Will science save the planet?

My father came to visit recently. As a habit we try to see each other once a year. As he works for a multinational company he is always on the move flying around globetrotting to meetings. So getting together for a couple of days is usually all we can manage.

This also means he is very much a person who believes in business as a way of life. His business life is something I am not particularly fond of. Personally I want to be a teacher or academic even though these jobs are not without its own politics. It is really a pick from a bad bunch of livelihoods.

So it is during these couples of days that I get to talk to (read: argue with) him about business ethics and philosophy. This time we talked about the relationship between science and sustainability. We agreed that global warming that is happening right now and that something needs to give. However he believed science will create new technologies which have less impact on the environment, that it will eventually save the planet from death by consumerism.

And it is this belief in science that we differ.

To me there are two types of scientists – Observers and Manipulators. To the Observer science is a tool for investigating the nature of the universe. Observers want to know the fundamental laws of motion. So they invent things like calculus and telescopes to gain this knowledge. The object of their investigation is the world. It is to be looked at, to be learned from and to be understood. Observers do not touch the object that is under investigation. By contrast to the Manipulator science is a tool for tampering with the very nature of the universe. The Manipulator wants to know how much they can get out of the world. So they create things like machines for mass production and the electric light bulb for personal, and often short-term, gain. The objective of their investigation is to find ways to apply their knowledge for gain and to see how efficiently something can be produced for consumption. To the Manipulator the world is to be played with, to be harnessed and harvested, to be made a slave of its technological master.

Observers are the astronomers, the oceanographers, the meteorologists of this world; Manipulators are the research scientists, the inventors, the designers of this same world. So it is really a choice as to how we want to relate to the environment, what we choose to do with it or to do to it.

We need science to solve all the problems we wouldn’t have if there were no science.I believe that much of our problems are from the application of science in the form of technology, and that it has snowballed into something bigger because we have tried to use more science to solve these problems. So the advent of science is akin to opening Pandora’s Box or starting a vicous circle. While both seem to imply we cannot reverse the course, I do not believe science’s blunders are irreversible. It may be difficult but not impossible. And certainly using less technology and reverting to a simpler lifestyle will help.

So whether science will save the environment really depends on when we will listen to the Observers over the Manipulators. By nature Observers are the silent type and Manipulators are the loud type, and so their seems to be only ever one discourse – that of the Manipulator. This seems to mean it is not only important for the Observers to scream their silent scream as loudly as they can, but also for us to be listening for it.

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