FEATURE ARTICLE

Priye S. TorulaghaTuesday, March 29, 2011
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Boston, MA, USA

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INDUSTRIALIZATION AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT:
A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

he unfolding tragic events in Japan, following the devastating earthquake, tsunami and the ongoing problems with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant focus serious attention on the question of how far humans can go in enhancing their societies technologically without causing harm to the planet.


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Purpose of the Write-Up

The purpose of this write-up is to show that as much as industrialization and technological advancement have tremendously enhanced the quality of human existence, they also have the capability to destroy human existence, They have the potential to dehumanize and annihilate the planet due to the following reasons: (1) their insatiable demand for natural resources severely threatens the environment and creates political, economic and military conflicts as countries compete fiercely to obtain the resources to feed their engines of industrialization; (2) the attempt to obtain critical natural resources leads to the exploitation of politically powerless inhabitants of regions and territories which contain the critical resources; (3) industrialization and technological advancement results in the depersonalization, bureaucratization, alienation and the excessive commercialization of society, (4) ) the maddening rush to industrialize and achieve technological advancement contributes to the development of dangerous and unsafe technologies, particularly nuclear and biochemical systems that might hasten the destruction of human existence, and (5) regardless of the level of industrialization and technological advancement, nature will always prevail, therefore, it is much more preferable to exist amicably with nature rather than try to dominate and control it.

The Race to Industrialize and Dominate the World in the Modern Era

Since the emergence of modern science, it has repeatedly been reinforced through formal education and intellectual discussions that the best way to enhance society and make life livable is to industrialize using scientific technology. Similarly, since the advent of modern scientific technology, humans have been made to believe that nature is conquerable and controllable through systematic and appropriate application of technology. As a result, the importance of utilizing scientific technology to create a nirvana-like society has been propagated to the point that scholars who specialize in development and modernization eventually decided to categorize countries according to levels of industrialization based on three kinds, namely, the (1) industrialized, (2) newly industrializing and (3) developing countries. By so doing, industrialization became a major yardstick for measuring the level of societal advancement. This ultimately led to the view that in order for any country to advance, it must industrialize technologically.

Based on the levels of industrialization, the industrialized countries are considered to be at the top of the pyramid of technological advancement followed by the newly industrializing countries while the developing countries are at the bottom of the pyramid and have a long way to go in catching up with the industrialized countries. Likewise, due the categorization of countries according to their levels of industrialization, it has been the ambition and one of the major goals of almost every political leader in the world to engage in some kind of industrialization in order to achieve technological advancement. Comparable to a highly contested race, those that are considered to be fully industrialized are regarded as First World countries while the newly industrializing and former communist states are considered to be Second World countries and the developing countries are regarded as either Third or Fourth World states, depending on their levels of industrial formations.

The highly competitive race to be the most technologically advanced country in the world forces countries to keep spending billions annually to engage in all kinds of scientific and technological schemes intended to outpace their competitors. The belief that the country which dominates the technological field will become the most powerful military, political, economic and financial power in the world reinforces the need to spend endlessly in searching, developing and innovating various technologies with little or no regard for consequences.

In the modern era, it could be said that the race to become the most dominant technological power in the world started immediately after the First World War. The most advanced countries before and during the First World War were France, Britain, US, Germany, Japan etc. After the First World War, Germany was eliminated as a powerful nation following the military defeat in the war. Frustrated, insulted and humiliated by the conditions imposed by the victorious powers, especially France, Germany decided to technologically outpace every other country in the world, including the victorious powers during the First World War. Japan, like Germany, after the First World War, embarked upon a speedy process of industrialization in an attempt to become the most dominant power in Asia after defeating Russia in 1904-1905. Thus, by the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, it could be said that Germany, the United States and Japan were the most technologically advanced countries in the world. After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union led the race as the most advanced technological powers. The two super-powers competed fiercely during the Cold War which spanned a 50-year period to outperform each other industrially and dominate the world. During this time, whatever technology the United States invented, the Soviet Union would make all attempts to match and surpass it. Similarly, whatever new technology the Soviet Union invented, the United States would make all efforts to match and surpass it. Both superpowers spent recklessly on various technologies in order to be the most dominant power. This meant being able to dominate militarily, economically and financially since technological dominance implied being at the very top of the technological pyramid of advancement.

While the rush to industrialize has been justified as a means to enhance the quality of life, no serious effort has been made to reflect on the potential negative consequences of an uncontrollable technological advancement on the planet. Due to lack of a deep reflective analysis of the potential negative consequences, countries have been in a maddening rush to industrialize with the hope of becoming the most advanced and dominant technological and economic powers in the globe.

As they rushed to industrialize, they realized that technological advancement requires enormous amounts of natural resources to feed and propel the engines of industrialization. In particular, they realized that energy is a very critical resource for industrialization. Evidently, they rushed to explore and exploit various fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, gas etc.) in various parts of the world to produce energy that is needed to drive their engines of industrialization. Unfortunately, as an increasing number of countries industrialized, the demand for energy increased. As the demand for energy increased, the political leaders of various countries came to the realization that these natural energy generating sources are not limitless. To make up for the insufficiency of fossil fuels, without necessarily thinking deeply about the consequences, they rushed to develop nuclear energy to supplement fossil sources, even though it is a very unstable and dangerous means of generating energy. Consequently, the world today is dotted with many nuclear power plants, most of them located in the industrialized countries, some of them in the newly industrializing states, while the developing countries are trying to play a catch up in the possession of nuclear technology.

The problem with nuclear energy is that it is very expensive to develop and difficult to control when something goes wrong. The greatest challenge in managing nuclear technology is that if a nuclear plant encounters technical difficulties, thereby, resulting in a nuclear reactor problem or a meltdown of the plant, there is no safe way to manage the process. In addition, it is exceedingly difficult to manage or dispose off the spent fuel rods. It is believed that a nuclear meltdown and the spent fuel rods can cause radiation lasting for decades or even hundreds of years. What this means is that if there is a very serious nuclear plant disaster, an entire area extending as far as hundreds of miles could be affected by the radiation. Moreover, depending on the direction of the wind, a nuclear disaster in one country can extend the radiation effect to other countries, as had happened after the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Already, it is being reported that radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant has gradually entered the food chain ninety miles away from the vicinity of the incident. This means that the Fukushima Daiichi incident could spread radiation even further in Japan if the situation is not controlled as soon as possible.

Lessons Learned

It is obvious that industrialization and technological advancement are double-edged swords. They have tremendously contributed to enriching society and making life easier. They have helped humans to eradicate some diseases and cure others. They have contributed to providing all kinds of human comfort as well as prolonging life. Due to industrialization and technological advancement, it is possible for humans to travel around the world in a very short time. Likewise, people can now communicate almost instantaneously across the globe. Indeed, scientific technology has contributed enormously to the advancement of humanity. Increasingly, international business could be conducted without physically leaving the office.

However, industrialization and technological advancement have some very serious negative consequences. They are like voracious beasts that consume resources in an insatiable manner. They force society to become enslaved to their addictive demands for resources to feed their appetites. Industrialization and technological advancement tend to turn humans into mechanical robots as they are compelled to become highly mechanized, bureaucratized, legalized and alienated. They force humans to become exploitative, unnecessarily competitive, and self-destructive. Due to the fact that natural resources are limited, Industrialization and technological advancement force countries to fight brutal wars as they compete for scarce resources. It is not surprising that the inhabitants of resource-rich territories and regions tend to be very poor due to being exploited and deprived of the benefits of the resources. As medical technology has eradicated many diseases, it has also created new diseases that are almost incurable. Industrialization and technological advancement threaten natural resources, humans, animals, plants and the environment with the possibility of extinction. Moreover, they compel humans to invent technologies that are capable of destroying them. This is why the world is characterized by nuclear and biochemical weapons that are capable of destroying the entire globe many times over.

Thus, as the Japanese struggle to tame a beast which has the potential of devastating the island nation, the world is reminded of the fact that nuclear technology is one technology that humans should stay away from if they do not want to annihilate themselves. The reason is that it is just too dangerous and beyond effective control.

The earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan clearly demonstrated that despite human effort to tame, manipulate and control nature through the application of technology, nature has the capability of overwhelming any technology deployed by humans to control it.

Suggestions

In light of the difficulty of containing a nuclear plant meltdown, the following are suggested:

  1. Countries that are politically unstable should not contemplate the development and institutionalization of nuclear energy plants and biochemical weapons laboratories. The reason is that a nuclear plant or a biochemical laboratory can easily become a target for attack by disgruntled elements in an unstable political environment. Therefore, countries in Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Asia and some parts of Europe should be very careful in rushing to develop nuclear plants.

  2. Multiracial, multiethnic and multi-religious states should not embark upon the development of a nuclear energy program. The reason is that in the event of a very serious political disagreement among various groups, it is very easy for one group to target a nuclear plant which is located in an ethnic area belonging to another group in order to institute a final solution against a rival group. In countries like Nigeria, former Sudan( with the separation of the South), Kenya, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Rwandan, Burundi, etc. it is quite possible for a disgruntled group to purposely target a nuclear plant that is located in an area that is competing for power or distribution of resources.

  3. Countries which are located in earthquake-prone zones should not build nuclear plants, regardless of the need for energy. As the Japanese situation indicates, a nuclear plant built in an earthquake-prone zone is comparable to a situation where an entire society is trying to commit mass suicide. Indeed, it is suicidal for countries like Iran, New Zealand, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, the US states of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, etc. to build or have nuclear plants. An earthquake near a nuclear energy plant can knock off the system and set an uncontrollable disaster in motion.

  4. Countries which are located near active volcanic mountains should be very careful, otherwise, they could be laying the foundation for their own destruction because if a volcanic eruption takes place near a nuclear plant, it can destroy it, thereby, leading to a potential meltdown and radiation leakage. Thus, countries like Italy, Indonesia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameron, the Philippines, Islands of Martinique, and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, the US states of Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and the Central American states should be very careful before rushing to build nuclear plants. Those that have already gotten nuclear plants must monitor the active volcanic mountains in their territories.

  5. Countries which are located in any geographic fault line should not develop or built nuclear plants.

  6. Countries that are located in areas that are subject to severe climatic conditions, including tornadoes, hurricanes/cyclones, tsunamis, massive torrential rainfall, wild fires and windstorms should be very careful before building nuclear plants. The reason is that the slightest disruption in the functioning of a nuclear plant can result in a very dangerous circumstance that is capable of seriously threatening life and the environment for decades. In this regard, countries like South Korea, China, Vietnam, India, the United States, Pakistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc., must be very careful before toying with nuclear plants. Those countries that have already possessed nuclear plants should be actively engaged at all times in monitoring climatic conditions. The reason is that a severe hurricane can knock off a nuclear plant, thereby, precipitating an uncontrollable disaster.

  7. Countries that have not embarked upon the development of nuclear technology should stop even thinking about it. It is much safer to be without one than to be with one. For instance, even though an earthquake devastated Haiti and Chile and killed hundreds of thousands of people in 2010, the Haitians and Chileans who survived can walk tall and proud without fear of a potential nuclear disaster. On the other hand, the Japanese who are considered to be in the First World would now have to think constantly about the possibility of being exposed to nuclear radiation due to a malfunctioning nuclear plant. Already, radiation is spreading from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, thereby, gradually contaminating foods and animals in the country. Nigerians should be very thankful that their country’s leaders only contemplated and had not built a nuclear power plant before the Japanese incident. Now, they would have to think very seriously about the consequences of putting up such a monster in their backyards in a political environment that is very unpredictable.

In all probability, it is much preferable to stop the development and production of nuclear energy in the world because the risks seem to outweigh the benefits. It only takes one major nuclear incident for an entire region or territory to be evacuated and left uninhabited for hundreds of years due to radiation. Thus, an island nation like Japan with many nuclear energy plants is a disaster waiting to happen. The problem with nuclear disasters is that if there is a radiation leakage, the wind can carry the problem into other countries depending on the direction of the wind. Thus, a nuclear disaster in Iran can affect Iraq and other Persian Gulf countries and vice versa.

Conclusion

The advantages of advancement in technology seem to end as soon as the demands for resources far outweigh the capability of the environment to provide them. At that point, any additional level of technological advancement simply adds to the danger of human annihilation. Evidently, nuclear energy is one technology that the world does not need if it is to survive. Perhaps, some of the advanced ancient civilizations collapsed due to the possibility that the available resources could not support the demands needed to maintain them. Starved of critical resources, they collapsed and withered away.

Learning from the advanced ancient civilizations which withered away and the Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Japanese nuclear incidents in the modern era, it is not necessary to pursue technological advancement as an end in itself. This is to avoid the danger of industrializing to a point whereby society is forced to develop unsafe technologies in order to cope with the demands of the industrial machine. As the Japanese nuclear crisis continues, it is now time for a paradigm change in the way countries or societies are categorized. The categorization based purely on the level of industrialization should be replaced with one that emphasizes partial industrialization so that countries are not compelled to engage in technologies that are likely to destroy them. Partial or moderate industrialization should be the new catchword. Likewise, it is necessary to emphasize safe technologies that are compatible with nature.

The final consideration for why it is time to stop nuclear plant construction is the fact that if two countries which have nuclear plants engage in warfare, there is a very high possibility that one could intentionally target a nuclear plant for bombardment in order to cause mayhem. In fact, the world has been lucky so far that not too many countries with nuclear plants have fought each other. Another major reason why nuclear energy plants should no longer be built is the fact that non-state actors like Al Qaeda and other groups are searching for weapons that can create an unbelievable impact on their enemies.

Indeed, nuclear technology is a double-edged sword. It provides electricity to boost industrialization and enhance the quality of life while at the same time it has the potential of ending life. As the Japanese try to recover from the earthquake and tsunami that followed, it is clear that no amount of human technological capability can tame and control nature. In other words, nature will always react whenever it chooses to do so and not much humans can do about it. Since nature has the ultimate power to decide when it wants to act, it is unwise to add fuel to the process by developing technologies which are capable of maximizing the effects of natural disasters. Consequently, it is time to denuclearize the world. Denuclearization involves not building new nuclear energy plants and weapon systems anymore, the deactivation of currently existing plants and resolving the problems associated with disposing nuclear waste and biochemical weapons.

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