Too clever by half: is technology killing the planet?

Technology Map - Tutornet
Image by steven w via Flickr

Technology is at once a hugely constructive and a hugely destructive force, and for the most part we have been content to ignore the latter while enjoying the benefits of the former. But, suggests Ian Michler, it’s high time that we begin to think seriously – and innovatively – about tempering its damaging effects. From ‘The Ecologist’.

In the course of my research for an article entitled, ‘The end of the line?’, one factor cropped up again and again: the role technology has played in our destruction of the oceans. In essence, global fishing fleets are using such advanced equipment that without the most stringent of controls, they will completely empty every marine ecosystem on earth. And it’s not only the oceans. The same applies to almost every facet of humankind’s development over the past century or more. As much as any other contributing factor, technology is responsible for the predicament our planet finds itself in. But say that out loud and most people will baulk at the idea. To admit the truth of it would mean having to change the way we think, behave and, ultimately, live. This is a very uncomfortable message for most of the middle and upper economic classes around the world.

Let’s look at some of the high-tech developments that we take for granted, like the combustion engine, super-tankers, plastic products, splitting the atom, deep mining techniques, drug manufacture and space travel. When they arrived on the scene they were all major advances, technologies that would make our lives easier and more successful. And, if we ignore everything but the direct impact they have had on individual lives, mostly they have done that. As time has passed, though, we now know that when viewed collectively as the primary components of our means of production and consumption – in other words, our global footprint – their impact on the planet has been hugely significant and ultimately negative.

Driven by the notion that a constantly increasing rate of economic growth is the overriding marker of a successful society, developing or purchasing more  advanced technologies has become fundamental to fulfilling this aim. And with the array of new tools at our disposal, we have been able to reach further, deeper and higher into every imaginable ecosystem and exploit more effectively every possible resource. History indicates that most engineers or scientists side with the vested interests of the day, and it is also apparent that each generation of innovators has failed to consider the contraindications or long-term consequences of their technologies. Spare a thought for the generation 50 years hence and what it may have to deal with because of today’s scientists who are forging ahead with genetic engineering. After well over a century of this developmental model, it is now difficult to argue that the world’s natural systems – so vital for our survival – are not faltering.


Happy Birthday, ‘China Daily’ …. a modern newspaper that speaks ‘green’

More than 800 people gathered at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday to celebrate China Daily’s 30-year journey from an eight-page black/white newspaper to a global media group with 12 publications and audiences in Asia, Europe and North America.

From retired journalists in their 80s and heads of major news organizations to dignitaries from Party and government departments, the participants also marked the national English-language newspaper’s new voyage of development into a leading international multimedia group.

“China Daily – as an important medium of China’s international communication – has become the window for China to know the world and for the world to understand China,” Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, wrote in his congratulatory letter.

“While highlighting China’s determination for peaceful development, China Daily also needs to help promote China’s vision of a harmonious world with long-lasting peace and shared prosperity,” Li added in his letter, which was read at Tuesday’s event.

Other leaders of the Party and government departments focused on the challenges China Daily faces as advances in information technology have created multiple news delivery platforms.

“In the face of serious media competition and increased audience selectivity, China Daily needs to come up with more innovative content and formats to maintain its competitive edge and win audiences,” Liu Yunshan, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and head of the CPC Central Committee’s Publicity Department, said in a keynote speech.

“In keeping up with advances in information technology, China Daily needs to transform its traditional mode of communication with the latest technology, actively promote new media and provide services using the Internet and mobile devices,” Liu said.

In his address, Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, highlighted the necessity “to reduce international misunderstanding and misconception over China’s rise”.

“China Daily needs to embrace the latest trends at home and abroad, reflect international public opinion, and sharpen its coverage of domestic and global events of great importance,” Wang said.

Retracing China Daily’s journey since its first official issue rolled off the presses on June 1, 1981, Zhu Ling, China Daily’s editor-in-chief, not only summarized the paper’s past achievements but also emphasized that the celebration of its 30th birthday marks “a starting point” to build it into a “top-notch international all-media group”.

China Daily “must recognize the increasing integration of the Internet and the traditional media, hasten its own strategic transformation and narrow the gap with leading international news media”, Zhu said.

China Daily is building a comprehensive network to gather news and information, and will also boost production and delivery, enabling it to reach a global audience via a range of media channels that will enhance interaction with readers, Zhu said.

China Daily must be able to keep pace with advances in information technology and remain a pioneer in communicating via the new media, Zhu said.

Along with the official keynote speeches were personal reflections.

Bill Gaspard, China Daily’s design director and one of the more than 70 expat journalists at the paper, told of the brief panic he experienced on arrival that soon gave way to a feeling of familiarity when he entered the newsroom.

“My first day at work I spoke with a top editor about the mission of China Daily – to bring the story of China to the world and to bring the world’s story to China,” Gaspard recalled.

He spoke about how important it was – in such a complex, fast-moving world – to break down stereotypes, dissipate the mistrust between people and to promote mutual understanding. “That mission resonates with us as we push to improve the professional standards of China Daily. And those standards have improved substantially, along with the reach of the paper,” Gaspard said.

“Birthdays are for wishes and mine for China Daily are that it continues to reach for new heights and helps to bridge the divide between our view of the past and our understanding of the future,” he said.

Retired editor, Wu Jingshu, 85, recalled the days when he worked on the trial issues of a 4-page broadsheet.

A representative of journalists from a younger generation, Tan Yingzi, China Daily’s chief Washington correspondent, shared her experiences.

Congratulatory messages, meanwhile, poured in from across the world.

“It is my pleasure to congratulate China Daily on its achievements over the three decades as China’s official English-language newspaper – a significant milestone,” Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia, wrote.

China poised to top US in science by 2013

Updated: 2011-03-29 18:02

hina may surpass the United States as the global leader in scientific output by as early as 2013, thanks to huge investments in research and development (R&D) and education, says a new study conducted by the Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy.

Related: China set to be top economy by 2030

Analysis of published research indicates that Chinese science has made rapid strides in recent years going by the number of papers published in the recognized international journals listed by the Scopus service of publishers Elsevier.

In 1996, the US published 292,513 papers – more than 10 times China’s 25,474. By 2008, the US total had increased slightly to 316,317 while China reported a more than seven-fold increase to 184,080, says the BBC.

The US still leads the world, but its share of global authorship has fallen to 21 percent from 26 percent, the Royal Society found after analyzing the share of the world’s authorship of scientific research papers between the periods 1993-2003 and 2004-2008.

During the same period, the share of China rose to 10.2 percent from 4.4 percent, and its ranking improved from sixth to second place. Britain has remained relatively stable and is currently ranked third.

Earlier estimates had indicated that China might surpass the US sometime after 2020. But the Royal Society has now made a bolder forecast in its study entitled Knowledge, Networks and Nations.

“A simple linear interpretation of Elsevier’s publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013,” it says.

“China has heavily increased its investment in R&D, with spending growing by 20% per year since 1999 to reach over US$100 billion a year today (or 1.44% of GDP in 2007), in pursuit of its goal of spending 2.5% of GDP on R&D in 2020.”

China is also turning out huge numbers of science and engineering graduates, with nearly 1.5 million leaving its universities in 2006, said the study.

However, the surge in the volume of research publications does not necessarily mean an increase in quality, which is often evaluated by citations, the report pointed out.

Although China has risen in the “citation” rankings, its performance on this measure lags behind its investment and publication rate, said the study.

“It will take some time for the absolute output of emerging nations to challenge the rate at which this research is referenced by the international scientific community.”

What would a world powered by wind, sun and water look like?

From First News A world powered by nature

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we ran out of energy? How would we watch our favourite TV programmes, cook dinner or have a hot shower? Most of the energy we use is made from ‘non-renewable’ sources, such as coal, oil and nuclear, which large power stations

turn into electricity. These types of fuels won’t last forever, and burning coal and oil gives off carbon dioxide, a gas which causes climate change. The good news is we have plenty of alternatives around us – the wind, sun and water can provide ‘renewable energy’ which will never run out and does not give off carbon dioxide so is much better for the environment.

Because renewable energy won’t run out, so we can keep using our computers, TVs and games consoles, we need to use more renewables and less energy overall.

So, what would a world powered by wind, sun or water look like? What changes might it make to your day?

Let’s think about how your day might change.

At Home

As you are woken up by your alarm clock for school, your house would wake up to the morning light. If the sun was shining, the solar thermal panels on your roof would heat the water you shower with, for free! In the kitchen your mum or dad would make breakfast with a kettle and toaster that could tell you just how much energy you are using, and where it’s coming from – maybe from solar PV panels on your roof too.

As you and your family leave the house, a ‘Smart’ energy meter would be able to tell you the amount of energy your family has used so far today and how much it has cost. On a good day your household might earn money for generating more energy than you use. Your parents might work from home to make the most of all the power you are producing.

You would get in your family’s electric car, which would have been plugged in to a socket to recharge overnight. Because the car is electric it would not give off any bad fumes and so, as well as not needing to buy petrol, you would not damage the environment as you drive. On your way to school, you would notice all the houses you pass have solar panels on their roofs; maybe a small wind turbine if they were built on a hill with a large enough garden, and some with water tanks in the gardens collecting rain water to be reused. There would be no petrol stations, but you might see battery-swapping stations instead, where you could recharge a car and swap old batteries for new.

At School

Your school would also look different as it would be run on renewable energy too. Like your house, the roof would probably be covered in solar panels and on the hilltop behind the school would stand big wind turbines, catching the wind and turning it into electricity to power the lights and computers. Inside, the school would be heated by a biomass boiler, which burns recycled wood chips – like the one Good Energy installed at St Mary’s Primary School, Timsbury, Somerset. A renewable cooling system in the school means that in the summer it will never get too warm!

In the winter the lights in the school and street lamps outside would have motion sensors on them so that they only come on when people walked past, saving energy.

The Future

To make this renewable future possible, we need to think carefully about where our energy comes from and how we use it. Wouldn’t it be nice to know when playing on your computer or listening to a CD that the energy you’re using isn’t affecting the environment?

In the meantime, remember that most electricity is not good for the environment, so recycle, turn lights off when you’re not in the room and switch your computers and televisions off at the main switch to save energy.

Words by Juliet Davenport for Good Energy

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