It is undisputed that technology has contributed to the degradation of the environment. For example, the mining of coal strips the land of natural ecosystems, such as forests. The use of coal and oil for energy and transportation leads to depletion of resources, pollution, and global warming. Inefficient agricultural use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides causes pollution and wastes water and other resources. However, though human impact on the environment has in part been negative, science is also providing the means to turn things around and improve the situation. Here are some of the ways science is helping to reduce the negative human impact on the environment.
Biotechnology increases crop productivity by making plants more resistant to diseases and pests. It is also possible to improve the nutritional value and flavor of crops and cause them to stay fresh for a longer period of time. This reduces dependence on chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers and decreases the risk of these pollutants seeping into groundwater. More efficiently grown and nutritional crops mean more efficient use of water in their cultivation. In the 1970s, Joshua Lederberg’s optimistic vision of genetic engineering helped bring about the development of the biotechnology industry. Today, the industry is experiencing rapid growth as more efficient agricultural techniques become imperative in order to feed Earth’s burgeoning population.
Scientists are continually developing more and more products—such as paper, plastics, and inks—that are biodegradable or recyclable, reducing the impact of human waste on the environment. Sustainable products are those whose use benefits or protects the environment from the extraction of raw materials for manufacture until disposal of the remains. Organizations including the United Nations Environment Program, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employ scientists and conduct studies to promote sustainability.
Information Storage and Retrieval
Modern technological innovations have reduced the need for the mountains of paper and accompanying deforestation that have been the mainstay of information storage in the past. Wireless communications, advanced display systems, and digital magazines, books, and newspapers have made it unnecessary to strip the land of forests to supply the previously never-ending need for paper. Less paper dependency also reduces the pollution caused by paper mills. The paper that is still necessary can be recycled and the ink used on it can be biodegradable.
The key to widespread use of renewable energy is power storage, and a great deal of scientific research is being conducted in this field. At present, solar energy and wind power are dependent on weather conditions, but with efficient energy storage these resources have the potential to provide virtually unlimited power. Less dependence on fossil fuels will have a significant impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency works with state and local programs to research cost-effective methods of renewable energy.
Scientists are researching ways to reduce the negative impact of modern transportation methods on the environment. Lightweight vehicles use less gas and generate less pollution. Newer cars have less steel and more lightweight materials. Glass and plastic composites reduce the weight of glass. Hybrid and electric vehicles use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As technology continues to improve thanks to scientific research, ongoing innovations will lead to less pollution, a reduction in the need for fossil fuels, more efficient use of resources, and cheaper and more reliable renewable energy.
This article was provided by Charity Bailey, Environmental Studies major and sustainable consumer. If you’re interested in one way science has utilized our impact on the enviornment, Charity recommends checking out reverse osmosis membrane construction.