Technology and the Environment: Duty or Destiny

Technology can easily be considered to be the most dynamic and change-producing force with regard to the past century. The technological advances created by man have enabled amazing things-people can live longer than ever before, food and resources can be preserved and enhanced beyond their natural capacities, and individuals have the ability to communicate and express themselves on levels never imagined before. In short, we are spectators to what may be only the beginning of an era that will continue to redefine the way in which mankind functions in his world.

Dreams and visions of writers, artists, architects and others that have existed for centuries only in the abstract are rapidly becoming a reality. The question is, to what extent is it mankind’s duty or destiny to fulfill these dreams, and to what end should he overstep a guaranteed permanence of our species? An obstacle that becomes evident, as we imagine the way technology shapes our future, is striking a balance between improving the way-of-life for individuals in the present, and simultaneously ensuring that our descendants are able to dictate their own way of life as well.

In other words, as we continue to develop and enhance our own lives, to what extent do we owe consideration to future generations? While societies certainly hold independence in terms of their environment and resources, the potentially damaging effects of new technologies have become more universal over past centuries. We have seen the extinction of species, thousands of acres of rainforest erased, irreplaceable coral reefs damaged, the creation of entirely new diseases and defects derived from pollution, and entire ecosystems wiped out under the spread of human expansion and consumption.

Global warming, conservation of finite resources (such as fossil fuels), wide-spread radiation, and especially contamination of our land, sea, and air are examples of issues that society has become more aware of. If we are not mindful of these consequences to our natural world, we may inhibit our ability to live well in the future. However, we must also acknowledge the amazing benefits that billions of people are experiencing from the advent of modern technology. For example, the development of preventive and curative medicines has enabled man to conquer many now-considered “simple” diseases that claimed many lives in our past.

An easy means for humans to travel is available through the automobile; which has transformed our functionality as a society. Mass-manufacturing facilities have created a means of efficient, cheap production of goods. The Internet has redefined the way we communicate, and has created a nearly infinite medium of expression, organization, and distribution of information. And if it were not for modern developments in nuclear, coal, and gas power production, society wouldn’t be able to experience half of these incredible changes.

Surely more than ever now, in our era, humans have the ability to share information, educate themselves, understand and avoid health risks, attain individual aspirations, experience the world, and make new strides as a culture in new ways of expressing art, music, and thought. Technology has acted as the catalyst, if not the origin for so much of this progress of mankind. While no one can deny these incredible “universal goods” that technology has brought into the world, they also have consequences attached to their development and use.

As much as we have “environmentally-friendly” technologies such as solar power, hydrogen-powered cars, and hydroelectricity, it is doubtful that mankind will ever achieve a state of existence that is entirely in balance with the natural world (let alone not dependant upon it) in terms of resources and environmental health. Therefore, we can determine that the negative environmental effects as a result of technological expansion are unavoidable and will continue to, to some degree, impede human life as we know it.

We might also assume that without careful consideration of the implications of things such as pollution, and without changes in the regulation of these human abilities, that some day our world would reach a state where human life is unable to progress or even survive. After all, our world is far from neither invincible nor infinite. Regardless of whatever advancement we have the potential of attaining, surely we must prioritize our consideration for individuals in the future; how would one today feel if their right to life was limited or denied because the environment was previously corrupted beyond repair in the past?

Then again, how can it be logical to show consideration for individuals, for beings that have no existence? Can we assign rights to our unborn descendants? Commenting on this evaluation of “sacrificing the future good,” Hans Jonas instructed in Technology and Responsibility: “An imperative responding to the new type of human action and addressed to the new type of agency that operates it might run thus:

‘Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life. ; or expressed negatively: ‘Act so that the effects of your action are not destructive to the future possibility of such life’; or simply: ‘Do not compromise the conditions for an indefinite continuation of humanity on earth’; or most generally: ‘In your present choices include the future wholeness of Man among the objects of your will. ‘” In order consider this concept of pre-obligation in another way, one must step beyond terms of the individual or even a society. We must think in terms of human nature. We must ask ourselves the very purpose for our species’ existence, and answer back that it is not to be extinguished.

Of all things considered, a wholeness of human nature is dedicated to survival and the passing on of one’s genes to their children. If we were to ignore or even demote the importance of our human legacy, we would be denying our own origin, as well as not wholly fulfilling what is naturally pre-disposed within us. In other words, acting in a way that encourages human advancement over genetic advancement is in contradiction to who we are. Besides, what good would technological advancement be without humans around to reap its long-term benefits?

While Jonas is founded in claiming: “… seek not only the human good, but also the good of things extra-human, that is, to extend the recognition of ‘end in themselves’ beyond the sphere of man and make the human good include the care of them… push the necessary rethinking beyond the doctrine of action, i. e. , ethics, in the doctrine of being, i. e. metaphysics, in which all ethics must ultimately be grounded. ” One can also say that technology is, in its highest form, devoted to the metaphysical legacy of mankind.

The aforementioned advances in medicine, communication, education, consumption and expression are all indeed ultimately founded in upgrading the quality of life for the future of mankind. Regardless of some technologies such as cloning or weapons capable of mass destruction potentially being deemed ethically unjustified or not, the goal of invention in its purest form is to promote human life; surely it has been proven that technology is capable of lengthening and also avoiding the failings of the human body, thereby increasing the chances of our longevity as a species.

While the development of technology may promote a utilitarian view in that it widely enables fulfillment of all different kinds of human joy, success, and potential-ensuring that an environment is capable of supporting and sustaining life in the future is much more “in consideration of the highest good for all. In other words, preserving a healthy environment steps beyond what is temporary and known, and instead puts the highest importance in something metaphysical and with the intention of being everlasting. By this, I strongly feel that assurance of the continuation of the human species to be our highest duty to uphold because it is ingrained within us and it follows in what all ethics are grounded in.