Science, Technology and the Environment (SC NATS 1840A) –
Thursday, September 20, 2012
READINGS CHAPTER 28, 26, 19.1+19.5, READINGS ON MOODLE (M.HOCKING)
Human population is too high already;
Present resource use & growth is unsustainable
Pollution should be prevented rather than remedied
Best technology is small and decentralized
Thomas Malthus predicted (~1800) that mass starvation would soon occur.
Paul Erlich made a similar prediction in ‘The population bomb’ (1968);
Ability of earth to support growth is unlimited;
Economic growth yields technological advances, less pollution, &improved human welfare
Population growth supports economic growth
Consequences of pollution can be managed as needed;
Large, centralized technological solutions
Earth as the horn of plenty
Julian Simon (1932-1998) described human ingenuity as “The ultimate Resource” (1981)
Cornucopians vs. Neo-Malthusians
Debate ongoing since 1970s between ‘doomers’ and ‘optimists’
Both sides are somewhat extreme viewpoints in the environmental debate;
Neo-Malthusians have tended to make strong predictions which turn out to be wrong. Simon
made a bet with Erlich on the price of commodities in 1980s – Simon won;
Cornucopians appeal to induction to claim all will be well and that environmental problems are
Difficult to accept the claims of unlimited resources given that the earth is a finite system. But
also difficult to accept that we are on a path to destruction and that over 70% of the human
population should go.
What is your own worldview?
Wide spectrum of views and philosophies. Most will disagree with at least some of the ideas at either extreme
Worldviews should be founded upon some knowledge of the fundamental issues
New information available on a regular basis, so outlook should be flexible.
The possibility of suffering harm or loss.
Everyday risks -> instinct.
When instinct is insufficient, rely on experience and best estimates to assess risk objectively.
Scientific evidence and plausible assumptions use to eliminate the probability of harm.
Risk = probability = likelihood of an outcome
Probability (an example):
Consider a tree with four apples on it two of which are ripe.
Pick two apples with eyes closed. Q: What is t