Friday, December 11, 2009

Modernity and Global Warming

A man should hasten towards the good,
And should keep his thought away from evil.
—The Buddha

Below, I will discuss how development of modern science and technology has impacted on human common life and human living environment.

Modernity and Common Life

Modernity, as Chris Barker observed, mainly relates to industrialism, capitalism, and secularization.[2] It is socially associated with three respects as follows:

(1) A certain set of attitudes towards the world, the idea of the world as open to transformation by human intervention; (2) a complex of economic institutions, especially industrial production and a market economy; (3) a certain range of political institutions, including the nation-state and mass democracy.[3]

Expect its social respects, modernity also displays in art, architecture, and so forth, and it usually reflects in these three main fields: science, technology, and secularism. Science is a disciplined research and a highly skilled technique; while technology is regarded as simply the application of science to practical ends, and it is promoted when it is used to improve the development of industries.[4] The initial motivations of secularism were quite complex and variegated, but since it was coined by British writer George Jacob Holyoake in 1800s, it has been a term that shows separating of religion from state; thus, it is critical of religious orthodoxy, and it is anti-religion; it searches for a way out of religious influence.[5]

In modern time, the development of science and technology—which from its very beginning marked a chief turning point in human history—has enormously transformed the world and human living conditions, resulted in the development of large-scale industries, and entailed major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transport. For example, during the early 20th century, among those great human achievements, there were three remarkable inventions: automobile, airplane and vessel, which essentially changed the world in where we live and drew nations on this planet close together to be called “Earth Village.” The appearance of modern automobile, for instance, was considered as one of the significant breakthroughs that humans had ever made. It totally changed the way humans travel and the way societies develop. Before car was invented, humankind much relied on horses as a main source of transportation, and this brought not large effects on commercial and urban extensions. The situation was gradually brought to an end when the 20th century came to be present. The large-scale production of autos at the time involved major changes of economic systems, social forms, and industrial lives. Before long, cars became indispensable; and big cities were extended speedily. As the former United Stated President Warren G. Harding said in his April 12, 1921, “Why on earth do you need to study what’s changing this country? I can tell you what’s happening in just four letters: A-U-T-O!”[6] So did the airplane and vessel. Honestly speaking—not only the past but also these days—almost every aspect of our daily life is strongly influenced by these transportations.

The two more examples I would like to give here are the inventions of computer and Internet. In the later 20th century, from 1980s to 1990s, among other immense human inventions, computer and Internet were indeed two amazing creations that humans had ever done. Computer and Internet were orderly invented in the United States, and they have caused a great revolution to the world. The invention of computer changed the way people write and the way documents are placed. It makes small rooms available to contain super-sized information. The invention of Internet, on the other hand, has greatly transformed the way people think of the future, or communicate with each other. It also has overwhelmingly transformed the traditional national defense, educational system, medical care system, business trading, purchasing means, and so forth. Due to its wide uses, today merchants open their stores on the Internet where they significantly reduce their investments and attain higher profits. Consumers, on the other hand, order items from the Internet where they find much convenience than ever before; and, by doing so, not only do they save the time to go out to stores, but also they can compare different prices on a same item quickly and efficiently. The Internet also provides multiple accesses every moment of everyday to a vast reservoir of information and entertainment. Today one can rapidly attain news or do research work on the Internet. Take doing research work for example. Suppose that I am going to do a research paper on Jane Goodall, the primatologist, the “chimpanzee lady.” The first thing that I may do to give my research work an easier start is to go to searching for related books or articles. In doing this, I can simply type “Jan Goodall” in Google search tab, and the Web site will show me immediately that it takes only 0.40 second to have 356,000 results. Except doing research, one can also download songs or moves from certain Web sites. As a matter of fact, the Internet today has completely broken the concepts of the space-time continuum so that people can just stay at home and get whatever they want. Furthermore, through computer and Internet, humans have been encountering a fabulous age—a digital age, an age that gives humans so much hope for the future.

Above all, science is no doubt a key of our brilliant future. Humans cannot live without it today and will not live without it in the future indeed, as president Obama emphasized earlier in 2009, “Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation.”[7]

Global Warming

Despite the benefits that science provides, science also brings about disadvantages to humans. While we are enjoying the conveniences that technological products offer, we are also facing the crises that technology is bringing about. For instance, when Internet offers conveniences, it also creates different kinds of crimes—crimes such as “phishing, credit card frauds, bank robbery, illegal downloading, industrial espionage, child pornography, kidnapping children via chat rooms, scams, cyberterrorism, creation and/or distribution of viruses, spam and so on.”[8] Things like these have become a serious global issue. But, among those disadvantages, as to a personal believe, the over developing of industries—which narrowly focuses on economic system, extensively ignores ecosystem, and callously sees the items of nature (such as lands, rivers, mountains, forests, and so on) as objects that can be brought or sold—has been causing a serious threat to human living environment which is known as “climate change,” or “global warming” today.

Global warming was first alerted by Roger Revelle in 1950s, when the time most of scientists did not recognize that the use of fossil fuels had caused big problems to environment, Revelle began to study “the levels of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by humans burning fossil fuels,” and he was the first person to argue that global warming is man-made—climate change is a result of human activity.[9] In fact, in the later 1960s, people already altered that since the industrial revolution was started, the industrial development had become more and more relaying on fossil fuels; and this had resulted in producing considerable carbon dioxide (CO2) to our environment. And, since the first Earth Day in 1970, ecologists have warned that the “world teeters on the edge of an environmental disaster.”[10]

Although awareness about global warming is now evident among the public and policy makers, the problem, however, continues to grow and seems not to be stopped; although there are groups such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Action Plan on Climate Change, and so on trying to offset the global warming, rising foundations to help developing countries building relative projects to reduce missions. But, comparing to the growing of CO2 every year, it is still awfully small. As Stuart A. Kallen observes,

In May 2008 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that CO2 levels were at a record high. Carbon dioxide had increased to 387 ppm, up almost 40 percent since the industrial revolution began and the highest level for at least the last 650,000years. And experts predicted a 10 percent rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 rather than the 5.2 percent reduction called for in the Kyoto Protocol.[11]

In order to reduce the producing of CO2, the NOAA has tried so hard to make global warming regulations with big CO2 producing companies around the world to reduce missions, but because of the power of selfishness, most of the companies do not agree with what the NOAA has asked them to do so (to reduce greenhouse gas). To give an example, in the United States, the politically powerful industries such as oil companies, coal producers, steelmakers, and automobile manufacturers constantly insists that they have “employed millions of people across the country and were concerned that global warming regulations would raise the cost of doing business. This would not only threaten profits but force companies to lay off workers, creating widespread unemployment.”[12] By doing so, the companies usually refuse to reduce the missions, and they frequently spend considerable money to media, lobbyists and policy makers to affect on the environmental policies. As Stuart has observed, in 2007, the oil industry in the United States spent $83 million to lobbyists and politicians to convince lawmakers to support its interest; in 2008 General Motors, Ford, and Chryslers together gave more than $15 million to senators and congressman and spent another $50 million on lobbyists who can make pressure to legislatures and other government officials.[13]

So far, climate change has increased risks not only to environment but also to the global economy, ecology, and human health and well-being. As the 2007 “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” warned as follows,

Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for in stability in some of the most volatile regions of the world. Projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states. Unlike most conventional security threats that involve a single entity acting in specific ways and points in time, climate change has the potential to result in multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame. Economic and environmental conditions in already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce and large populations move in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies.[14]

As to this case, to some extent, some defense experts believe today that climate change can also be linked to potential conflicts between nations. They have warned public that there might be political unrest and bloodshed battles in numerous badly hit countries on account of climate change: "There is every reason to believe that as the 21st century unfolds, the security story will be bound together with climate change," warns John Ashton, a veteran diplomat who is now the United Kingdom's first special envoy on climate change.[15] “Over the next few years, we may find that climate-change accords and peace treaties start to overlap more and more. And we may find that global warming is heating new conflicts up to the boiling point,” warns James R. Lee, who runs American University's Inventory of Conflict and Environment project.[16]

Facing the urgency to reduce missions and greenhouse gas, On March19, 2009, the United States President Barack Obama addressed that Americans now have a choice: either to remain one of the world's leading importers of foreign oil or to make renewable energy; either to let climate change continue to go unchecked or to help stop it.[17] Followed by the President’s speech, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included more than $80 billion in clean energy investments for renewable energy projects such as producing electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents, creating new jobs in the clean energy economy, investing in the next generation of energy technologies, breaking dependence on oil, closing the carbon loophole, and so forth.[18] As to his first concern, Even on November 16, 2009, President Obama spoke of issues of clean energy and climate change when held “Town Hall” with Chinese youth in Shanghai, China. He believes that China and the United States are the two biggest countries of producing of CO2 in the world and that, by deeply looking into the coming future, the two nations’ cooperation to develop the renewable technologies will be essential and effective to other nations around the world to do the same efforts so.[19]


As a Buddhist monastic, I am quite marveled in modernity itself. But, to my superficial understanding of the problem, not only can modernity draw us to a spectacular gate of the future, it can also draw us to a bottomless abyss (that might swallow up human species in the very near future if we are not so watchful for what we are doing today). French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) used to believe, “Je pense, donc je suis” (I think, therefore I am here). The Buddha also used to say,

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him

Personally speaking, I deep in mind agree with what the Buddha and René Descartes observed. What we have thought and acted will produce consequences in the near future; and the global warming—which is entailed by humans—should be a lesson to us, I think. To repair the issue, we need to work together and be aware of our thoughts towards our actions. Otherwise, the ecosystem itself can change its own course to eliminate the human species and raise a new species instead of humans to walk on this planet.


[1] Trans. F. Max Muller, Wisdom of the Buddha: The Unabridged Dhammapada (America: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), 15
[2] See Chris Barker, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice ( London: Sage, 2005), 444
[3] Anthony Giddens, Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity (California: Stanford University Press, 1998), 94
[4] See Trevor I. Williams, Science: A History of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1990), 8
[5] See Rajeev Bhargara, Secularism and Its Critics (London: Oxford University Press, 2005), 31-2
[6] Randall E. Stross, Technology and Society in Twentieth Century America: An Anthology (America: Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1989), 126
[7] Quoted in Stuart A. Kallen, How Should the World Respond to Global Warming? (America: 2010 ReferencePoint Press, Inc., 2009), 52
[8] Helen P. Macasaet, “Cybercrime against Women: Extent and Prevention,” available at
[9] Stuart A. Kallen, How Should the World Respond to Global Warming? (America: 2010 ReferencePoint Press, Inc., 2009), 11
[10] Ed. David L. Bender&Bruno Leone, The Environmental Crisis: Opposing Viewpoints (America: Greenhaven Press, 1991), 17
[11] Stuart A. Kallen, 23
[12] Ibid. 16
[13] Ibid. 44-5
[14] Gordon R. Sullivan et al, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” The CNA Corporation, 2007, available at
[15] James R. Lee, “Global Warming Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg,” Washington Post, January 4, 2009, available at
[16] Ibid.
[17] The White House “Energy & Environment” March 2009, available at
[18] Ibid.
[19] See video, “President Obama Holds Town Hall with Chinese Youth,” available at
[20] F. Max Muller, 1

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