The impacts of technologies on our environment are obvious and witnessed by everyone. In fact, environmental issues are the biggest challenge facing our planet earth today: depleting ozone layer, global warming, reduction of vegetation, extinction of animals, climate change, etc. These problems are largely associated with technological advancements in industries and establishments of power plants. Let us take examples from coal combustion and conversion technology to illustrate this point. Impacts of technology on our environment which students must be aware of……
Coal is an energy source whose preparation goes through several gaseous industrial processes. It is formed by the decomposition of the remains of plants in swamps or river deltas and consists of two stages of formation: Biochemical and Geochemical. Coal contains elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur. Experts have predicted that the large-reserves of coal world-wide ensures that coal will remain crucially important energy source in the forthcoming era of energy shortage (e.g. crude oil and natural gas, the energy sources upon which the present economic growth of the industrial world depends ).
The preparation of coal involves the removal of its elements. In the process, these elements results in pollutants (particulate malter, sulphur, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, etc) which affect human health, ecology, global climate, and leads to haze and smog, among others. For example, Merrick states that the gases produced as a result of coal combustion contain particulate material, some of which is carried into the atmosphere with the flue gases. This particulate emission results in respiratory diseases urban smog that increases mortality. The London smog of 1952, for example, has been estimated to have caused 4000 additional deaths. The negative impacts of technology on our environment………….
Emission of Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming
Another very important element in coal technology is carbon dioxide, the fifth most abundant gas in the atmosphere (after nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour and argon), and which plays important roles in life processes. Usually, carbon dioxide is not regarded as a pollutant, but its increased concentration in the atmosphere is reputed as the cause of climate change and global warming. According to Merrick, reliable measurements show that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 315ppm (by volume) in 1958, 338ppm in 1980 (an average increase of 0.3 percent, or 1ppm, per annum). “For comparison, it has been estimated that the carbon dioxide concentration at the beginning of the industrial revolution was 290ppm”.How does carbon dioxide cause global warming?
Global warming can be easily understood (given our discourse from the foregoing paragraph) as an increase in the average temperature of the earth as a result of natural calamities (such as volcanic eruptions, movement in the technonic plates, exploding of sunspots, etc) and man- made activities (such as deforestation, power plant installations, burning of fossil fuels, generation of poisonous gases, etc). Global warming is not an emerging environmental issue associated with technology; its consequences are already being felt: the melting of glaciers, rising of the sea levels, disintegration of wild-life, drying up of forests, increasing rain fall, etc. RajibSingha properly highlights these effects in his assertion that global warming…
- Is causing changes in the climate which are too rapid for some living things to adapt to
- Is causing earth’s ice sheets to melt thus, increasing the sea level
- Is causing weather to become extreme; characterized by the development of major storms, longer spells of drought, more rain than required, and alterations in the life-supporting ranges for the survival of plants and animals
- It may, or is causing heavy precipitation even in places which stopped receiving heavy rainfall
- Also, causes water bodies to absorb heat more than usual. This is because, with the glaciers melting down, heat is reflected in low amounts and absorbed in high amounts by sea and oceans thus, further increasing the temperature.
The constant day-to-day variations in climate and its consequent effects raise fear as to what become of our world a couple of decades from now, and what would be the fate of future generations if as a student do not understand the impacts of technology on our environment…….
In order to properly understand how carbon dioxide causes global warming, scientists came up with the ‘greenhouse effect’ theory. A greenhouse is a building where plants are grown under a controlled environment. Control in the sense that the building is rooted with different but transparent materials like plastic or glass. With this, the building allows solar radiation to be absorbed by the plants by letting it in, but it disallows the heat generated from getting out or escaping. Water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and carbon dioxide are the main greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. “What these gases do is, they form a kind of wall over the atmosphere, which although lets the solar radiation to enter, but keeps some of the heat that is radiated back from escaping into the space; similar to what is done by a greenhouse”.Thus, these greenhouse gases are seen as the immediate causes of global warming since, by their activities, the heat that is to be radiated back is trapped and results in the increase of atmospheric temperature.