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Chapter 12

SOC100 - Chapter 12 - Technology, The Environment, & Social Movements

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Arnd Jurgensen

Sociology Chapter 12 Notes Technology, The Environment, & Social Movements -the period before Hiroshima's explosion could be called the era of naive optimism. During that time technology could do no wrong, or so it seemed to nearly all observers. Technology was widely defined as the application of scientific principles to the improvement of human life. It seemed to be driving humanity down a one-way street named progress, picking up speed with every passing year thanks to more powerful engines: steam, turbine, internal combustion, electric, jet, rocket, and nuclear. It produced tangible benefits. Most people regarded technologists with reverence and awe because their knew the scientific principles and detailed workings of technology. -J. Robert Oppenheimer is the "father" of the atomic bomb and his team consisted of 10 Nobel prize winners -Increasingly, people are beginning to think of technology as a monster run amok (behave uncontrollably) , a Frankenstein rather than a saviour. -in 1970s and 1980s, a series of horrific disasters alerted many people (including some sociologists) to the fact that technological advance is not always beneficial, not even always benign. -Sociologist Charles Perrow referred to incidents as the exxon vldez oil spill and Ukraine reactor explosion as "normal accidents". Normal accident: Accidents that occur inevitably though unpredictably because of the very complexity of modern technologies OR complexity of modern technologies ensures they will inevitably fail, though in unpredictable ways. -Examples of normal accidents is when your computer crashes or hangs. -German sociologist coined the term "risk society" Risk Society: a society in which technology distributes danger among all categories of the population, albeit to varying degrees. -In addition, increased risk in a risk society is due to mounting environmental threats that are more widespread, chronic and ambiguous than technological accidents-and therefore more stressful. New and frightening terms-greenhouse effect, global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, endangered species-have entered our vocabulary. To many people, technology seems to be spinning out of control because it enables the producer of ever more goods and services, but at the cost of breathable air, drinkable water, safe sunlight, plant and animal diversity and normal weather patterns. -these considerations raise four questions: 1. Is technology the great driving force of historical and social change? -this is the opinion of both cheerleaders and naysayers, those who view technology as our saviour and those who ear it as a Frankenstein. In contrast, we argue that technology is able to transform society only when it is coupled with a powerful social need. People control technology as much as technology transforms people. 2. If some people do control technology, then exactly who are they? -we argue against the view that scientific and engineering wizards are in control. The military and big corporations now decide the direction of most technological research and its application. 3. What are the most dangerous spinoffs of technology and how is risk distributed among various social groups? -we focus on global warming and "genetic pollution". We show that although these dangers put all of humanity at risk, the degree of danger varies by class, race and country. In brief, the socially and economically disadvantaged are most at risk. 4. How can we overcome the dangers of environmental degradation? -we argue that market and technological solutions are insufficient by themselves. In addition, much self-sacrifice, cooperation and political activism will be required. Technology and People Make History -Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev was the first social scientist to notice that technologies are invented in clusters. He argued that new group of major inventions cause major economic growth spurts beginning 10 to 20 years later and lasting 25 to 35 years each. Thus, he subscribed to a form of technological determinism, the belief that technology is the main factor shaping human society and history. This is true and examples of James Watt's steam engine and Gottlieb Daimler's invention of the internal combustion engine are proofs. This founded two of the world's biggest industries: automobiles and petroleum. -technologies did become engines of economic growth until social conditions allowed them to do so. The steam engine was actually made n the common era, but no one needed it then so the hype surrounding it only came to be only after the social need for it. The game goes for the Computer, which was being built before WWII, but then came to a halt and resumed once the military potential of it became evident. -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 needs demands it. How High Tech Became Big Tech -the most important factor in Thomas Edison's success-outside of his genius for invention-was the organization he had set up to assist him. Edison boasted that with the help of his staff at Menlo Park's "invention factory" he could invent a minor invention every 10 days and big thing every 6 months. The phonograph and the electric light bulb were two such" big things" -By the mid 20th century, most technological innovation was organized along industrial lines. -as the 20th century ended, there seemed to be no limit to the amount that could be spent on research and development. In the last 40 years of century, r&d spending tripled, taking inflation into account. As a result of these developments, it should come to no surprise that military and profit-making considerations now govern the direction of most research and development. This is based on a report once asking bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. Sutton answered "that's where the money is". -Personal interests, individual creativity and the state of a field's intellectual development still influence the direction of inquiry. This is true for theoretical work done in universities opposed to applied research funded by gov't and private industry. However, many of these researchers have been enticed by private companies who offer them well paying jobs and blah blah blah. -A growing number of scientists and engineers recognize that to do cutting-edge research, they must still any residual misgivings, hop on the bandwagon, and adhere to military and industrial requirements and priorities. That, after all, is where the money is. Global warming -the side effect of technology that has given people the most serious cause for concern is environmental degradation, two aspects of which we now consider: global warming and genetic pollution. -since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline, natural gas, etc.) to drive their cars, furnaces, and factories. Burning these fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This allows more solar radiation to enter the atmosphere and less heat to escape. This process contributes to global warming: a gradual worldwide increase in average surface temperature. From 1965 to 2004, average surface air temperature rose at a rate of 1.51 degree Celsius per century. The warming trend is much stronger in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere, at a certain temperature, even slight warming will turn ice to water. A one-meter rise in sea level would flood about 12 percent of the surface area of heavily populated Egypt and Bangladesh. Genetic Pollution: 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 segment of DNA from different living things, thus effectively creating a new life form. (eg: scientists putting the gene that makes fireflies glow into tobacco plants, and human growth hormone into a mouse embryo. Biologists combined embryo cells from a sheep and a goat and placed them in the womb of a surrogate animal. The surrogate animal then gave birth to an entirely new species, half sheep, half goat) -By 2000, scientists had identified the location and chemical structure of everyone one of the approximately 30 000 human genes. This will presumably enable them to understand the function of each gene. They can then detect and eliminate hereditary propensities to a wide range of diseases. -recombinant DNA will allow companies to grow plants that produce cheap biodegradable plastic and micro-organisms that consume oil spills and absorb radio- activity. The potential health and economic benefits to humankind of these and many other applications of recombinant DNA are truly startling. But so are the dangers that genetic pollution poses to human health and the stability of ecosystems. For example, when a non-native organism enters a new environment, it usually adapts without a problem. The insurance industry refuses to insure genetically engineered crops against the possibility of their causing catastrophic ecological damage. The Social Construction of Environmental Problems -Environmental issues can be socially constructed by proponents and they can be socially demolished by opponents. -The controversy over global warming is a good example of how people create and contest definitions of environmental problems. The theory was first proposed a century ago but an elite group of scientists began serious research on the subject only in the late 1950s. They attracted no public attention until the 1970s, when the environmental movement emerged and gave new legitimacy and momentum to the scientific research and helped secure public funds for it. Respected and influential scientists now began to promote the issue of global warming. The mass media, always thirsting for sensational stories, were highly receptive to these efforts. Newspaper and television reports about the problem began to in the late 1970s and proliferated in the mid to late 9180s. Some industrialists, politicians and scientists began to question whether global warming was, in fact, taking place. This group included Western coal and oil companies, the member states of OPEC, other coil and oil exporting nations, and right wing think-tanks. -The ongoing debate of global warming demonstrates that environmental issues become social problems only when social, political and scientific circumstances allow them to be defined as such. The Social Distribution of Risk Environmental Racism: the tendency to heap environmental dangers on the disadvantaged, and especially on disadvantaged racial minorities. The Canadian Case: -Environmental racism is evident in Canada (eg: the uranium used to construct the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from Port Radium in the Northwest Territories, the world's first uranium mine. More than 30 Dene hunters and trappers were recruited from nearby village of Decline to haul and barge 45 kilo burlap sacks of raw ore along a 2100 kilometre route to Fort McMurry, Alberta for $3 a day. They American and Canadian gov't knew about the dangers of exposure to uranium at least since 1931 but withheld this info from the workers. Decline is known locally as "The Village of the Widows". -class also structures exposure to environmental risk in Canada. Eg: Sydney, Nova Scotia, is a poor, working class town with the highest rate of cancer of any city in Canada. Sydney was home to a large steel mill for a century. Sludge from this oozed into people's vegetable gardens, basements, open streams. The Less Developed Countries -the underprivileged face more environmental dangers than the privileged. Developing countries cannot afford much in the way of pollution control, so anti-pollution regulations are lax by North American, Western European and Japanese standards. -for the time being, rich countries do most of the world's environmental damage. That is because their inhabitants earn and consume more than the inhabitants of less- developed countries. The United States has 4.5% of the world's population but uses 25% of the world's resources. It produces 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide and is responsible for about half of global warming. Inequality and Biotechnology -Large multinational companies search for genetic material with commercial value and patent their discoveries for exclusive legal rights to manufacture and sell the genetic material without compensating the donors. Monsanto and other giant corporations call this "protection of intellectual property". Indigenous people and their advocates call is "biopiracy" -the thought of genetically engineered babies could introduce an era of increased social inequality and low social mobility, effectively dividing humanity into two or more subspecies. Only the economically underprivileged would bear substantial risk of genetic inferiority. WHAT IS TO BE DONE? The Market and High-Tech Solution: -some people believe the environmental crisis will solve itself. They believe we already have two weapons to end the crisis: 1) the market 2) high technology. The case of oil shows how these weapons can combine forces. If oil reserves drop or oil is withheld from market for political reasons, the price of oil goes up. This makes it worthwhile for oil exploration companies to develop new technologies to recover more oil. When they discover more oil and bring it to market, prices fall back to where they were. -some evidence supports this optimistic scenario. eg: we have replaced brain damaging leaded gas with unleaded gas. We have developed environmentally friendly refrigerants and stop the production of ozone-destroying CFCs. Three Factors suggest market forces cannot solve environments problems on their own: 1. Imperfect price signals-The price of many commodities does not reflect their actual cost to society. Gasoline costs about a dollar a litre at the time of this writing, but the social cost including the cost of repairing the environmental damage caused by burning the gas, is four times that. 2. The slow pace of change-Our efforts so far to deal with the environmental consequences of rapid technological change are just not good enough. eg: global warming continu
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