving and reducing unnecessary energy consumption, we can solve more problems with these technologies.

[Learn More!]

Delightful Non-Electricity (Yasuyuki fujimura, 2011)
As a Japanese scientist and inventor, the author has led the non-electricity project. The book is easy to read teenagers who like crafting and technology will especially like it. Non-electricity is introduced in the first part of the book, and the 20 non-electric products invented by the author and how to make them are described in the last part of the book.

Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


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