A Brief History of Technology and its Impact on Natural Environment
written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 10/14/2010
Here’s a brief rundown on how technology dates back from Stone Age, when man first discovered how to make fire. This very first technology and its impact on natural environment brought greenhouse gas emissions which accumulated through more than a million years of widespread use of fire.
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Technology Developments in Man's History
The word "technology" is a broad term and does not simply refer to high-tech inventions or computerization, which is actually the misconception. Technology comprises the crafting of materials and transforming them into implements that allow man to control or manipulate natural resources in order to meet his needs. Technology dates as far back as the Stone Age, when man discovered how to make fire, 1.4 million years ago. In fact, no one could have thought back then that fire, including its wood burning technology could create an impact on today’s natural environment through its greenhouse gas emissions.
The cavemen learned how to make fire that provided them heat, light and protection against the wild animals that attacked them. They needed something to illuminate the darkness and to provide warmth when the great big ball of fire started to disappear from the sky. The cavemen’s first technological tools were stone axes and spears which were used as protection and hunting implements. Henceforth, succeeding steps were taken to improve what was initially invented. This further made man’s living conditions better and can be called technological advancements. The impact of technology on the environment back then was not too significant because it was mainly utilized to improve the supply of man’s basic needs.
As years passed, technological advancement was no longer confined to the mere purpose of meeting man’s needs for food, clothing and shelter. Different forms of technological developments described the era of each civilization. It started from Stone Age and was elevated to the Bronze Age and finally reached the Iron Age, which brought technological advancements in weaponry.
Neighboring countries and regions came to wage war against each other and often the victor was the one with better technology as far as weapons were concerned. Even today, major countries spend billions of dollars for warfare technology to ensure that no foreign leader or ruler can invade and claim a country or territory as his own. Thus, the negative impact of technology on the environment began to surface as more of the Earth’s natural resources and ecological habitats were being depleted or disrupted.
Advancements in technology also brought the finer things in life, making it necessary for man to accelerate his economic growth. Technology was used to speed up production and manufacture of goods, to provide better transport and delivery as well as make the methods of communication not only faster but also, far reaching. Trade and commerce flourished at faster rates due to technological advancements and brought about globalization. As trade and commerce grew, the more it heightened the impact of technology on natural environment wherein air, land and water reached certain degrees of pollution, degradation and contamination.
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Green Technology and The Aim to Reverse the Negative Impacts
On a brighter side, new technology brought about what will be known in man’s history as the Computer Age. This era will become significant not only in greatly improving trade and commerce but also in bringing forth instruments that will lessen the accumulated negative effects of technology on the Earth’s natural resources.
Green technology has come up with better solutions of generating heat and energy. The sun’s powerful UV rays are being harnessed through solar panels instead of the wood burning process. The kinetic powers of wind and water currents are being utilized to produce electricity that can lessen the demands for coal and fossil fuels.
Present day Green technology is decisively geared at lessening if not reversing all the negative impacts of technology since millions of people especially children have come to develop respiratory diseases as chronic illness. In fact in China, wood burning is still prevalent among millions of the country's households. The Asia Asthma Development Board ranks China as having the highest record of fatalities of its nation's asthma sufferers. These accumulated impacts started as far back as 1.4 millions years ago when cavemen discovered how to make fire and made use of wood as fuel. Today, as China's factories and communities continue to rely on coal as its main source of energy, it is expected that out of 100,000 Chinese citizens suffering from asthma, 36.7 are not expected to survive.
Greenhouse gas emissions have brought us global warming, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, air pollution, ocean acidification, disrupted marine and wildlife biodiversity, groundwater contamination, soil depletion and a host of other adverse effects that stem from other technological innovations that were conceptualized without considering the consequences. All these effects are intertwined as a result of gas emissions that accumulated in the atmosphere. It eventually penetrated the ozone layer found in the Earth's stratosphere.
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Communities take extra effort to green their lifestyle and lessen the negative impacts of technology on natural environment. However, nations continue to increase the use of technology in warfare and they produce weapons that make use of metals, chemicals and microorganisms that have far greater negative effects.
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The Effects of Warfare Technology on Natural Environment
Mining and its Technology
It is said that the end of the Bronze Age began in 1200 BC, when the use of iron or metal came into the foreground as a better material for weaponry. Since then, almost every nation found it necessary to harness their environment’s iron resources to produce weapons for their warfare technology. Hence, metals even then played an important role in order for a territory or region to survive. Until mining methods were soon developed wherein mining technology had greater negative impact on the natural environment than the wood burning process that the cavemen discovered.
In the U.S., the mining industries brought acid mine drainage problems that led to a series of chemical reactions. It resulted into contamination of both surface and groundwater as natural sources of drinking water. The growth, development and propagation of fish and other aquatic life became disrupted. Waste water pipes, bridges and other metal structures submerged underwater resulted to corrosion and subsequently acid run-offs.
The Appalachian Coal Fields is the region where mining activities took place and where most of the mines produced different forms of metals. Some mines closed due to the advent of the Civil Wars in 1861-1865. Mines were abandoned and soon, the mine drainage problems surfaced with significant levels of toxic content. In fact, most of the mining industries in the Appalachian Coal Fields have since closed due to economic recession but not without leaving pollution problems. It is said that of all coal fields, Western Maryland has the most severe case of water pollution. The drainage run-offs carry acid, iron, aluminum, sulfur and other toxic substances into the nearby streams.
Inside these abandoned mines, mineral deposits became exposed to the Earth’s oxygen and resulted to chemical reactions which produced sulfide bearing mineral deposits. It later formed into a substance called pyrite (FeS2) and underwent another chemical reaction when it started to precipitate. The acid substance produced after precipitation is called "poisonous copper leachate" and it leaked into underground waterways reaching several miles and mixing with river water.
Based on this, the greater negative impact of technology, especially on land and water, all started when man discovered iron or metal as the best form of weaponry. The US may have eased down on metal mining but it relies on China for its supply of rare metal, since the latter country provides 97% of rare-earth metals bought in the world market.
Technology in Warfare – The Use of Chemicals and Microorganisms
Technology that was used for warfare brought other detriments that emanated from the manufacture of chemical weapons for mass destruction.
Large amounts of Mercury waste material was said to have been released in the environment at the time when nuclear weapons were being manufactured. TNT or Trinitrotoluol, is a known environmental hazard because of its ability and persistence to seep into the ground. The most frightening of all are the weapons of Biological Warfare which can be used even if there are no wars being waged but simply to sow terror. Infectious microorganisms in some form or substance will be released to cause death by way of diseases that will affect all living things, man, animals and plants.
It can be surmised that the accumulation of negative technological impact can be remedied by green technological concepts and change of lifestyle. In fact, everyone is encouraged to be patient and that the completion of environmental rehabilitation may take place not in our lifetime but of the future generations. Yet, whatever is being done to improve environmental conditions today can be easily wiped out with just one launch of warfare technology tomorrow, as man continues to engage in acts of war and terror. The more sophisticated the weapons, the more distressful the impact of technology on natural environment will take place.
It may interest the readers to have more insights about the effects of warfare technology in the environment, as featured in a separate but related article entitled: "How War Impacts the Environment and People".