Technology has the potential to lead to rapid developments, advancements and changes within society and is vital in addressing environmental degradation, climate change, food scarcity, waste management, etc. However, that same technology also uses many resources and can lead to the depletion of raw materials. Yes, technology has shaped society, the economy, and the environment, but it also causes many environmental problems. This article is going to discuss that relationship between technology and the environment, using the example of the Montreal Protocol.
In an article about technology and the environment, the UNEP had stated that “Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, IoT, geo-spatial mapping are powering the fifth industrial revolution. They have the potential to help us solve our climate goals. These technologies are powering organizations to solve traditional problems. Digital Transformation is when digital is replaced by the traditional and enables higher performance, innovation, and creativity. We need to harness the digital revolution to drive forward environmental sustainability using a combination of high and low-tech solutions. We need to use digital technology to engage and empower governments, companies and citizens to adopt environmentally sustainable practices, policies and business models.”
And while this is true, it is also true that technology also causes environmental problems. For example, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems that use ozone-depleting refrigerants have substantial environmental impacts associated with their use. In the 1970s, evidence began to surface that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in everyday household products such as air conditioners and refrigerators, were depleting the Earth’s protective ozone layer and increasing the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the planet’s surface.
The Montreal Protocol
So, in 1978 an international treaty signed by all 198 UN member states called the Montreal Protocol was adopted and went into effect in 1989. This treaty aimed to regulate the production and use of chemicals that contribute to the depletion of the Earth’s Ozone layer. When released into the atmosphere, the chemicals that the treaty aims to regulate damage the stratospheric ozone layer, which is the shield that protects humans and the environment from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
The initial treaty agreement was designed to reduce the production and consumption of several CFCs and halons to 80 percent of 1986 levels by 1994 and 50 percent of 1986 levels by 1999. However, this agreement has proven to be very successful in reducing ozone-depleting substances and reactive chlorine and bromine in the stratosphere. As a result, the ozone layer is showing signs of recovery. Expectations are that the ozone layer will return to pre-1980s levels by the middle of the century and the Antarctic ozone hole by around the 2060s.
The technology that created the need for the Montreal Protocol agreement is an example of how technology that advances societal needs can also be degrading to the environment. One solution for this specific type of technology could be; improving energy efficiency with low or zero global warming potential in refrigerants such as air conditioners. This solution is essential because there is still a growing demand for cooling systems in the commercial sector. It could help meet these needs while minimizing climate and adverse environmental impacts.
Environment, U. N. (2018, October 29). About Montreal Protocol. Ozonaction. https://www.unep.org/ozonaction/who-we-are/about-montreal-protocol
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U.S. Department of State. (2019). The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer – United States Department of State. United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/key-topics-office-of-environmental-quality-and-transboundary-issues/the-montreal-protocol-on-substances-that-deplete-the-ozone-layer/
Environment, U. N. (2017, November 23). Why does technology matter? UNEP – UN Environment Programme. https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/technology/why-does-technology-matter
Montreal Protocol | international treaty | Britannica. (2019). In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Montreal-Protocol
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