Sustainability and the Environment
Nanotechnology’s central aim is the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic scale, arguably perhaps the ultimate control of nature. The claims made on behalf of nanotechnology are a laundry list of ways in which nature can be further manipulated to the benefit or convenience of human society: new classes of materials with extraordinary properties, clean energy, clean water, pollution free manufacturing, increased human life span, and even enhancements to the human species itself. Do the goals of nanotechnology constitute a dangerous arrogance and disregard for our place in the natural order, or an inevitable and beneficial leap in our mastery of the world around us? History would suggest a bit of both. Humans have demonstrated a persistent disregard for their direct effect on the natural environment and a lack of appreciation for the complex interaction of effects in the larger system. On the other hand, there is a growing appreciation, embodied in social movements such as those of environmentalism and sustainability, for the finite limits of many resources and the wide-ranging negative impacts humans are having on the globe as a whole. Nanotechnology is in the interesting position of offering a little bit of something to both sides of the equation.