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Smart Technology
Managing the impact of human development.

Technology's role in sustainability

Will technology enable progress in sustainable development?

Having looked at a range of key events we now look at the overall progress, or lack thereof, in addressing contradictions between human development and environmental concerns.

Progress is perceived in many different ways and may be difficult to assess. One way to think about it is through the invention and application of technology. Technology is often offered as the panacea to environmental destruction. Is that really the case?

There are many potential technology innovations and perceptions of their value and impact. Views vary from environmental modernists, who promote technology as the key to sustainability, aiming to cut our ties to biological renewable resources, to mainstream environmentalists who advocate harnessing energy sources such as solar and wind and avoiding pollutants and poisons.

What kind of technology is needed, if any?

Pearce in a 2013 The Guardian article Technology as our planet’s last best hope describes ‘environmental modernism’, in which advocates argue that dense cities, intensive farming and technological substitution for crops will free up land and enable the rewilding of nature. Conservation and sustainability will be achieved by switching from using biological ‘renewable’ resources to nuclear power, genetically modified crops, megadams, geoengineering and other technology innovations.

In contrast Visser in a 2014 The Guardian article How to use technology to make our planet more sustainable, not less describes sustainable clean-energy technology trends:

  • more patents filed in the last five years than in the previous 30 across key climate-change mitigation technologies

  • booming investment and research for wind, solar and biofuels in a market projected to grow to $398bn by 2023

  • projected improvements in resource productivity based on better use of current innovative technologies could meet up to 30% of total 2030 demand.

Shiva’s 2014 article Small is the new big in The Ecologist argues that 72% of the world’s food comes from small farms and that ‘small is big’. On small farms biodiversity is nurtured by farmers resulting in higher nutrition per acre than large farms which substitute machinery and chemicals for labour.

Your task

After reading at least one of these three articles consider your own position. Is there ‘progress’ in the use of technology or reliance on technology to manage the impact of human development?

You may like to revisit the Week 1 graphics on human impact to reflect on accelerating development over the past 100 years. Share your position about ‘progress’ with technology as a means to manage human development impact.

More resources

Juniper, T 2014, Saved by technology?, The Ecologist, 3 January, retrieved 20 September 2017.
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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Sustainability and Development

Deakin University

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