The rapid rise of new technologies in recent decades has brought new and complex threats to the environment. While traditionally the term “pollution” evoked images of roadside litter, chemical-contaminated rivers, or smoggy cityscapes, only in recent decades have people come to realize that pollution may permanently alter our world.
Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are warming the Earth’s surface temperature and changing the planet’s climate. A broad range of human activities–from driving cars to producing electricity, from clearing forest lands to engaging in industrial agriculture–all contribute to the problem. Global warming is not something we can simply clean up. Slowing and eventually reversing the warming trend will take centuries. Yet, it is imperative that governments address the problem now. The longer we wait the more daunting the task becomes and the more extreme the consequences of inaction.
Biological pollution is another modern threat to the environment that, once it occurs, is nearly impossible to reverse. Invasive species, those native to one region that become established in another place, can damage the habitats of native plants and animals. In extreme cases they may cause extinctions and threaten biodiversity. These transplanted invasives are notoriously difficult to control. Additionally, the introduction of genetically engineered plants and animals ups the ante considerably. Crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, resist herbicides, or kill insect pests may spread genetic pollution by cross-pollinating with weeds or other crops. This genetic pollution is encoded directly into the DNA of living organisms, making it all but impossible to contain.
While the genetic components of plants and animals may exists as environmental pollutants, they have also emerged as valuable natural resources. Corporations engaged in everything from medical research to industrial production are scouring the planet in search of plants, animals, and microorganisms with commercial applications. The result is that powerful corporations are gaining control of the Earth’s genetic resources, which until now have always been considered part of our shared commons.
ICTA seeks to protect the environment, individuals, and society from technologies that have advanced more rapidly than our ability to control the pollution they produce and the other social threats they pose.
(Image courtesy NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.)