Is our technological lifestyle one of the main causes of global warming?
In the last few years, the dangers posed to humanity have become apocalyptically critical, and there are some climate change experts who claim that our insatiable hunger for mass industry has already taken the earth's resources beyond the capacity for renewal. But what are the true causes of global warming?
The melting of the polar ice caps, the holes in the ozone layer provoked by greenhouse gasses, and the rising methane levels caused by increased livestock and motorised transport - all of these issues are compounding over time. Is this the inevitable result of human progress? Or has climate change come about thanks to a collective fetishisation of technology?
Human society in the 21st century is dependant on technology for survival. Just think about how quickly our lives grind to a halt in the event of a power cut. I and millions of other white collar workers need technology to earn a living. But the rabbit hole only gets deeper and deeper.
Here's a terrifying fact for you to chew over: according to a report conducted by the United States EMP Commission, in the event of total, permanent power grid failure on US soil (as the result of an electromagnetic pulse or large solar flare), more than half of the population of the United States will die of starvation. That's how much our whole economic framework is dependent on technology for agriculture alone. As the report states:
"Technology has made possible a dramatic revolution in US agricultural productivity. The transformation of the United States from a nation of farmers to a nation where less than 2 percent of the population is able to feed the other 98 percent and supply export markets is made possible only by technological advancements that, since 1900, have increased the productivity of the modern farmer by more than 50-fold."
Our current means of economic production means there is too much of a vested interest in the status quo for things to change in a hurry, particularly when so much of our contemporary technological wonders have come about as a result of a reliance on fossil fuels. Just take a look at how badly electric cars have failed if you want an example of an industry that seems to be stuck in stasis. Think about how wasteful we are when it comes to technology - how fashion dictates our production of tech far more than any actual necessity.
Think about how many new models of iPhone there have been in the last 10 years. Can you say that all of them were that special? Who can even remember the differences between each one? I sure can't - and companies like Apple don't want to build products that last, or have their customers cherish and maintain one computer. Instead, planned obsolescence means that devices have a pitiful shelf life - in favour of the next newest shiny thing.
And does all that circuitry and plastic get recycled? Nope. The surplus of electronic waste all goes into landfill, and the environmental effects are truly devastating. In 2006, the United Nations estimated that 50 million metric tonnes of electronic waste are discarded annually worldwide, and this figure has almost doubled over the past decade. But even in those places that attempt to recycle computer debris, the impact is still harmful.
The province of Guiyu in China is a textbook case when it comes to the negative effect that electronic waste can have on the environment. Almost the entire economy of this former agricultural community is geared towards electronic waste processing; which involves more than 75 per cent of the local households and approximately another 100,000 migrant workers from elsewhere. The burning, disassembly, and disposal of e-waste causes groundwater contamination, pollution of the atmosphere, and water pollution through carcinogens such as lead and nickel.
It's clear then that the response to this crisis has to come from within ourselves. We have to curtail our nature - our desire for the shiniest and most efficient - and concentrate on creating technology that works in tandem with nature, instead of exploiting it for selfish and ultimately short-sighted ends.
The alternative is neo-luddism: a complete rejection of the scientific and technological progress our species has been building upon ever since the inception of the written word. Otherwise, we shall have to prepare for flood, famine and disease, and subside like primitive cavemen through a long and hopeless New Dark Age.
Featured illustration by Egarcigu