chapter  11
ENGINEERING, ETHICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
BySusan B. Hodgson, Slobodan Perdan
Pages 23

The environment is one of the most pivotal places in which to explore the interplay between engineering and ethics. The role of engineers in relation to other humans and their natural environment is undoubtedly of great significance. Engineers have played a central part in creating technology which enables humans to transform the environment in unprecedented ways, changing radically the nature and scale of the environmental impacts of their activities. With the technology now available humans can modify almost any part of the Earth, leaving virtually no parts of it free of their impact. Indeed, the impact of human activities on the environment is not a new phenomenon. Since the earliest societies some human activities, such as the use of fire, agriculture and management of grazing animals, have transformed the natural world, and have had significant effects on natural processes. However, it is only through the development of modern science-based technology with new sources of energy that human actions and activities have had critical and sometimes irreversible effects on the environment. Moreover, enormously enhanced technological efficiency, industrialization and reliance on fossil fuels have brought about a number of environmental problems which are potential threats not only to humans themselves but to other organisms in the biosphere, and even to preserving life on the Earth. In the light of these problems we are becoming increasingly aware that our advancing technological ability to control and use nature for its resources also carries increased responsibility for the results of our activities. As Christopher Stone (1988) has pointed out, ‘there is today a widespread feeling that our technology, our capacity to alter the Earth and the

relations thereon, is outstripping our ethics, our ability to provide satisfactory answers to how that power ought to be exercised ’.