Unit 2.7 The social, ethical and environmental implications of scientific discoveries and technological developments

Unit 2.7 The social, ethical and environmental implications of scientific discoveries and technological developments 

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The social, ethical and environmental implications of
scientific discoveries and technological developments
The environment and global warming
In recent decades there has been an increase in the world's temperatures, and temperatures in
Alaska, western Canada and eastern Russia -- traditionally among the coldest parts of the world
-- have risen by 4°C in the last 50 years. Scientists, using observation satellites, estimate that the
Arctic is losing its sea ice because it is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the Earth, and this
acceleration is causing scientists, environmentalists and politicians great concern. In Siberia,
where the peat bogs are thawing, harmful methane is being released into the atmosphere. In the
UK, the four hottest months on record have all come in the last 23 years.
The UK has the benefit of detailed records kept by the Meteorological Office from its information
base of 500 weather stations. These weather stations record temperature inside a
box (the Stevenson screen) with ventilation slats that make it look like a beehive.
The Central England Temperature (GET) records. The records, dating back to 1659, have been
vital in calculating how the weather has changed. They suggest that, although temperatures have
always fluctuated, a warming trend began to emerge towards the end of the 1800s and started to
accelerate in the 1970s.
Ask the examiner
What is the greenhouse effect?
We often talk about 'the greenhouse effect' but the term has two meanings.
The first is the 'natural' greenhouse effect that keeps the Earth's climate sufficiently
warm to be habitable. Without that, temperatures would be far too low to maintain life.
The Earth's warmth comes from the rays of the sun. Most of the heat energy passes
through the Earth's atmosphere while some is reflected back into space. As the Earth's
surface warms, infrared energy is radiated back into the atmosphere. This energy has a
different wavelength to that coming from the sun and some is absorbed by gases in the
Four naturally occurring gases are responsible for the greenhouse effect -- water vapour (the
most important of the greenhouse gases but human activity has little direct impact on it),
carbon dioxide (C02), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). As these gases absorb energy,
gas particles vibrate and radiate energy, sending about 30% back towards Earth.

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Consequently, the Earth's average surface temperature is maintained by this blanket at about
The other greenhouse effect is known as 'manmade' or 'enhanced', caused by human
actions such as the increased consumption of coal, oil and natural gas by domestic users,
industry and motor vehicles (and to a lesser extent by methane which is released through the
digestive processes of animals).…read more

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Since the dangers of halocarbons became evident, steps have been taken to phase them out, but
production in the UK continued to 2000. Phasingout measures emerged, after the signing of the
Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987, with several revisions
since. However, it is estimated that it will take between 50 and 100 years to bring about the full
recovery of ozone levels.…read more

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Flooding in areas like Bangladesh is washing away lowlying homes and refugees are on the
move. In 2006, 37 inches of rain fell in Mumbai, India, in one day. Severe floods hit Hull and
the East Riding (where over 15,000 homes were flooded), parts of south Yorkshire and
Gloucestershire in the summer of 2007. In total, nearly 50,000 homes and 7,000 businesses
were flooded. Thirteen people lost their lives.
Because of drought, particularly in large parts of Africa, crops are failing and starvation is
widespread.…read more

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Critics have argued that the overall target of each nation reducing emissions by 5 % of 1990
levels are modest and that targets must be much more ambitious to be effective. Of
European Union countries, the UK has a good record on reducing emissions but progress
across the EU is variable.
Perspectives on the potential dangers of global warming
Politicians and voters
In the UK, environmental debate has entered the political mainstream.…read more

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At the end of 2006, the Stern Report was published in the UK. The report, probably the first really
comprehensive view of the economics of climate change, was commissioned by the Treasury and
conducted by Sir Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank chief economist. The 600page report
suggested that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20% of its output, with millions
fleeing flooding and drought.…read more

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That carbon dioxide strongly absorbs infrared radiation is a matter of fact. Carbon dioxide is
the most dominant humaninfluenced greenhouse gas and is responsible for much of the
warming arising from changes in atmospheric concentrations.
Records suggest that carbon dioxide has increased since industrialisation began after 1760,
and most noticeably in more recent years as more countries have increased the scale and
pace of industrialisation, burning more fossil fuels and increasing the rate of deforestation.…read more

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The UK's chief environmental minister, Hilary Benn, leader of the delegation to Bali, talked of a
'historic breakthrough' he claimed that all the world's nations had agreed to negotiate a deal by
2009 and that countries would adopt a shared vision for the future. We must hope that Benn's
optimism was justified and that the 'roadmap' he envisaged will result in international agreement on
measures that will reduce dangerous emissions and deforestation.…read more

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Arated kitchen appliances such as washing machines and
buying more fuelefficient cars
making greater use of public transport s taking fewer foreign holidays involving air travel
recycling more household waste
being prepared to accept more greenbased taxes
buying more locally produced food
cycling or walking to work or school
Actions from politicians might include:
accepting that it is a global problem that requires concerted action by all countries setting
annual targets for emission reductions reducing industrial emissions
making more determined efforts to curb…read more

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OPEC: the Organization of Petroleum Countries (OPEC) founded in 1960. ft now has 13 members
from Middle Eastern, African and South American countries. It seeks to coordinate oil production
policies to help stabilise world oil supplies and prices, while securing a reasonable return for OPEC
member countries. Critics see it as more of a cartel -- a pricefixing group for world oil supplies.…read more


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