SOC – Chap 22 Notes: Technology and the Global Environment
Technology: Saviour or Frankenstein?
Before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, technology was defined as the
application of scientific principles to the improvement of human life.
Beginning in the 1970’s, several technological disasters alerted the public to the fact that
technology is not always beneficial. These include the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease,
the nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Normal Accidents: a term that recognizes that the very complexity of modern
technologies ensures they will inevitably fail, though in unpredictable ways
Risk society: coined by Ulrich Beck to describe a society in which technology distributes
danger among all categories of the population. This danger can be environmental threats
such as global warming, ozone depletion, etc. that are more stressful and widespread.
Who is in control of technology (and how it transforms out lives)? It is not the scientists
and engineers, but the military and large corporations
Technological determinism: the belief that technology is the major force shaping human
society and history
o However, in reality, technology and society influence each other. Scientific
discoveries, once adopted on a wide scale, often transform societies- but scientific
discoveries are turned into useful technologies only when social need demands it.
Ex: the steam engine was developed a long time before the industrial revolution,
but only became widespread because factories moved close to the riverbank
The side effect of technology that has given people the most serious cause for concern is
Environmental Degradation. It has four main aspects: global warming, industrial
pollution, the decline in biodiversity, and genetic pollution
Global Warming: a gradual increase in the earth’s average surface temperature. Ever
since the industrial revolution, people have been burning greater quantities of fossil fuels.
o Greenhouse Effect: The accumulation of carbon dioxide allows more solar
radiation to enter the atmosphere and less heat to escape
o Many scientists believe global warming is already producing serious climactic
change. For as temperatures rise, more water evaporates. This causes more
rainfall and bigger storms, which lead to more flooding and soil erosion, which in
turn lead to less cultivable land. People suffer and die all along the causal chain.
o The frequency of more extreme meteorological events is on the rise as well. These
including tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.
Industrial Pollution: the emission of various impurities into the air, water, and soil
through industrial processes.
o Pollutants may affect us directly by seeping into our drinking water and the air we
breathe- causing a variety of ailments ranging from asthma to cancer
o They may affect us indirectly by accumulating in the atmosphere and causing
Acid Rain: a form of precipitation whose acidity eats away at, and eventually
destroys, forests and the ecosystems of lakes.
Biodiversity: the enormous variety of plant and animal species inhabiting the earth.
Biodiversity changes as new species emerge and old species die off because they cannot
adapt to their environment. o Old species becoming extinct is a normal evolutionary process, but the rate at
which it is currently occurring is not normal.
o Humans not only rely on animals for food, but also for discovering medicinal
Genetic Pollution: the health and ecological dangers that can result from artificially
splicing genes together