A classic critique of techno-optimism
and the effects of modern technology
on society and the environment
Possibly the best myth-busting book the environmental movement has ever seen.
Professor, University of British Columbia, author, Our Ecological Footprint.
Technology has become our near-universal object of faith… but it is people
who must provide the answers. This book should be read and discussed in every
home, school, and legislature.
Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, author, The
End of Growth.
Technology alone won't be our salvation. This book explains why.
Bill McKibben, Schumann
Distinguished Scholar at
author, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Science and technology have advanced impressively and have promised much over
the past century. As this book shows, it is suicidal to put our hopes in such
Professor emeritus, University of British Columbia, host, The Nature of Things,
author of 43 books.
This book is outstanding; the most thorough, clear, systematic refutation that
I've seen of the absurd idea that new technology will be our savior from
advancing ecological breakdown -- A must-read for anyone seeking realistic
Founder, International Forum on Globalization, program director, Foundation for
shows how unsustainable and destructive technologies shaped and driven by the
profit motive, have emerged as a major cause of harm to people and the earth. We
need to go beyond a blind techno-religion and this book shows us how.
New Delhi based environmental and anti-globalization activist, philosopher,
author of 20 books.
Salvation by technological advance and unlimited growth is the blind dogma of
our age. The Huesemanns provide a devastatingly cogent and well-referenced
critique of this modern Gnosticism, as well some good alternative ideas. Highly
Former Senior Economist at the World Bank, Professor of Ecological Economics at
the University of Maryland, author, Steady-State Economics and Ecological
It has frequently been proclaimed, especially by certain economists, that our
problems--whether economic, environmental, social, or political--can be resolved
by technological wizardry. Julian Simon, an extreme proponent of this view,
urged us to ignore the warnings of environmentalists, and to stride towards a
shining new future created by technologies. For the most part, techno-optimists
have been simply misinformed and stand in urgent need of some extensive homework
on the issue. All the more welcome, then, is this first-rate book. If only it
could have emerged sooner, it might have saved us much trouble and much money.
British professor and fellow at Oxford University,
advisor on environmental issues to the United Nations and the World Bank, Companion
of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
is a powerful and well-researched challenge to the widespread belief that modern
technology alone will give us a clean environment, health, peace, and happiness.
The authors convincingly show that a paradigm shift and a corresponding change
in the direction of science and technology is needed to create a more humane,
just, and sustainable world.
Diet for a New America
and The Food Revolution,
recipient of the Rachel Carson and Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Awards.
The nuclear disaster of Fukushima tragically confirms how right the authors are.
Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker,
German scientist, academician, parliamentarian, author, Earth Politics and
Factor Four; founder, Wuppertal Institute, member, Club of Rome.
Believers in unending growth argue that technology can overcome any
environmental penalties of growth. This is the most detailed scholarly
rebuttal of that view that I have seen. The Huesemanns systematically take
on the pro-growth arguments, and their rebuttals are persuasive.
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, author, Juggernaut: Growth on a
Among the book’s virtues is that it goes beyond technical issues to consider the
social, economic and philosophical dimensions of our predicament, pointing
convincingly to many areas where radical rethinking of goals and means is
University of New South Wales, Australia; author, The Conserver Society.
explains why science and technology will not save the economy and the
environment. Drs. Michael and Joyce Huesemann have written an outstanding
book that is most timely.
Professor emeritus, Cornell University, author with Marcia Pimentel, Food,
Energy, and Society.
FROM THE FOREWORD
The claim that “technology will solve the problem” — whatever that problem may
be — is part and parcel of Western culture. It has been especially prominent in
the past half-century, as both the scientific community and the popular media
have given prominence to technology-related problems from silent springs,
widespread hunger and oil spills to climate disruption, fisheries collapses and
the Fukushima disaster. The record of “cures” for these problems promoted by
technological optimists gives little room for cheer. Over those five decades,
the putative advantages of claimed “fixes” have usually failed to appear or
proved to be offset by unforeseen nasty side effects. The general public,
business people, governments and most economists appear to believe that
population and per capita consumption can grow indefinitely. They think that the
rich can get richer and the poor can catch up. They are convinced that human
ingenuity leading to technological innovation can solve the problems associated
with growth, and that eventually all economic inequities can be eliminated by
growth itself. To us and our colleagues, this is an assumption entirely
unwarranted by the evidence – and debunking it may be the single most important
task of the scholarly community.
is a powerful and well-researched contribution to this effort.
Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Paul
R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and professor of biology at
Stanford University, a fellow of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics,
president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
He is also a fellow of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science,
United States National Academy of Sciences,
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Philosophical Society.
Anne H. Ehrlich is a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Biology at
Stanford University, Associate Director of the Stanford Center for Conservation
Biology, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and
coauthor of ten books and many articles on population biology and environmental
The Ehrlichs are the authors of many influential books, including The Population
Bomb and the The Population Explosion and are currently organizing the
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.
From Chapter 1:
“We live in a highly complex and dynamic world where, according to Barry Commoner’s amusing but insightful first law of ecology, ‘Everything is Connected to Everything Else.’ Although we may perceive the natural environment as consisting of many different and isolated components and processes, these are all derivatives of the same cosmos, interrelated and linked together through mutual cause and effect. Science, of course, has been very successful in elucidating some of these causal relationships, but, as will be discussed below, only a subset of the totality of such relationships. The fact that ‘all is connected to all’ has profound implications for the application of technology, particularly with respect to unintended consequences.” (p. 3)
“Because the negative consequences of science and technology often occur in unanticipated forms and in distant locations, and sometimes after significant time intervals, they are often not perceived as related to their causes. Nevertheless, technology will necessarily produce both positive and negative effects. This character of technology creates a serious intellectual challenge for technological optimists who exclusively focus on the positive aspects of technology while ignoring the, often enormous, negatives.” (p. 7)
From Chapter 2:
“Jeremy Rifkin summarizes the second law of thermodynamics as: ‘Each technology always creates a temporary island of order at the expense of greater disorder in the surroundings.’ It has been suggested by a number of scientists that the increase in entropy (disorder) in the environment is directly related to environmental damage and ecosystem disruption. Thus, given that the second law of thermodynamics guarantees that for each unit of “order” (neg-entropy) created in the human-based economy, more than one unit of ‘disorder’ (entropy) is created in the surrounding environment, it follows that all industrial activities must lead to unavoidable environmental disruptions.” (p. 19)
“For many thousands of generations, the process of biological evolution guaranteed that humans were well adapted to their natural environment, thereby maximizing their chances of survival. Until very recently, on average seven out of ten children died before reaching reproductive age, assuring that only the most vigorous, those who were best adapted to the relatively harsh environment, passed on their genes to future generations. The human environment, however, changed drastically following the Industrial Revolution when better nutrition and improved sanitation increased childhood survival rates. Furthermore, because of various medical interventions such as immunization, antibiotics, and more recently post- and even pre-natal surgeries, more than 95% of new-born children in developed nations survive to reproductive age.” (p. 46)
“Here we encounter another manifestation of the dual nature of technological ‘progress’: as people attempt to benefit from life in a high-technology society, their descendants are decreasing, generation after generation, in fitness for survival under more natural conditions. When future generations are forced by either temporary or permanent societal collapse to live ‘closer’ to nature, they will suffer a substantially elevated mortality rate. Given that complex civilizations do not persist indefinitely, it is only a matter of time until our descendants will be forced to live again without current interventions. At that point, millions of people will die, in a sense, because of our present lifestyle.” (p. 47)
From Chapter 3:
“Whenever technology is used to control and exploit, the exploited will by definition suffer negative consequences. Since the application of technological power for control and exploitation is based on ignorance of the fact that ‘Everything is Connected to Everything Else’ and also violates basic principles of reciprocity and fairness, one could postulate that any type of technological control and exploitation will inevitably lead to negative outcomes and suffering for all parties. Thus, as long as technology is used for control and exploitation, negative social and environmental effects are inherently unavoidable.” (p. 49)
“Finally, each year the chemical industry produces more 100 million tons of organic chemicals, representing around 70,000 different compounds – most of which have never been tested for their health hazards and environmental impacts. Most of these chemicals, after their use, will ultimately end up in the environment, having the potential for yet unknown and serious environmental and health consequences (see Chapter 2), as was the case with DDT and many other bio-accumulative organic compounds.” (p. 59)
“Finally, the addiction to TV and other electronic mass media suppresses citizen political and environmental activism, which is another form of subtle social control. After wasting more than 3000 hours per year on the mass media, there is simply very little time and energy left for people to engage in any kind of citizen activism. TV, indeed, serves as a weapon of ‘mass distraction.’ Because watching TV isolates us from other like-minded citizens and transforms us into passive viewers, we become far less likely to exchange ideas with others on how to improve social, economic, political, or environmental conditions. Finally, as mentioned above, by broadcasting a ‘virtual reality’, TV isolates us from reality. If we do not know what is true, how can we contribute in a positive and effective way to society? If we do not get out into nature and experience the natural world for ourselves but only view landscapes on a TV screen, how informed or concerned will we be about environmental issues?” (p. 68)
From Chapter 4:
“Technological fixes can be loosely grouped into three different, sometimes overlapping, categories: First, there are so-called counter-technologies which are technologies specifically developed to oppose and neutralize the negative effects created by other technologies. For example, environmental remediation technologies are counter-technologies because they attempt to remove the pollution that was generated by previous technologies. Second, there are so-called social fixes which involve the use of science and technology to solve social, economic, political, or cultural problems. A good example of a social fix is the attempt to solve the persistent problem of world hunger by increasing food production via the application of industrialized agriculture despite the fact that hunger and starvation may not be due to food shortages but rather the result of various economic and political factors. Third, efficiency improvements serve as techno-fixes by increasing the effectiveness of technological processes in an incremental fashion, thereby attempting to gradually increase the benefits while reducing the costs of a particular technology. For example, an increase in the fuel efficiency of cars will not only increase benefits (i.e., the distance that can be driven per volume of fuel used) but also decrease costs (i.e., expenses for fuels and environmental pollution).” (p. 73)
“All environmental technologies can be considered counter-technologies because they have been specifically developed to address the pollution created by other technologies. This is reflected by the hopeful and unrealistic proclamation that ‘The deterioration of the environment produced by technology is a technological problem for which technology has found, is finding, and will continue to find solutions.’ Despite this enthusiastic assurance by a true believer in the effectiveness of techno-fixes, we will show that while most environmental remediation technologies may be able to address the pollution generated by previous technologies, they often create side-effects that are worse than the original problem.” (p. 77)
“In the final analysis, environmental counter-technologies may also be considered social fixes because, as will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 6, the causes of environmental problems are not only polluting technologies but, more fundamentally, human overpopulation and continued economic growth. Consequently, unless the relevant socio-cultural issues are addressed and the size of the human population stabilized and reduced, and the materialistic consumer lifestyle largely abandoned, there is little chance that our environmental problems will be solved or that we will achieve sustainability in the future.” (p. 83)
From Chapter 5:
“Consider, for example, that the widespread application of high-technology in medicine is believed to be responsible for 50% to 85% of the growth in health care costs. There are a number of reasons why progress in medical science and technology will increase rather than decrease health care costs. These are (a) the greater availability and accessibility of medical tests and treatments due to efficiency-induced cost reductions (i.e., the rebound effect), (b) the never-ending hope for new cures which, if successful, become a permanent need, and (c) the goal of prolonging life as long as possible, no matter what the costs.” (p. 106)
“Widespread acceptance of efficiency as an ultimate value, despite the fact that it may create a society in which previously held values are destroyed, may be due to the fact that many believe that the pursuit of efficiency is a rational, objective, and value-neutral enterprise. Unfortunately, as will be discussed in Chapter 10, technology in general and efficiency in particular are never value-neutral and embody specific values, which are often invisible to the uncritical observer. The very definition of efficiency is value-laden. Efficiency optimizes what which is considered valuable (benefits) while minimizing that which is considered not valuable (costs). Since the power of technology is based on the manipulation and control of material resources, most technical efficiencies optimize quantifiable material benefits such as more ‘miles per gallon,’ more ‘lighting per kilowatthour electricity,’ more ‘consumer products per unit energy and material inputs,’ more ‘material products and services per hours worked,’ in short, more material affluence with less input of energy, material, and labor. Thus, by continually focusing on the optimization of technical efficiencies, materialistic values and goals are strengthened while non-material values of every sort are neglected. Emphasis on the technological achievement of materialistic objectives is in conflict with many cherished personal and cultural values, and, in fact often destroys what is most enjoyable in life.” (p. 113)
“Efficiency improvements, by themselves, can become counter-productive. What is needed is a conscious effort to direct technological innovation toward the achievement of clearly defined societal goals that reflect shared values. For example, if we strive for a humane and sustainable world, we should first clearly define goals such as agreeable working conditions, enough leisure time, material sufficiency, psychological well-being, minimum pollution, the stabilization or reduction in the use of limited energy and material resources, and so forth. Only after specific goals have been set should we employ the most innovative science and technology to meet them in the most efficient manner. As will be discussed in Chapter 12, the critical examination of our core societal values and the setting of specific goals for the achievement of a humane and sustainable world will be quite a challenge to the status quo which currently employs science and technology to accomplish rather different objectives, such as maximal exploitation of both people and the environment. Indeed, such a change would require a major paradigm shift, a revolution in worldview. Unless we undertake this critical challenge, technological innovation and efficiency improvements will continue to promote unsustainable growth which will inexorably lead to environmental and societal collapse.” (p. 116)
From Chapter 6:
“Before discussing some of the potential negative impacts of various solar energy technologies, it is useful to review the implications of the second law of thermodynamics in order to show that environmental impacts of renewable energy generation are inherently unavoidable. This is because the flux of solar energy (or neg-entropy) onto earth is used to create highly ordered (i.e., low entropy) so-called ‘dissipative structures’ in the environment. Such structures are evident in the complexity of organisms, ecosystems, biodiversity, and carbon and nitrogen cycles, all of which are maintained by the constant in-flow of solar energy.” (p. 126)
“In summary, all renewable energy technologies are expected to have significant environmental impacts, particularly if deployed on a scale large enough to supply most, if not all, energy for future industrial and economic activities. Thus, before assuming – as many environmentalists do – that renewable energy is the best solution to the problem of unsustainable fossil fuel use and global warming, it is necessary to carefully study the environmental impacts and the public attitudes towards large-scale energy installations, many of which may cover hundreds of square kilometers. The finding that environmental impacts of renewable energy generation cannot be avoided is not surprising, a sobering reality expressed in Commoner’s Fourth Law of Ecology ‘There is No Such Thing as Free Lunch.’ Thus, while renewable energy will certainly be an important component in the design of more sustainable circular flow economies of the future, it has limited potential and cannot be expanded indefinitely because of land limitations, severe environmental impacts, and public opposition. Given that the immense economic expansion during the last two centuries was driven primarily by the availability of cheap and abundant fossil energy sources, it is unlikely that economic growth can continue at its previous pace, if at all, by solely relying on renewable solar energy whose potential is not only limited but which is also more expensive.” (p. 132)
“In this context, it should be recognized that most societies, including those as complex as the Roman and Mayan, have collapsed and vanished after having enjoyed long periods of prosperity. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that our extremely complex technological society could not collapse as well. Indeed, all three pre-conditions for environmental and societal collapse are present in current technological societies: (i) rapid growth in resource use and pollution, (ii) limited resource availability and waste absorption capacity, and (iii) delayed responses by decision-makers when limits have already been exceeded or soon will be.” (p. 139)
“As the analyses in this and the previous chapter have shown, the belief that the application of advanced science and technology, as currently practiced, will automatically result in sustainability and avert collapse is greatly mistaken. Science and technology will certainly be necessary but alone will be insufficient for bringing about sustainability. What is required and is indeed absolutely essential is a change in societal values and policies to consciously direct technological innovation towards the goal of decreasing total impact, i.e., resource depletion and environmental pollution.” (p. 140)
“In short, without a significant change in society’s values, the current direction of progress in science and technology will only implement the existing values of growth, exploitation, and inequality, thereby accelerating us towards collapse. Consequently, the main challenge will be to change society’s goals from growth to material sufficiency and appropriate stable population size; from exploitation to just treatment of labor, future generations, and the environment; and from gross inequality to a more fair distribution of both income and wealth. These changes in societal values would then automatically translate into various policies which redirect science and technology towards meeting these new goals.” (p. 141)
From Chapter 7:
“As discussed in Part I, there is a remarkable confidence that science and technology will solve the major problems facing humanity, including those which were created in the first place by technologies. Environmental counter-technologies presumably will solve the problems created by polluting technologies. Medical and military technologies serve as social fixes which attempt to solve complicated social, cultural, economic, and political problems. Improvements in technical efficiency are believed to be a panacea for almost any problem facing industrial societies, whether shortages of energy and minerals resources, environmental pollution, road congestion, rising health care costs, and even long-term sustainability. Clearly, technological optimism and belief in continual progress permeate modern industrial societies. ‘Progress’ is a doctrine, a dogma, accepted on faith and projected onto a hopeful but largely illusory future.” (p. 145)
“Given that belief in progress has, since the Enlightenment, displaced in a large segment of society the earlier faith in salvation, it should be no surprise that our present belief in science and technology exhibits many features normally associated with religion. Here we will briefly discuss four similarities between faith in scientific and technological progress and religious faith: the promise of salvation, the means of controlling and maintaining systems of mass acceptance, the reliance on the wisdom and authority of the ‘experts’, and the ignorance of believers.” (p. 152)
“Ignorance of relevant scientific and technical detail underlies most expressions of exuberant technological optimism, not only among the laymen but even among highly educated scientists and engineers. Over the years, it has been our observation when attending scientific conferences, technical meetings, and briefings with entrepreneurs, that participants express the most hope about a particular technology when they know the least about it. We gave this observation the amusing title: ‘Huesemann’s Law of Techno-Optimism: Optimism is inversely proportional to knowledge.’ Experts who have extensive knowledge of a specific technology express much more guarded optimism, if not pessimism, and generally provide a more balanced view. Given the extreme complexity of industrialized societies, nearly everyone, including highly educated scientists and engineers who are essentially laypersons in any field other than that in which they specialize, is ignorant of the intricacies and possible side effects of most advanced technologies outside their narrow fields of expertise. In the absence of knowledge, it is easy to succumb to technological optimism.” (p. 155)
“Ignorance of anthropological data allows the common myth to be perpetuated that life in primitive cultures was extremely miserable, a convenient myth which supports the ethnocentric belief that life in today’s technological society is a great improvement over earlier times. Some ‘primitive’ peoples even today, not heavily propagandized and given the choice, do not want to be ‘developed’ and integrated into a high-technology society. (p. 156)
“In order to suppress anything which might threaten social cohesion or challenge the power structure, every society has taboos related to certain kinds of discourse and action. In modern industrialized societies, there is a strong taboo against challenging the faith in science and technology and their supposed contribution to ‘progress.’ Any questioning of that faith is seen as heresy. Those who criticize new technologies are labeled ]anti-progress’ or, in more derogatory terms, ‘Luddites,’ after the machine-smashers who opposed the mechanization of labor during the Industrial Revolution of 19th century England. Indeed, the idea of ‘progress’ is used to suppress criticism, to enforce passivity, and to avoid debate about the introduction of new technologies. Criticism of technological and industrial development is often stifled by invoking the illusion of inevitability, the ‘You can’t turn back the clock’ argument (see Chapter 10).” (p. 170)
“Clearly, a re-definition of progress is needed. Hopefully, our improved understanding of the limitations of science and technology will result in a new paradigm of progress: ‘Progress’ will no longer be seen as the technological control and exploitation of nature and people for the benefit of the few with negative consequences for the many. Instead, progress will consist of increasing our awareness and understanding of how to adapt to our natural environment and live within its limits, and how to improve our well-being and happiness in non-materialistic ways.” (p. 172)
From Chapter 8:
“The ability to externalize costs is also related to power. In general, the powerful exploit the weak and those who cannot defend themselves by externalizing costs onto them. The exploited include uninformed people, the poor, people not yet born, and the environment. The more powerful actors in society, i.e., large corporations and the government agencies serving them, control the technology assessment process with the goal of biasing it in favor of new technology development and deployment by defining the boundaries of the cost-benefit analysis so as to allow for the externalization of costs (see Problem #3 on institutional biases below). “ (p. 180)
“In summary, we have found that the entire technology assessment procedure is inherently biased in favor of technology development and deployment. First, because profit maximization is the primary motive behind the development of new technologies, there is a strong incentive to ignore as many environmental and social costs as possible by externalizing them onto unsuspecting people, future generations, and the environment. Second, there is and always will be considerable ignorance about the long-term negative consequences of new technologies while short-term benefits are generally clear and obvious. Third, it is difficult, if not impossible to assign market prices to indeterminant values that may well be harmed by new technologies while at the same time many technological benefits are easily quantifiable in economic terms. Finally, the most powerful stakeholders, generally the corporations that develop new technologies, define the key issues and control the technology assessment procedure, thereby biasing the entire analysis.” (p. 188)
From Chapter 9:
“For the first time in human history, the industrial revolution enabled the inexpensive mass-production of almost anything. According to the technological imperative, what can be mass-produced will be mass-produced. But there is no profit in mass production without mass consumption. Thus, mass advertising was required, employing communications technologies, first the printing press, then radio and television, and finally the internet, to arouse public desire for new products. Thus, industrial-scale mass production necessitates mass consumption which, in turn, requires relentless advertising by the mass media. The current materialistic consumer society is a direct consequence of the success of mass production and mass media technologies.” (p. 210)
“Since our basic psychological and spiritual needs remain unfulfilled by material consumption and other techno-distractions, such as watching television, and we are not aware of any other ways to satisfy them, we obsessively try the same approach over and over again. Thus, the addictive process is initiated, which is a natural response to the failure of fulfilling primary needs and the subsequent attempt to satisfy these instead through secondary sources. The addictive and compulsive behavior continues as long as the underlying primary needs are not properly satisfied. The artificial life in technological society promotes an illusory independence of nature as well as mutual alienation between people, thus obscuring opportunities to directly satisfy primary needs.” (p. 220)
“One could argue that, as a culture, we are addicted to technology for the purpose of providing illusory solutions to our problems (see Chapter 7), even if these problems are fundamentally social, psychological, or spiritual in nature. Since all addictions involve denial, it is possible that our collective ‘techno-addiction’ is one of the main reasons we are unwilling to critically question the negative aspects of technology in society and in our lives.” (p. 221)
“Technologies which increase our sense of separation from nature abound. Many of us live in almost entirely artificial environments: inside climate-controlled houses, located in air-polluted, noisy, crowded mega-cities made of concrete, glass, and steel, far away from wilderness. We drive at high speed in automobiles, totally enclosed by metal and glass, unable to experience the nuanced beauty of the natural environment we traverse. We wear clothes made of synthetic fabrics instead of natural fibers, we eat food grown thousands of miles away on farmland we have never seen, food processed in distant factories, and placed in synthetic packages on the shelves of our local supermarkets. Our electronic communications and mass-media technologies such as television, video, and internet have over time persuaded us to prefer fantasy over reality to the point that many people have become content to see pictures and movies of nature instead of ever experiencing it themselves. This degree of pathological alienation from nature can only have devastating consequences for psychological well-being and happiness as well as for any interest in preserving the life support systems of our planet.” (p. 232)
From Chapter 10:
“Let us analyze then how specific values are inherently embedded in a particular technology, making it politically and socially biased independently of how people choose to use it. As anyone who has been involved in creative activities is aware, there are myriads of choices that have to be made during the process of creation, and these choices generally reflect specific value-orientations. The same is true for the engineering design process in which the final technological product is created within the constraints of specific goals and objectives, which, in turn, reflect the values of the engineer, the corporate or government funding agency, or society at large.” (p. 236)
“Thus, it is not surprising that television programming is heavily biased towards more gross and active content such as sports, violence, police action, conflict, war, drama, game shows, soap operas, and flashy product advertising. It is difficult to broadcast more subtle, emotional content such as social interaction, being within and surrounded by nature, or a profound appreciation of other cultures or religions. Even if the message on TV is pro-environmental, TV viewing is intrinsically anti-environmental because it provides a substitute for experiencing nature first hand and because it encourages passivity, thereby undermining interest in environmental activism. In addition, because electronic media are able to make consumer products seem ‘more alive than people,’ it is inherently biased towards materialistic consumerism, which is one of the causes of the environmental crisis. In summary, television and related video technologies are intrinsically biased towards values destructive of society and the environment. It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for electronic media to play a more constructive role in society.” (p. 239)
“Third, by making technologies and industrialization appear value-neutral, political decisions regarding the development and deployment of new technologies are given the mask of legitimate objectivity, thereby removing citizens from political participation in regard to these innovations. Consequently, as will be discussed later in this chapter, because people are denied these basic democratic decision-making rights, they often feel that they have no choice but to accept any new technology, no matter how destructive to health, society or the environment.” (p. 241)
“While a number technological innovations have, indeed, had a profound impact on freedom, such as the freedom to work at night, to travel at high speeds for great distances, and to quickly access large amounts of information. For the most part, technology has only provided greater freedom to choose among an enormous array of competing consumer products and services, including vapid, if not degrading, entertainment. For example, we are now free to choose among many different brands of toothpaste, soft drinks, cigarettes, automobiles, diapers, toilet paper, and TV programs. Being constantly distracted by this vast but trivial consumer choice creates an illusion of freedom within the constraints of the industrialized society. There is, however, a largely unnoticed dark side: the loss of important fundamental freedoms and increasing technological dependency.” (p. 246)
“Most importantly, nearly all experts represent the interests and values of those who employ them, mainly large corporations and government agencies. Since the primary objective of corporations is the maximization of profits for their shareholders, it is not surprising that most experts have only the choice of resigning or of coming to the defense of new technologies if these promise to generate profits, even if they may cause harm to society or the environment. Thus, in essence, the control of technology is undemocratic because corporations and the governments they influence or control, rather than average citizens, are the key decisions makers in matters of technological innovation. The end result is that the developers of new technologies have almost complete control over the direction of technological change without having to confront a critical public.” (p. 251)
From Chapter 11:
“The development and large-scale adoption of new technologies is a social process currently guided by the principle of profit maximization. As a result, there is an inherent bias towards technologies and products which maximize profits for owners of income-producing properties while the vital needs of people and the environment are largely ignored. If our goal is to maximize the well-being of people by meeting their basic needs and to protect the environment for future generations, we need selection criteria other than profit maximization to guide the development of new technologies. A major paradigm shift is required.” (p. 267)
From Chapter 12:
“Finally, it must be noted that after a paradigm shift has been completed, there is no way to return to the previous wordview. Paradigm shifts are the cause of irreversible cultural, religious, and scientific revolutions. Western society, which has been operating for centuries on an increasingly outdated paradigm of growth in material affluence and human population, is currently on the brink of either an environmental collapse or a sustainability revolution. In order to avoid impending disaster, a cultural revolution must occur in the very near future. Paradigm shifts must occur in the way we view ourselves, nature, the economy, and the role of science and technology, and they must occur more or less simultaneously in order to be effective.” (p. 277)
“As was discussed earlier (Chapters 3 and 11), the primary goal of science and technology in our current economic system is to increase material affluence and to generate profits for the already wealthy by controlling and exploiting both people and the environment. In view of our new paradigm of interconnectedness and interdependence, this arrangement is neither environmentally sustainable nor socially desirable. Clearly, the direction of science and technology must no longer be guided by the outdated values of power, control and exploitation but rather by the values of social and environmental harmony, cooperation and mutual enhancement.” (p. 285)
From Chapter 13:
“As has been mentioned repeatedly throughout this book, the primary goal of technology in our current economic system is to increase material affluence and to generate profits for the wealthy by controlling and exploiting both people and the environment. In view of the reality of interconnectedness, this is neither environmentally sustainable nor socially desirable. In this chapter we discuss how to design technologies which reflect the values of environmental sustainability and social appropriateness. We also emphasize the importance of heeding the precautionary principle in order to prevent unintended consequences, as well as the need for participatory design in order to ensure greater democratic control of technology. Finally, as a specific example of an environmentally sustainable and socially appropriate technology, we discuss the positive contribution of local, organic, small-scale agriculture.” (p. 295)
From Chapter 14:
“One of the functions of critical science is to create awareness of the underlying values, and the political and financial interests which are currently determining the course of science and technology in industrialized society. This exposure of the value-laden character of science and technology is done with the goal of emancipating both people and the environment from domination and exploitation by powerful interests. The ultimate objective is to redirect science and technology to support both ordinary people and the environment, instead of causing suffering through oppression and exploitation by dominant elites. Furthermore, by exposing the myth of the value-neutrality of science and technology, critical science attempts to awaken working scientists and engineers to the social, political, and ethical implications of their work, making it impossible or, at the very least, uncomfortable for them to ignore the wider context and corresponding responsibilities of their professional activities.” (p. 321)
“Another goal of critical science is continuing comprehensive analyses of the effects of science and technology on both society and the environment, placing particular emphasis on identifying root causes, so that lasting solutions, instead of short-term techno-fixes, may be found. Critical science, because it uses the powerful tool of the scientific method, can be a very strong weapon of attack against established technologies and the institutions that support them. Since critical science almost always challenges the status quo, it requires very high standards of scholarship to stand the test of counterattacks.” (p. 322)
“The position that the acquisition of new knowledge should not be controlled implies that scientific freedom is regarded as the highest and most unquestionable value of society, and thus would have priority over all other values such as human welfare and environmental protection. Clearly, such a position is absurd. Science should always serve the interests of the people and the environment rather than damaging them in the interest of corporations.” (p. 333)
“Following graduation, after having entered the workforce, scientists and engineers should stay ‘ethically active’ throughout their career, ensuring that they follow both the letter and spirit of their professional ethics code and that their work is socially and environmentally responsible. There are several ways for scientists and engineers to remain engaged. First, having recognized that it is their duty of inform society on the implications of their work, they must become increasingly involved in public policy discussions and decisions related to science and technology issues.“ (p. 335)