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SOC100H5 (538)
Jayne Baker (154)
Chapter 12

Chapter 12 Textbook Reading

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Jayne Baker

Technology, the Environment, and Social Movements Technology: Saviour or Frankenstein?  The period before Hiroshima was the era of naïve optimism o Technology was defined as the application of scientific principles to the improvement of human life  Seemed to be driving humanity down progress  Produced tangible benefits  Detailed workings rested on scientific principles that were mysterious to all but those with advanced science degrees  With the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, growing pessimism towards technology resulted o Several disasters alerted people that technological advance is not always beneficial: a gas leak at a poorly maintained pesticide plant at Bhopal, India; explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant; Exxon Valdez spilled millions of litres of crude oil near Alaska o Normal Accidents: accidents that occur inevitably though unpredictably because of the very complexity of modern technologies o Risk Society: a society in which technology distributes environmental dangers among all categories of the population, albeit to varying degrees Technology and People Make History  Technological Determinism: the belief that technology is the main factor shaping human history  Technology did not become engines of economic growth until social conditions allowed them to do so o E.g. steam engine was first invented by Hero of Alexandria in 1 century CE as an amusing way to open a door, but it was not adopted until Watt’s invention when it’s potential became evident (IT DID NOT cause the Industrial Revolution, it was adopted only after the social need for it emerged)  Technology and society influence each other. Scientific discoveries, once adopted on a wide scale, often transform societies; but they are only considered useful when the social need demands it How High Tech became Big Tech th  In 19 century, gaining technological advantage was still inexpensive; it took only modest capital investment, a little knowledge about the best way to organize work, and a handful of highly trained workers to build a shop  20 and 21 century technology requires enormous capital investment, detailed attention to the way work is organized and legions of technical experts o Most technological innovation was organized along industrial lines o The prototype of today’s invention factory was the Manhattan Project (U.S. nuclear industry) o In the 2 half of the 21 century, only governments and giant multinational corporations could afford to sustain research efforts o Therefore, military and profit-making considerations now govern the direction of most research and development  Although personal interests, individual creativity, and the state of a field’s intellectual development still influences the direction of scientific inquiry, scientists are pulled in particular directions by large research grants, well-paying jobs, access to expensive state-of-the-art equipment, and the possibility of winning patents and achieving commercial success o This has generated moral and political qualms among some researchers but many realize that to do cutting-edge research and achieve economic success, they must adhere to military and industrial requirements and priorities Global Warming  The gradual worldwide increase in average surface temperature  Believed to be a result of burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere  Most scientists believe that increasing temperature is causing more extreme meteorological events (more rainfall and bigger storms  flooding and soil erosion  less cultivable land)  Global warming seems to cause oceans to rise (warm water expands and polar ice caps are melting which puts more water in the oceans) Genetic Pollution  The potential dangers of mixing the genes of one species with those of another  Recombinant DNA: Removing a segment of DNA from a gene or splicing together segments of DNA from different living things, thus effectively creating a new life form o Makes it possible to design “more useful” animals and plants and “superior” humans o Can detect and eliminate hereditary propensities to a wide range of diseases o Enable farmers to grow disease- and frost-resistant crops with higher yields o Allow miners to pour ore-eating microbes into mines, pump the microbes above ground after they have had their fill, and then separate out the ore (greatly reduces cost and danger of mining) o Allow companies to grow plants that produce cheap biodegradable plastic and micro-organisms that consume oil spills and absorb radioactivity o Can’t predict exact environmental consequences of these developments (non-native organism can wreak havoc in its new environment; micro-organisms would eventually build up resistance to genes that resist to herbicides, pests, and viruses making superbugs, superweeds, and superviruses)  Insurance industry refuses to insure genetically engineered crops against the possibility of their causing catastrophic ecological damage The Social Construction of Environmental Problems  Environmental problems do not become social issues spontaneously, they require organizations to promote them as social problems that require human intervention o Environmental problems can be socially constructed by proponents, and they can be socially demolished by opponents  E.g. controversy over global warming o Theory of global warming was first proposed a century ago, but it wasn’t researched by elite scientists until the late 1950’s and didn’t attract public attention until the 1970’s (environmental movement emerged) o Media promoted the problem beginning in the late 1970’s and proliferated in the mid- to late 1980’s o 1988 drought brought concern about the effects of global warming o The Fraser Institute (subsidized in part by major Canadian oil companies) summarized the analyses of those who regarded global warming as a serious issue requiring immediate action as: “bad scientific reporting, bad economics and bad judgement”  Public concern about global warming began to falter o Ordinary people experienced firsthand ongoing drought on the Prairies, falling water levels in the Great Lakes, the melting of glaciers in the North, and the collapse of fish stocks on the east coast o In 2007, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a definitive report showing that global warming was real, dangerous, but stoppable through human intervention  Public mood shifted  All Canadian political parties adopted “green” platforms that promised swift and effective action o In 2009, the IPCC report was shown to contain a couple errors  A furor erupted, but it was soon shown that the report’s conclusions were accurate The Social Distribution of Risk o Environmental Racism: the tendency to heap environmental dangers on the disadvantaged, and especially on disadvantaged racial minorities  The advantaged often consciously put the disadvantaged in harm’s way to avoid risk themselves o Whenever disaster strikes, economically and political disadvantaged people almost always suffer most since their circumstances render them most vulnerable  The Canadian Case o Port Radium, the world’s first uranium mine, hired Dene hunters and trappers for $3/day to haul sacks of raw ore to Fort McMurray without protection from the radiation and the governments withheld the dangers of exposure from the workers  The surrounding Dene community ate fish from contaminated dredging ponds and hunted and camped in contaminated areas  Dene children played with ore dust at docks and landings  Dene women sewed tents from used uranium sacks  Until recently, elders often lived into their 90s and cancer was unknown; by 1998, half of the workers died of cancer while still in their 60s and 70s  Association in Canada between level of contamination and the concentration of Aboriginal populations  Where Aboriginal Canadians form a larger proportion of the population, the per capita weight of particulates in the air is heaviest o Sydney, Nova Scotia, is a poor, working-class town with the highest rate of cancer of any city in Canada; residents of Frederick Street, the poorest part of Sydney, had the highest neighbourhood cancer rate in town  Skin ailments, birth defects, respiratory problems, diseases of the nervous system, and other medical conditions were also unusually common around Frederick Street  Frederick Street borders the tar ponds that pour out of the large steel mill  Sludge oozed into people’s basements, seeped into their vegetable gardens, and ran in open streams where children played  Cleanup effort only began in 2010, 30 years after elevated levels of toxins were first detected in the Sydney Harbour and in local lobsters  The Less-Developed Countries o Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and other southern countries are industrializing rapidly  Rising demand for water, electricity, fossil fuels, and consumer products is creating more polluted rivers, dead lakes, and industrial waste sites  Rain forests, grazing land, cropland, and wetlands are giving way to factories, roads, airports, and housing complexes o Although less-developed countries are more concerned about the environment than rich countries, they can’t afford much in the way of pollution control  Their anti-pollution regulations are lax by Northern countries’ standards so some multinational corporations situate their foulest operations in the Southern hemisphere  Reason that the industrialization of the less-developed countries is proving so punishing to the environment o The rich countries do most of the world’s environmental damage since their inhabitants earn and consume more than the inhabitants of less-developed countries  The inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere cause a disproportionately large share of the world’s environmental problems, enjoy a disproportionate share of the benefits of technology, and live with fewer environmental risks than do people in the Southern Hemisphere  Inequality and biotechnology o Large multinational companies that dominate the pharmaceutical, seed, and agrochemical industries routinely send scientists all over the world to take samples of wild plants, crops, and human blood to find genetic material with commercial value in agriculture and medicine; if they discover genes with commercial value, the company they work for patents the discovery giving them the exclusive legal right to manufacture and sell the genetic material without compensating the donors  E.g. Indian farmers and scientists worked for a hundred generations discovering, skillfully selecting, cultivating, and developing techniques for processing the neem tree, but a US corporation became the sole commercial beneficiary of their labour  Companies in the life sciences call this “protection of intellectual property”  Indigenous people and their advocates call it “biopiracy” o Genetically engineered babies would speed up and improve the slow and imperfect process of natural evolution, but only the well-to-do are likely to be able to afford fully genetically engineered babies
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