What is an example of new technology having a negative impact on sustainability?
A new technology’s sustainability impacts depend on how it is designed, used, regulated and disposed of. While some technologies offer significant environmental benefits, others can create pollution, toxicity or waste and disrupt natural systems and cycles. For example, the manufacture of new electronics often requires extraction of rare metals and minerals that can be environmentally toxic. In addition, the expansion of data centers and surveillance technologies require substantial energy for operation and can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and concerns about privacy. Moreover, the use of single-use plastics can contribute to marine and land waste. Agricultural technologies, like monoculture farming and excessive pesticide use, can have adverse effects on soil health and water quality. And geoengineering technologies, designed to combat climate change, carry potential unintended environmental and ethical risks.
While technological advancements have dirtied the earth, air and water for more than a century, there is hope for reversing these trends. Technological innovations aimed at reducing pollution—from cleaner manufacturing processes to flue gas scrubbers and catalytic converters—are showing promise in mitigating these problems.
Also promising is market-based policy approaches to encouraging sustainable energy. For example, tradable pollution permits can help power plants reduce their emissions without costly investments in technologies to comply with strict emissions limits. Similarly, distributed generation using fuel cells and small gas turbines can improve power plant efficiency and lower emissions. The reduction of electricity demand with smart grids can also lower utility bills and promote energy efficiency.