The Collapse of Science due to Environmental Issues -1

Numerous books and articles have been written on “society and technology” by many great writers from various viewpoints 1,2,3,4). However, the simplest question remains unsolved, namely, the question, “Has technology, which has been developing for about three hundreds years, contributed to human beings?” I think it has done more to damage the people and nature on earth than to contribute to them 5). The aim of this article is to discuss and to clarify it through the history of modern science, environmental issues and the difference between east and west cultures.
All living bodies, as well as the Earth and the Sun themselves, do not last forever. The life span of the Sun is about 1 billion years and those of living bodies, whose life spans as the species are relatively long in the geological age, are only several million to a few hundred million years 6). When we discuss the “sustainability of the current lifestyle”, the definition of sustainability is important to avoid misunderstanding. This paper aims at discussing “What kind of knowledge should a Japanese person, either in the fields of the arts or sciences, be acquiring?” from the viewpoint of sustainability and modern technology. I would therefore like to take a backward glance at the history related to “sustainability and technology” 7).
First, the invention of agriculture should be referred to because it was the first step that human beings as a species took towards an unsustainable society. The remarkable level of productivity destroyed the cycle of material circulation in nature. However, the destruction was not rapid and did not become decisive because the driving force of agriculture was limited within the power of solar energy. The real and distinct change was observed at the early period of modern industry 8,9).
The very famous open experiment conducted at Magdeburg in 1653 by Mayor Otto Van Guericke was a symbolic performance that showed the transition from the traditional activity of human beings to a new lifestyle accompanied by huge material consumption. The hemispheres, later to be named the “Magdeburg hemisphere,” were made of bronze and were about 40cm in diameter. These hemispheres were attached to each other and a vacuum was created inside of the sphere beforehand. Successively, two teams of eight horses pulled the hemispheres in opposite directions but were unable to separate them.
The force of the vacuum displayed in this experiment proved itself superior to other traditional powers such as man, animal and wind 10). Many engineers applied the vacuum force to the machine. After about 60 years, Newcomen installed his first working engine, which has been highly evaluated for opening the door to a new era, at a coalmine in Staffordshire in 1712 11). James Watts and Richard Trevithick further improved the engine by installing a separate condenser and using high-pressure steam power 12). The huge power immediately expanded activity in England and the demand of coal for fuel and the wood used for the reduction of iron ore rapidly increased 13).
Since the 15th century, environmental problems sometimes became the subject of political discussion but the problem was limited in a small region and temporary. However, the problem at the beginning of the 19th century was of a level that could be called “the first destruction of nature” and “the breakaway from sustainable development”, brought about by the rapid consumption of modern industry 14).
A quantitative “unsustainability” can be recognized in the emission of sulfur dioxide in atmosphere 15). The total amount of sulfur dioxide emission due to human activity exceeded that from nature in the 1940s and reached about three times the amount in the year 2000 16). If humans could act within the limit of the solar energy, the purification of pollution could be achieved in nature. However, the use of more materials causes a larger scale of pollution. Solar energy can only treat chemicals within its productivity, which is what it means to be “sustainable”.
The second symbolic forecast that ensures “un-sustainability” is that the petroleum era is limited 17). As petroleum is an underground resource and the estimated amount of oil deposits is not much larger than the annual consumption in the world, it will be exhausted someday 18). The pollution of the environment and the exhaustion of resources are logical results of our actions and are within our expectations since we use much more materials than those made by the solar light every day.


1)Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor F. Pinch, The Social Construction of Technological Systems, MIT Press, 1989.
2)E. D. Klemke, “Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science”, Prometheus Books, 1998.
3)E. S. Ferguson, Engineering and the Mind’s Eye, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 1993.
4)Garry Gutting, Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Scientific Reason, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
5)J. Rouse, Knowledge and Power: Toward a Political Philosophy of Science, Cornell U. P., 1987.
6)C. Darwin: “On the Origin of Species”, John Murray, London, 1859.
7)Brundland Report, United Nations, “Our Common Future”, 1987.
8)Arnold Toynbee, “La Revolution industielle au XVIII e siecle”, 1906.
9)H. Brown, The Wisdom of Science, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
10)Paul Mantoux, “La Revolution industielle au XVIII e siecle”, 1906.
11)Journal of Newcomen’s association, “Transactions of the Newcomen Society”, 1922.
12)Henry W. Dickinson, “A Short History of the Steam Engine”, 1938.
13)Thomas Southcliffe Ashton,”Ion and steel in the Industrial Revolution”, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1929.
14)Brundland Report, United Nations, “Our Common Future”, 1987.
15) V. Popov and H. Power, “Landfill Emission of Gases into the Atmosphere: Coundary Element Analysis (Advances in Air Pollution, Vol. 4)”, Wit Pr/Computational Mechanics, 1999.
16) Edmund Contoski, “Makers and Takers: How Wealth and Progress Are Made and How They Are Taken Away or Prevented’, American Liberty Publishers, 1997.
17) B. J. Skinner, “Earth Resources”, Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey, 1986.
18) Kunihiko Takeda, “Should not try to recycle”, Seishun Publishers, 2000. (Written in Japanese.)

Kunihiko TAKEDA - Nagoya University