April 5, 2012

Perfection of Means, Perfection of Goals

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seems to characterize our age.
                                                                    ~ Albert Einstein

Technology has no inherent value. It is neither good nor bad until we invest it with value. What is good for me may not be good for you, and how we use technology depends on our values. Our culture filters all technologies by asking, How can we maximize profit? Although we may ask how it will impact human health or the environment, when push comes to shove we have a bottom line. Profit.

As parents we worry about the world our children have been born into, yet we contribute to the 100,000,000,000 plastic bags used every year. As shoppers we want the animals we consume to be treated with respect, but we don't always eat organic or support local farmers.

Starting in 1999, researchers at my alma mater created genetically engineered pigs that they say create less damaging waste. These Frankenswine, as opponents have dubbed them, will probably be slaughtered in June as funding for the project has been cut.

This is a good example of a high-tech solution looking for a problem.

Here's another one. We have the Pacific Gyre of plastic as well as microplastics in every ocean location tested. These are primarily from the breakdown of plastic clothes and are consumed by animals that can't digest them.

Synthetic fibres and our oceans, from Ecotextiles

There may be no economic rationale for using technology to break down these plastics into their components that would naturally be found in the oceans. But there is an environmental and human health rationale. We have the ability to do this, to genetically engineer organisms that could digest the plastic garbage we've created.

Should we? I think so.

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