Carl Pope, “Let’s Get Technical: Time to Put the Engineers to Work”
Sierra (July/Aug 2005)
1. Engineers natural allies of environmentalists
a. Environmentalists point out problems
b. Engineers solve them (when they are allowed to)
i. Ford executives squashed Ford engineers excitement about using hybrid technology
2. Engineers can solve the problems we ask them to solve
a. Tell them to make a civilian version of a military assault vehicle, they will find a way to do it
b. If ask them to figure out how to power our homes with less energy, they can do that too
c. One way leads to the Hummer the other to solar cells
3. Tech is a servant that does its master’s bidding
4. In this country, those who are in control of tech have asked it to make them richer and more powerful and its done that, at expense of other people, other generations and other species
5. MATURE USE OF TECH INVOLVES
6. Do no harm and so must have firm rules
a. Laws and regulations make it possible to responsibility operate chemical plants, oil refineries and sewage treatment facilities
b. Lack of rules invites irresponsibility
i. Lower safety rules in Alaska, allowed tugboat escorts to be phased out, and get Exxon Valdez
ii. A climate of deregulation and “get the government off our backs” mentality led to the recent gulf oil “spill” disaster
7. New techs need to be developed in publicly accountable way (with appropriate private incentives)
a. If researches paid to maximize profits of few, likely to pursue options that increase public risk
b. Example: Genetically modified crops not used to help poor, but to sell chemicals
i. Could be used to help poor farmers in Third World (engineer a barley plant grow in brackish water in poorest parts of Africa)
ii. Best scientists not working for public institutions trying to help poor farmers but for multinational corporations patenting expensive seed varieties farmers can douse with herbicide (producing herbicide tolerant crops)
iii. Tech wizardry of biotech been devoted to capturing more of income of rich farmers in U.S.
8. In absence of firm rules and responsible incentives, corporations often cling to dangerous but profitable old techs even when engineers have gone on to design better versions
a. Example: Mercury poisoning
b. One American woman in 6 has enough mercury in her body to threaten health of any baby she might bear
c. A handful of outmoded chlorine chemical plants emit 65 tons of mercury into air each year (more than all nation’s coal fired power plants emit)
d. There is cost effective pollution control tech that could solve this problem
e. But no rules to force these companies to use this tech and keep poison out of our bodies
f. Incentive to make them clean up would be to force them to pay for treating everyone who will eventually be poisoned by their mercury releases
9. Need services of scientists, technologists, and engineers
a. We can’t sustain 6 billion people wanting better lives w/o 21st century solutions
b. Need to enlist human genius to solve problems not just to increase profits
c. Role of environmentalists is increasingly to make sure appropriate rules and incentives in place and then stand back and let the engineers get to work
Questions on Pope, Let’s Get Technical
1. Does Carl Pope think engineers and environmentalists are on opposing sides and that engineering/technology is to blame for many environmental problems?
2. Does Pope think technology is neutral?
3. According to Pope, what two things must be in place if technology is going to be used for good purposes?
4. Explain his one of his examples of a problematic use of technology? How does he propose to solve such problematic uses?