The development of technologies has inevitably affected all spheres of humans’ lives, bringing benefits and enhancing commodities to the extent that could not have been imagined several decades ago. What is more important, technological innovations help people to deal with one of the greatest threats of the new millennium: climate change. Specifically, there is the potential of technologies’ positive effect on carbon emission due to causing its reduction. At the same time, it is crucial to consider the economic outcomes of technologies in relation to climate change. Overall, specialists and researchers in the field of climate change single out both positive and negative ways technology can influence the future of the planet. Whereas new technologies help to track climate change and allow finding solutions to dangerous emissions, the excessive presence of automation in people’s lives can lead to adverse outcomes.
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The most evident effect of technology on climate change is the possibility of finding new solutions to climate change problems. At the Global Climate Action Summit, which was held in 2018, a new approach to estimating and decreasing the emissions of methane was discussed (Krupp). Methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, is reported to have over eighty times the near-term warming power of carbon dioxide. Methane emissions are accountable for one-fourth of all the global warming that humanity is experiencing at present. However, according to researchers, these statistics outline not only numerous difficulties but also a variety of opportunities (Krupp). Specifically, with the help of technology, it becomes possible to reduce methane emissions, which is the most convenient and cost-effective solution for eliminating the level of global warming (Krupp). In 2013, the Environmental Defense Fund involved 140 scientists from forty institutions, as well as about fifty oil and gas companies, in an extensive research study aimed at assessing methane emissions in the US oil and gas sector.
It is necessary to emphasize that such a profound investigation became possible due to technology. Scholars utilized airplanes, sensors mounted on drones, and Google Street View cars. Such methods allowed them to measure emissions at each of the supply chain links, starting with remote wellheads and ending with the pipes under each street (Krupp). With the help of the newest technological developments, it was found that the oil and gas industry of the USA emits 13 million metric tons of methane annually. This amount exceeds the estimates made by the Environmental Protection Agency by 60% (Krupp). Therefore, the most evident benefit of technology use in the fight against climate change is the opportunity to obtain valid information about the levels of dangerous emissions. With the help of these data, the companies operating in the oil and gas industry, along with researchers, will be able to come up with solutions to the problems identified. As a result of technologies’ involvement, governments can develop more effective policies against dangerous emissions and control the situation better.
The transparency gained with the help of technological advancements can reach beyond the common places of tracking methane emissions. MethaneSAT – a satellite mission that is about to be launched in 2021 – was designed with the aim of mapping and measuring methane emissions practically in any part of the planet (Krupp). With the help of this innovation, companies and countries will be able to notice problems timely, come up with ways of solving them, and evaluate the process of alteration. As a result, dangerous emissions will be reduced, and the situation with climate change in the world will be enhanced.
Energy technologies constitute another important part of the process of mitigating climate change. Van der Zwaan et al. note that the utilization of technologies in the energy sector has the potential to scale down carbon dioxide emissions (p. 526). In their article, Van der Zwaan et al. analyze the situation in Latin America and emphasize the positive role of technologies in the process of measuring the most dangerous contributors to climate change (p. 527). Researchers acknowledge that the effect of carbon dioxide cannot be measured with a hundred-percent certainty. However, they note that technologies can bring the issue to a whole new level and grant the highest precision possible (Van der Zwaan et al, p. 527). The application of technology helps to understand the changes necessary in the energy system, with the use of which carbon dioxide emission can be eliminated. To pursue such an aim, a variety of technological models can be employed (Van der Zwaan et al. 527). These may be general and partial equilibrium ones, those with various levels of simulation and optimization, and the models with different degrees of inclusiveness and diversity in the energy system.
Along with the evident benefits of technology in the sphere of carbon dioxide emissions’ reduction, scholars point out the need to notice the effect of technology on the growth of the economy. As Li and Wang remark, economic growth causes alterations in the extent of carbon dioxide emissions (p. 61). Therefore, researchers argue that the environmental and economic outcomes of technologies should be viewed as separate entities. With the intention to analyze the intensity of the technologies’ influence on carbon emission intensity and economy, Li and Wang studied the data from 95 countries over the period from 1996 to 2007 (p. 61). The authors reported that technological progress led to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. However, at the same time, Li and Wang found that a separate analysis of technologies’ intensity effects indicated both beneficial and adverse results (pp. 65-66). Therefore, one cannot say that technology has a purely positive influence on climate change.
Another set of ideas concerning the effect of technology on climate change refers to the so-called industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution. With the advent of more and more technologies, many processes and tasks previously performed by people have become automated (Wright). The number of disruptive technologies is increasing, which leads to alterations in people’s ways of living, working, and communicating. Such disruptive technologies include virtual reality, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and robotics. As Wright remarks, understanding of the influence of the mentioned technologies on climate change is quite complicated. On the one hand, innovations can eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and allow for collecting and analyzing data that will help to mitigate climate change. On the other hand, however, mass automation can bring negative outcomes, such as the growing levels of emissions and consumption (Wright). The most viable unfavorable effects of technologies are expected to be noticed in the spheres of automobile manufacturing and agriculture.
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The process of car manufacturing is currently almost entirely automated. The majority of processes that humans used to perform have been replaced by robotic workers (Wright). Technologies lead to highly efficient energy management at automobile factories. As a result, companies are able to eliminate waste and emissions in all processes involved in car manufacturing. Unfortunately, excessive use of technologies also has an adverse effect on climate change. Since the process of making a car is more efficient, automobiles are cheaper, hence, more people can afford them (Wright). Consequently, there are more cars on the roads than there used to be, which results in an excessive amount of emissions.
In the agriculture industry, the mechanization of machines allows producing food with less labor. However, this fact also means that the level of environmental degradation increases (Wright). The use of new tractors, robots, and other machines for making farmers’ work easier causes an increase in the negative environmental impact. Along with that, lower prices on food mean increased consumption, which also has an adverse influence on climate change.
In the question of technology’s impact on climate change, one cannot draw a clear line between the benefits and limitations of such an effect. Undoubtedly, the evolution of automation and technological devices enables researchers to track the levels of dangerous emissions and find ways of decreasing them. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the simplification of labor in many spheres causes excessive consumption and additional emissions, which are unfavorable for the environment. While new technologies help to control emission rates, they also contribute to the growth of these rates. Therefore, innovation should be embraced with caution in order to use its benefits for the planet’s welfare and minimize the imitations that can harm the environment.
- Krupp, Fred. “How Technology Is Leading Us to New Climate Change Solutions.” World Economic Forum, 2018. Web.
- Li, Mingquan, and Qi Wang. “Will Technology Advances Alleviate Climate Change? Dual Effects of Technology Change on Aggregate Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” Energy for Sustainable Development, vol. 41, 2017, pp. 61-68.
- Van der Zwaan, Bob, et al. “Energy Technology Roll-Out for Climate Change Mitigation: A Multi-Model Study for Latin America.” Energy Economics, vol. 56, 2016, pp. 526-542.
- Wright, Laurie. “What Will More Advanced Technology Mean for Climate Change?” Independent, 2019. Web.