By Arjun Bahadur K.C., Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada (www.dal.ca)
A paradigm shift towards knowledge based technology development that truly emulates the science of nature is essential to achieve the long-term sustainability in technology development.
Arjun Bahadur KCHuman civilization has undergone a tremendous change in numbers, science, technology, consumption and economics from the last century. As a matter of fact, human activities have altered the biological, physical and chemical properties of the planet. It can be undoubtedly said that atmosphere and climate have been altered, air, water and soil are contaminated with toxic pollutants, different species in the plant are disappearing, forests are being cleared globally and oceans are being contaminated with thousands of synthetic chemicals discharged from waste streams of large industries. After the Industrial Revolution, development of large infrastructures has attracted most people to live in the cities due to which our relationship with nature is becoming less obvious. It has traditionally been believed that people refer to the earth as their mother. It has also been always advocated that we are made of four sacred elements: earth, air, fire and water. Even though modern science has verified this belief, it, however, has set different priorities as the bottom line of the 21st century. Comfort for ‘right now’, objectives which are ‘tangible’ such as money, sex, status and power has become the priorities for so called modern society, all of which are based on ignorance and are truly anti-natural.
Due to the impact of industrialization and globalization, technological development has no more remained a local issue. Any development effort even in developing countries like Nepal is largely affected by the level of technological development achieved on a global scale. Even though the technology development is intended to help people to increase production and to ease the social life, marketing of technology is carried out based only on some tangible features ignoring its impacts on human and the natural environment. The current technology development mode has triggered several ill effects in modern society. There are some indicators that compel us to conclude that our civilization is not going on right direction. For example, in last 50 years, the occurrence of cancer went 50 times higher, millions of people are affected by AIDS the cure of which has not yet been found, osteoporosis, asthma, obesity, Alzheimer, and heart diseases etc have increased at alarming rate. Recent reports revealed that occurrence of breast cancer in women and other types of cancer have increased dramatically in Nepal. This is due to the synthetic chemical contamination in food items, personal care products, perfumes and ingestion of toxic emissions that contains heavy metals such as lead, chromium, arsenic, aluminum among others. In fact, cancer is nothing but the response of our body against the invasion by synthetic chemicals including synthetic antibiotics. The whole development effort is driving the entire civilization into the wrong path and Nepal has not been its exception.
The current technology development mode has taken a wrong path in many respects. Let’s take example of water treatment. Preposterous treatment practices such as the addition of chlorine to ‘purify’; the use of toxic chemicals (soap) to get rid of dirt (the most potent natural cleaning agent on earth); the use of glycol (very toxic) for freezing or drying (getting rid of water) a product; use of chemical CO2 to render water into dehydrating agent (opposite to what is promoted as ‘refreshing’), then again demineralization followed by the addition of extra oxygen and ozone to ‘vitalize’ water. The list never ends. To make the situation worse, many western cities continues to promote fluoride addition to water (original intention was to grow better teeth) even when fluoride-free tooth paste make brisk sales. Chlorine treatment of water is common in the west and is synonymous with civilization. As various studies have shown that the residual chlorine in water produces by products such as trihalomethanes that causes cancers, there are some other chemicals such as sodium thiosulphate added to ‘dechlorinate’ the water. It has already been proved that ‘sodium thiosulphate’ is also not risk free and it seems that there is a need to remove this chemical from water by probably adding another chemical, hence the addition of chemicals continue forever making the quality of water the worst possible. More recent so called ‘innovations’ in water treatment such as Ozone, artificial UV and even H2O2 are proving to be worse than any other technology ever discovered. Despite such disastrous outcomes, developing countries like Nepal are engaged in taking pride in introducing these technologies, often paid with borrowed (at very high interest rate) money from World Bank or IMF, much of which is spent for hiring consultants from ‘donors’ themselves. Hence, chemical treatment technique promoted as water purification has taken a down turn. This modus operandi can only have the most profound devastation to the whole human civilization.
Current synthetic based technology development is by no means sustainable. The climate change due to global warming has been affecting every species on the globe. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of UN wrote that based on the available data in UN, greenhouse gas emissions of the major industrialized countries continue to increase bringing global warming to an alarming level. Similarly, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, who was the former chief economist of World Bank, referred climate change “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen,” with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20 percent and to cause economic and social disruption at par with the two world wars and the Great Depression. As the current technological development is based on the synthetic development mode, the solution proposed to combat global warming has gone from ‘bad’ to ‘worse’ making the world the worst place to live in. For example, all the provisions of Kyoto protocol have failed to protect the world’s climate change. In the name of emission trading, industrialized countries are ‘licensed’ to pollute more than ever. Since the warming on earth is a global issue, allowing the production of industrial CO2 anywhere in the world will eventually have impacts in global scale, thus emission trading can never be a solution to global warming. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of Kyoto Protocol has one of the most complex administration processes which a small business and developing countries cannot get an easy access into. The certification of ‘base lining’ and ‘additionality’ are costly processes which cannot be easily afforded by the least developed countries and smaller companies. Hence, it is obvious that this provision helps to benefit to those corporations or governments which are ultimately responsible for global warming. The other provision that deals with technology transfer is the most vulnerable solution to the developing countries as the technology transfer largely ignores the locally available indigenous knowledge and the environment. If we consider the environmental problems created in the last 50 years from human activities and the efforts made to fight against them, there is not a single environmental problem that has been addressed at all, instead, each solution proposed has made the situation turn from ‘bad’ to ‘worse.’
Millions of tons of plastics are being produced today as by-products of petroleum refineries. Synthetic plastic which are promoted as the alternative of natural products has become one of the most devastating products of this century. According to Prof. M.R. Islam (Dalhousie University, Canada), plastics emit over 4000 toxic emissions, 80 of them are known carcinogens. Plastic emission is caused either by low temperature oxidation or high temperature oxidation. Cooking pot as a non stick (which is made of Teflon) is made of plastic, which is considered to produce carcinogens that cause cancer. Most of the food items are packaged in plastics which eventually intoxicate the food because of the low temperature plastics oxidation. These plastics are likely to react with the synthetic chemicals which are used to preserve the food items producing several chemical products. Modern engineering structures, insulating materials such as polyurethane and Styrofoam, TV, computer, utensils, clothes, auto parts, tools and equipments are all made of plastic, the list continues for ever. It was recently published in ‘science’ magazine that the use of plastic carpets is the major causes for developing asthma in adults. The plastic emission everywhere, the toxic cement in walls, use of highly toxic paints in the structures have left no room where people can escape without inhaling the most toxic elements in every breath they take. The plastic revolution has created such a perpetual crisis that without plastic life is almost impossible. Most of the synthetic materials invented after the Industrial revolution have one or the other long-term health and environmental impacts. However, nature also produces bio-plastics which are made up of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). These plastics are produced naturally by bacteria and hence are entirely biodegradable, non-toxic and can replace the synthetic plastics.
Most of modern engineering quests are desperate to look for homogeneity, linearity, single answers to the problems. However, nature operates on diversity, flexibility, heterogeneity, dynamism and multiplicity. Nature works on zero waste and every by-product it produces are the input for another system whereas modern engineering has become synonymous to the hazardous waste generation. Unlike nature which is truly non-static, modern engineering assumes ‘static condition’ before solving any problems. None of the calculus problem is solvable if we do not assume . What would happen if does not tend to zero? Every technology developed today is based on linearization, short-term benefit considering only external or tangible features. Hence, current technology development models are aphenomenal and anti-natural. Because of synthetic chemicals, which are inherent to the current technology development mode are primarily responsible for every problem on earth, there is no hope for solving these problems without introducing fundamental changes in technology development. A paradigm shift towards knowledge based technology development that truly emulates the science of nature is essential to achieve the long-term sustainability in technology development. Any technology is considered sustainable only if it is technically feasible, environmentally appealing, economically attractive and socially responsible. The new technology development mode must foster the development of natural products, which are inherently beneficial to the environment.
Current development models are based on wrong economic theories. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of the most important indicators to measure economic growth. One of the components GDP includes is the ‘spending for consumption’. It does not matter whether money is spent on casino or billions of liters of alcohol or prostitution, the GDP always increases, so is economic growth! For current economic models, spending in education and spending in casino, prostitution or alcohol is same. However, in reality, spending in alcohol, casino or prostitution never increase the real economic growth, instead these activities ruin the society and economy. Hence, current economic models do not truly represent the real growth in the economy in the country. Development of sustainable technology is the key indicator for economic growth. However, economics cannot be the first criteria to achieve sustainability in technological development. A long-term economic sustainability of a technology is guaranteed only if the particular technology is supported by nature which includes indigenous population and the environment. Another example of wrong economic model is that higher population growth is always blamed for the low economic growth. It is surprising to read articles which portray population growth being responsible for increase of poverty. In fact, economy itself is not stupid but the economists who inherit linear thinking, who do not want to understand the difference between spending in education and spending in prostitution or casino, whose intellects are measured based on how well they serve the ‘status quo’.
Even the current linear economic models have shown that China is already the fourth largest economy in the world and within few decades, China and India would emerge as the world’s two largest economies. It is only human resource that can drive any countries economy, which is the case in China and India today. It is only human resource and commitment by India and China that has attracted investment from multinational companies around the globe. Nepal’s only hurdle for low economic growth is the lack of policies that ensure the utilisation of full potential of skilled, semi skilled and unskilled work force. It is said that approximately 25% of our GDP is due to the remittance from a large number of young people who have migrated abroad for work. How come this population who can earn such a huge amount abroad became a burden for the national economy? It is simply because our development model can not accommodate them in the mainstream of our development efforts. We do not produce a ‘needle’ on our own but our government officials ride the air conditioned ‘Pajero’ selling the poverty of the country to the so called donors. Poverty has been the only asset to these politicians. Yet, population which is the only means that has a potential to drive Nepal’s economy, is baselessly blamed.
From the experience of developed countries, it is clear that investment in research and development in technology is one of the very important factors for economic growth. Nepal government’s spending in research and development is virtually zero. Despite Nepali people have several indigenous technologies which are inherent to the local communities and environment; such technologies are being abandoned one after another with invasion of synthetic mode of technology development even in the remote villages of Nepal. This has not only disarmed the local people from their inherent skills but also has significantly increased the import of technologies from abroad which are not sustainable at all. Situated between China and India, which are the biggest manufacturers in the world, it is likely that Nepali indigenous technologies and skills will soon be wiped out with the technology and products from abroad, which is already the case. Moreover, Nepal has one of the strongest skilled manpower in the region but due to various reasons this skilled manpower and scholars are working in different national and international organisations abroad. Since the country is in a great politico-economic transition, it is time for Nepal to recall this human resource for the development of the country. Without good quality human resource, achieving sustainable development is a nightmare. It is also essential that Nepal should start spending on research and development and preservation of indigenous technologies and skills so as to ensure the long-term sustainability of our development efforts. Our development efforts should focus on integrated use of locally available resources taking into account the existence of each and every species of the ecosystem. Human beings are perhaps one of the approximately 15 millions species on earth; each of these species especially the human being is dependent on all other species for their living. But this understanding is completely absent in current technology development model. Hence, we need to rediscover humanity and our place in the planet so that we and rest of the life can continue to flourish. As the current development mode is inherently unsustainable, in fact, we must re-invent the wheel.
(Arjun Bahadur KC is a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com)