From Earlham Cluster Department
The Future of Science and Technology for Society
- In your view what are the three most important challenges facing society in the near term (say 50 years)? Why are each of these so important? What does science have to offer for each? What does technology have to offer for each? Your entry should clearly address which are science based and which are technology based. You can describe both science and technology approaches for each of the problems you identify.
It goes without saying that the next fifty years will encompass a plethora of new advances in science and applications in technology. The three most important challenges facing society in the near term will be ones that prevent instabilities. To be more specific, it is in the interests of the prevailing systems of power to finance and encourage researchers to come up with solutions to problems that have the potential to generate civil war and political unrest. The three most important challenges will be concentrated on manipulating the natural world to relieve or eliminate the dependence of all nations on oil, to create ways to make and bring fresh water to all portions of the world population, and to create more efficient, safer methods of mass transportation.
The first challenge is important because governments are investing a lot of money and risking countless lives in wars whose central importance is to have access to the oil that is used to create the majority of electrical power in their respective countries. Lives will be saved because those individuals will not be sent into a war. Human rights will be upheld because tyrannical dictators will not be installed who have agreements with the US to not jeopardize the US’s access to oil. Furthermore, turning from a non-renewable resource and investing in the technology to draw energy from a renewable resource will sustain itself. For this problem, science is concerned with researching the creation of energy, focusing on the reactions of atoms they had not studied with that prerogative in mind. Technology uses the discoveries of science to create efficient, low-cost machines that harvest the new forms of energy scientists have studied and proposed engineers should and could harvest.
The second challenge is important because of the real fear of water wars. With growing populations, hoarding of fresh water by countries, and the problem of distribution, water wars could turn desperate people into perpetrators and victims of widespread violence. Science could investigate the natural process to desalinize water present in the water cycle and research how desert plants gain and store water. Technology could use the information uncovered from science to come up with machines to cheaply and efficiently extract the salt from sea water and therefore make more drinkable water available in general and in places where it usually is not available. As well, technology could improve and create new ways to transport fresh water. They would use the laws of the natural universe - such as gravity, physics, and thermodynamics - to do so.
The third challenge is important because public transportation is not being used efficiently and cities, specifically in the US, are not laid out in an efficient nor compact manner to make them accessible to everyone regardless of income. Science could discover new ways to get energy from alternative sources or gain more information on the current system to more efficiently continue to use it. Science could examine the migration patterns of animals, specifically ants and birds, to question whether their systems of movement work to organize masses of people efficiently. Scientists could also investigate where most people go on a regular basis and traffic patterns to give the information to technology makers. Technology could then come up with viable routes and use enough vehicles to transport the correct amount of people. Technology could also refine transport to accommodate the change from oil energy to alternative energy
Which specific aspects of climate change did the designers of atmosphere choose to focus on?
Today, climate change is synonymous with global warming. If scientists talk about solutions to climate change, they are talking about ways to reduce the rate at which the planet is warming. To make something clear, climate is different than weather; weather is unpredictable and varies daily while climate is used to describe the measure of an entire atmospheric system over a large period of time. A colder winter is therefore possible when world temperatures collectively rise. Due to the proliferation of global warming literature, some individuals forget that climate change can also describe trends in global cooling. The majority of the Atmosphere Exhibit at the Science Museum kept with the concerns of today by focusing on aspects of global warming. There were interactive displays that described how an excess of carbon dioxide can accumulate in the atmosphere. There was an interactive game that introduced a viewer to the technologies that help decrease carbon dioxide output, increase efficiency, utilize alternative sources of energy and increase awareness of energy usage.
How well sourced was the science and technology discussed in the kiosks?
I was not explicitly made aware of research sources the kiosks got their information from. However, I could have been distracted by the wealth of information I did not know and the high level of engagement with each kiosk to pay attention to any small print or spoken references by the automated speaker when the game ended.
What was the most surprising thing you learned?
All the information was interesting. There is no clear winner for most surprising though. The journey through the history of climate change interested me. I learned that La Nina and El Nino account for extremes in weather in cycles. I read about the Little Ice Age that took place from 1350 to 1850. Not that far ago, the Thames completely froze in the winter and people could ice skate on its surface with relative safety. I wonder how cold that had to be. I am really happy it does not snow here that much any longer, especially since it is winter right now. Other interesting facts have to do with later dates. The Ice Age caused the Norse peoples to migrate South to warmer climates. I also learned that dragon flies the size of seagulls and three-foot long scorpions evolved because of high levels of oxygen in the air. Because the air was less humid, large reptiles were able to dominate the Earth.
Which of the interactive kiosks did you find most engaging? Why?
The interactive kiosk I found most engaging was the game about Thames river level rising. Based on a lot of studies, the water levels of the River Thames were expected to rise between two different estimates. Entire housing districts were at risk along the river. The object of the game was to build up protective barriers to protect the most amount of houses with a set building budget. The game had a time limit. It was engaging because it was limited by time, restricted by budget, and was based upon varying sets of conflicting data about climate change, which I think is the basic formula for development that combats the effects of climate change. I felt like I had to account for many factors. The pace was quick.
Which of the interactive kiosks did you find least engaging? Why?
I found the carbon cycle interactive kiosk to be least engaging. Users were supposed to place a block on a point on the grid to learn how different aspects of the carbon cycle worked. However, one of the blocks did not work. The animation was slow as well. I was bored with the speed and how elementary the animations were. I guess I am attracted to flashy, quick paced, and exhibits that mentally engage me.
In the United Kingdom, part of each citizen's taxes goes toward funding the arts. This is problematic because the people who allocate all this funding may channel more funds to art with messages they support. It would make sense if plays that challenge the existing power structures received little if any funding from this arena at all. Furthermore, It would make sense that some plays change their endings and original writing to appear less challenging to the prevailing hegemony. Greenland was a play that had the potential to present a lot of problems to the audience. It could increase the scope of the problem to cause a sense of helplessness. It could present different arguments that would need different strategies of action to assure the continuance of humanity and other living creatures on this planet. It could confuse the audience. It could empower the audience. As a viewer who was not used to the government-funded arts, I was doubly skeptical because the play itself was being performed at a government building as well. The Royal National Theatre had the potential to be class-exclusive, artistically stagnant, and full of unbearable snobbery. Greenland itself, I thought, would work present an argument to work around the existing oil-powered infrastructure because today government is concerned with business and the biggest business is oil.
I am ambivalent after seeing the production. I feel the theatre went out of its way to foster intelligent debate and continuing research, which indicated a government-led imperative to increasing the education of its citizens. A positive feature was the refutation of the element of 'belief'. As a quote at the beginning of the play stated, scientists disagree about when and how much warming will occur, not whether it is happening at all. Despite all this good, I feel the play was disheartening because it illuminated how large a scope the problem is and illuminated that there is not one solution. We are unable to predict the future and are presented with challenges, although few, to decrease our impact on this Earth. So, although it was very intelligently written and impressively performed I left the theatre feeling helpless and unsure of what to do. This is not the mindset of an individual who will go out of her or his way to decrease their impact and encourage others to do the same.
I felt that if there was a list of sources the play used available for purchase, it would be more accurate. I felt that if the audience was assured that the massive amounts of paper, plastic, water, and electricity came from environmentally friendly sources, the plays message would have been taken to heart. For example, the paper could have been paper that was recycled from other sources, the plastic could have been twice used plastic, the water could have been reused for each production, and the electricity could have been provided from solar panels or wind turbines. In that way the medium would have been effective to convey the theme.
Overall, it was a visually impressive production that presented the bleak picture many of us succumb to either through how seemingly powerless we as individuals are or how much work science and technology must do to present more of the patchwork solutions that are needed in this various world.
Reflections on Climate Change
Recently, we as a class have done readings to increase our scientific literacy, have explored an interactive exhibit about climate change, have gone to the theatre to see a new play about global warming, have listened to a podcast about young people ambivalent and confused about climate change, have travelled to famous places where scientific discovery took place, and have explored different areas of science. These methods - readings, museums, theatre, radio, and travel - cover a vast majority of methods through which individuals not in science careers receive their information. Another method of information gathering is television. The masses elect representatives that express the views they have formed after being bombarded with all this information, some of it misleading and many of it confusing. A scientifically illiterate society will be damaging to our future as funding is cut for programs the public does not know much about to form a logical opinion about.
- What do you believe the take-away message to be?
From all of these venues of information, I think the take-away message is to gather as much information as possible, to strive to understand that information, and to decrease one's carbon footprint now in ways one can until more research yields even more patchwork solutions or until the oil infrastructure is overturned by a global coalition of nations and individuals. With the price of disheartening depression about finding any positive in the future at all, the underlying message is to not subscribe to positive ideology because as much as we would like to think there was one giant solution to it all it currently does not exist yet and there will need to be many different solution in many different regions of society.
- Which of the modalities did you find most effective at communicating that message: reading, museum, or theatre? Why?
I, personally, felt the theatre was the most effective means of communicating that message to myself. I was entertained by the acting and special effects and I was engaged with heavy ideas. I feel that a short, compact, entertaining mode of communication is effective at getting the majority of the points across to individuals (who have the money for theatre tickets, of course). Reading and going to the museum give you the information at a slower pace and you may not read or see everything you need to in order to get a wide picture of the situation. In addition, the scientific jargon may be a bit heavy to wade through for the average individual who is, by definition, scientifically illiterate.
- What's different about the message here in England than what you hear in your home country about climate change? Different than at Earlham?