Causes of Conflict with the Ecosystem

Causes of Conflict with the Ecosystem

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4586-8.ch009
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Abstract

Potential causes of humanity’s conflict with the ecosystem are: human institutions misusing technology, technology itself, population growth, economic growth, and human attitudes. The main causes are modern technology together with attitudes of human superiority and human exceptionalism. Population growth and economic growth are secondary causes, but they do make environmental problems worse.
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Introduction

Conflicts between human activity and the ecosystem have been recognized for quite some time. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, groups have been working to end industrial pollution. And a number of individuals have advocated respect for and conservation of nature—Henry David Thoreau, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and others. The proliferation of postmodern technology since the 1940s has accelerated the conflict in much more severe ways. So there has been more attention to the conflict and its causes. Heidegger’s analysis of modern technology from 1955 is one of the first such analyses—and also perhaps the deepest. Many different analyses have appeared since the 1970s and continue to appear. Many are still worth some attention; almost all offer solutions based on their conception of the cause of the problem of the conflict of human activity with the ecosystem.

I will consider five major views about the causes of human conflict with the ecosystem:

  • Technology is not the cause. Rather, various human practices and institutions utilizing technology are the cause.

  • Population growth is the main cause.

  • Economic growth is the main cause.

  • Human attitudes are the main cause.

  • Humanity is a species doomed to destroy itself.

I will consider each of these in turn. These views are not mutually exclusive, and some commentators believe more than one. But usually one cause is singled out as the primary cause.

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Technology Is Not The Cause

Those holding this view believe it is social and economic institutions which are misusing technology. The authors to be examined are Barry Commoner (1971), E. O. Wilson (2002), and Mark Lynas (2011). Each has a different view about how technology is being misused.

As we saw in the preceding chapter, Commoner calls attention to the contrast between the older, pre-World-War II technologies and the newer technologies adopted since then such as: Maintaining soil fertility through crop rotation vs. chemical fertilizers; biodegradable soap vs. detergents; natural vs. synthetic textiles. These are postmodern technologies. Production technologies with intense impact on the environment have displaced those that did not. These new technologies are more profitable for the producers but tend to cause great damage to the ecosystem.

Commoner’s solution is to change public policy to jettison postmodern technologies. Commoner’s solution would eliminate much of the damage of modern technology, but it may turn out to be difficult to sort out harmful postmodern technology from beneficial postmodern technology. Computer applications such as the Internet may be beneficial, but they depend on computer hardware whose manufacture and ultimate disposal do harm to the environment.

The prior question is, what in technology leads it to be so destructive? The answer has to be modern technology’s tendency to have its own ends and its own goal of remaking the entire world by utilizing it as resources for its own applications. So it will be tricky to separate harmful from beneficial modern technology or postmodern technology.

The eminent biologist E. O. Wilson in his The Future of Life (2002) is largely concerned with defending biodiversity. The major threat to biodiversity is habitat destruction, and the major cause of habitat destruction is human activity, often economic activity. Wilson lists a number of projects to preserve, protect and restore existing habitat. NGOs are now undertaking many of these projects, but Wilson notes eventually governments will have to take over a large part of this. He also calls for projects to make biodiversity contribute more to the world economy and make conservation profitable. He wants all three of business, government, and technology to cooperate in preserving biodiversity and engaging in conservation.

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