Environmental Ethics. Technology and Values
The term “Anthropocene” was coined to refer to the era in which human beings became the main driver of environmental change. While scientists argue about whether a new geological era should be officially distinguished in the history of the Earth, the atmosphere is rapidly changing. An increase in the level of greenhouse gases affects the climate and leads to a decrease in biodiversity. Excessive consumption of natural resources causes irreparable harm to nature.
Such authors as Whyte, Malm, Hornborg, and Moore articulate misgivings about the notion of Anthropocene. These fears are reasonable since human activity has reached such a high level that it caused biogeophysical changes on a planetary scale. The authors note that as a result of anthropogenic impact, the Earth began to go out of the relative equilibrium. According to Will Steffen, there are nine planetary boundaries or critical values that, if exceeded, could render the Earth uninhabitable (Steffen et al., 2011). Despite the devastating consequences for humanity, four boundaries have already been crossed, mainly, climate change, land cover change due to land exploitation, loss of biodiversity due to the extinction of species, and biogeochemical changes.
Holocene was characterized by a stable climate and favorable conditions for agriculture, For centuries, mankind has enjoyed this position, but with the beginning of Anthropocene, the Holocene ended, and the conditions changed. Another misgiving of this new era is the increase in the mass of nitrogenous and phosphorus compounds (Callicott, 2007). There are three times more nitrogenous compounds than before the beginning of the human activity. People invade ecosystems; industrial waste and plastics fall into the lava of active volcanoes flowing through the populated areas. The composition of rocks gradually changes since there are already noticeable traces of plastic.
As Kyle Whyte argues, climate change also threatens the existence of indigenous peoples. Many of them already realize that it is not just an environmental issue, but an issue with serious socio-economic consequences. Climate change can impede the achievement of the social development goals, including the eradication of poverty, child mortality, malaria, and other diseases, as well as environmental sustainability (Whyte, 2018). For many indigenous peoples, it poses a potential threat to their existence, as well as a major challenge to human rights and justice. Besides, new technologies force the relocation of many people since the advancement of new technologies such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides negatively affects indigenous communities (Whyte, 2018). The introduction of large plantations has led to environmental degradation and destroyed self-sustaining ecosystems, forcing people to resettle.
Scientists have also demonstrated that all indicators related to the consumption of raw materials and energy resources, population growth, economic activity, and the deterioration of the biosphere, rose sharply. Such development trends are considered not only unacceptable but also extremely dangerous. Jason Moore, in turn, notes that the free environment will end soon. He believes that the events associated with climate change are direct consequences of capitalism (Moore, 2016). Devaluated nature can no longer support the mining and production that is characteristic of the modern world since most of the natural resources are depleted, burned, poisoned, or destroyed. The size of the investment and highly creative technologies may delay the payback, but the free environment is over.
Anthropocene has already changed the conditions of life on the planet. Humans have become a destructive force on a universal scale. Humanity could not only change individual geological layers but also the entire ecosystem. People are the cause of global warming and climate change. Anthropocene will become a period of changes in all areas, including social, economic, and political. It will open new facets and obvious problems for humanity.
To understand the causes of any problem and outline ways of its possible elimination, special attention must be paid to the origins and prerequisites. Humanity has gone away from the correct direction, and naturally, technical progress has led to complications in the relationship between people and the natural environment. However, according to Heidegger, Dreyfus, and Hamilton, a free relation to technology exists when it opens a human presence to the essence of technology.
Standing on a par with its essence, people will be able to embrace the technology within its boundaries. Heidegger does not consider technology only as a kind of instrument, a means of achieving external goals. A person does not act for him as the master of technology and the world. To understand the essence of technology, he proposes to consider the relationship of the technology to its essence, which is not something technical in itself (Heidegger, 1977). In this regard, the author analyzes the instrumental and anthropological definition of technology, which is recognized as correct but only under the condition of understanding the essence of instrumentality.
Any human effort to control technology as a means is moved by its instrumental concept. Ideas to assert the power of the spirit over technology and to master technology are more persistent because technology is increasingly threatening to escape from human power. However, if people admit that technology is not only a means, the situation will change. According to Heidegger, the instrumental itself is a means to achieve a certain goal, and an action performed with a purpose is a cause (Heidegger, 1977). This type of causality provides the usual basis for the instrumental understanding of technology.
The essence of modern technology is to bring everything in the world into existence for a particular purpose of supplying. Therefore, technology cannot be considered exclusively the work of human hands. It is not localized in the subject or object; it manifests itself as a relationship between them, a mutually related unity (Heidegger, 1977). However, humans imagine themselves as the creators of a technical civilization, and this is where the main danger lies. The experience of this imaginary dominance over the natural world entails self-forgetting. Thus, the understanding of technology as a means, not essence, as well as climate engineering can confirm human unfreedom.
Climate engineering is a set of measures and impacts aimed at actively changing conditions in a local region of the Earth or throughout the planet. It aims at counteracting unwanted climate change and obtain the most comfortable living conditions and economic activity on the planet (Dreyfus, 1997). However, it is difficult to manage the global environment, and many people fear to fail because humanity lacks the wisdom and ability to meet the challenge. Therefore, climate engineering again confirms the lack of human freedom.
Technology is not the same as the essence of technology. People will never comprehend their relationship to its essence, as long as they just think about technology, use it, manage it, or avoid it. In all these cases, humans are still slavishly chained to it, no matter whether they enthusiastically approve or reject it. Therefore, only when humans truly open themselves to the essence of technology, they suddenly feel freedom and find themselves liberated.
Dreyfus, H. L. (1997). Heidegger on gaining a free relation to technology. Technology and Values, 41-54.
Callicott, J. B. (2007). Lamarck Redux: Temporal scale as the key to the boundary between the human and natural worlds. Nature’s edge: boundary explorations in ecological theory and practice. State University of New York Press, Albany, 19-34.
Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology. Technology and Values: Essential Readings, 99, 3-35.
Moore, J. W. (2016). The rise of cheap nature. In Anthropocene or capitalocene?: Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. PM Press.
Steffen, W., Grinevald, J., Crutzen, P., & McNeill, J. (2011). The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369(1938), 842-867.
Whyte, K. P. (2018). Indigenous science (fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral dystopias and fantasies of climate change crises. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1(1-2), 224-242.
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