The earth is currently facing destruction of life forms on a mass scale. If these trends continue, the very survival of human life along with other species is at stake. In fact scientists refer to the existing era as one of ‘mass extinction’.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has estimated that the Earth has lost 50% of its wildlife in the last 40 years.
We need to understand the HOW as well the WHY of the phenomena powering the Earth’s destruction. Unless we recognize the root causes which are motivating human actions we cannot stop the Earth’s descent to Doom.
While it may not seem apparent to us, environmental changes have occurred in a very short time span. Most of the events driven by humans which have led to destruction of life on Earth, have occurred in the last ~150 years. This period is but a blip in the vast expanse of time over which life has existed on earth.
Image credit: CDIAC
This period has coincided with two phenomenon, the rise of Technology and the accumulation of capital.
In fact, it is this twin coupling of Technology and Capital that is responsible for the earth’s destruction. Both are dependent on each other. Both technology and capital need each other for their growth. Without one it would be difficult for the other to survive.
Both Technology and Capital are enemies of nature.
While Technology is the means with which Life on Earth is being decimated, Capital is the motivation which is leading to destruction of life on earth.
Functions of Technology
Technology is always in an adversarial relationship with Nature, as it seeks to dominate Nature. Technology is the tool used by humans to beat Mother Earth into submission.
Technology has the following functions:
- It helps to extract more resources
- It helps to replace Nature
- It helps to produce mental stimulation
Use of Technology to extract resources
In the first case, Technology flat out destroys Nature. As Technology has advanced, it has enabled us to become more proficient at cutting down forests, damming rivers, and extracting more petroleum in a shorter timespan. Thus as Technology ‘progresses’, the rate of extraction of natural resources increases.
Which implies that as Technology progresses, the environment gets decimated even faster.
Technology has become so powerful, that Nature finds itself defenseless to protect itself. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab7MAVwDdyQ)
Use of Technology to replace Nature
In the second case, Technology seeks to replace natural solutions established over millennia, which are by their nature, Nature-friendly.
Eg, the Indian tradition was to use serving plates made from leaves of bananas etc., which required zero investment of energy or resources. These were superseded by earthen utensils, which required almost nil resources, but some amount of energy. These were further replaced with metal plates, which need extraction of metals, and usage of energy for production. Technological advancement has now brought us plastic & polystyrene utensils, which not only require extraction of petroleum, and expenditure of dirty energy, but also add to toxic waste as the end of their lifecycle.
Thus, each step of technological advancement has added to the impact on the Earth.
The Earth is littered with technological advancements, where the solution turned out to be far worse than the problem.
Technology came up with Pesticides & Fertilizers to replace naturally available, organic manure. It was supposed to create a ‘Green Revolution’, but the end result turned out to very different in the form of pesticide laden crops, soil desertification, and loss of bio-diversity.
In another example, Technology came up with Refrigerants, to create hyper-localized cooling in the kitchen, but ended up adding to global warming !!
Refrigerants were created for usage in cooling systems like refrigerators and air conditioners. Initially Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) were touted as the ideal refrigerant, because they are extremely stable chemically. This turned out to be a problem, as the accumulated CFCs were causing damage to the Ozone layer.
CFC’s were then replaced by HCFCs (HydroChloroFluorocarbons).
HCFC’s were used, until it was found that they were also harming the atmosphere. So, they were then phased out under the Montreal Protocol, and replaced with HFC’s.
However, in this continuing Tragedy of Errors, it was found that HFC’s are contributing to the heating up of the Earth, as they have very high Global Warming Potential. So now, HFC’s are being replaced globally…
The more we advance technologically, the more our environmental footprint increases. This can be seen at the global level, as well as the individual level. Technologically advanced nations, also have the biggest impact on the Earth in terms of resource extraction and energy usage. Similarly, individuals whose reliance on Technology is higher, have a correspondingly bigger environmental footprint.
Relationship of Capital & Technology
Technology has a symbiotic relationship with Capital. Both are heavily dependent on each other, and also feed off each other.
The universal motivation for application of Technology, is the accumulation of Capital.
Capital includes not just money in all its forms, but also all physical possessions. Thus, at an individual level all our physical assets including our cars, housing, furniture, machines, devices etc. are forms of Capital.
Similarly, at the national level, GDP can be used as a good indicator of the amount of Capital produced.
All forms of Capital have eventually been sourced from the Earth. Thus, the more capital accumulated, the more the Earth is destroyed.
There is a direct correlation between environmental destruction and GDP.
Unless we realize the role played by Technology & Capital in the environmental crisis, the situation will keep going further downhill.
Image credit: Helsinki Design Lab
Both Technology and Capital have their roots in the Human Ego. Technology is the Human Ego’s way of showing it is ‘superior’ to Nature. Capital is the Human Ego’s way of showing it is ‘superior’ to other humans.
It should be apparent by now, that application of Technology and accumulation of Capital are the drivers which are relentlessly driving the Earth towards an environmental crisis.
To be continued…