Technological Development and the Third World
TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE THIRD WORLD
I wonder if people in Third World countries know that they are considered
the “Third World?” Do they use that term in reference to themselves? Do they
have any perception of the comparison, judgment and bias that goes into that
statement? I’d like to think that they don’t. In the film about the Ladack
people that we watched in class, it was mentioned that they didn’t have a word
for poverty. No such word even existed in their language. But that was before.
It was before the invasion of other cultures, and it was before they had
anything to compare themselves to. And in comparison, they saw that, materially,
they had less. And in that knowledge, they believed that they, as a people, were
In this essay, I will examine third world communities and the
relationship between technological development and environmental degradation. I
will look first at the way in which development occurred in the South, and the
reason it happened the way that it did. From there, I will show how these
methods of development proceeded to eventually cause widespread environmental
damage and it’s effect on the local people. .
DEVELOPMENT: “WESTERN” STYLE
When I refer to “the environment”, I mean not only the habitat that
humans, plants and animals inhabit, but also the physical, emotional and
psychological attitudes that are encompassed by these in their daily existence.
Development, by my definition, will consequently refer to the technological
advancement of a community as well as the improved status of humans and other
species. This is my definition, and one that others employ frequently now.
However, the model I will be examining first is the development theory based on
the economic – political system. “A typical western (read: economic) definition
of development would be ‘ an ambiguous term for a multidimensional process
involving material, social and organizational change, accelerated economic
growth, and the reduction of absolute poverty and inequality.'” (1) The key
emphasis in this statement is the phrase “economic growth.” In Europe and North
America, development politics has revolved around the economic aspect of
producing surplus, and gaining capital. Because of our relatively rich land
resource base, our method of technological development has been quite successful.
Statistics show us as high wage earners, wealthy in public services such as
health care and education, low infant mortality rate, long lifespan, and high
GNP per person. Because of the comfort that our economic development has brought
us, we have omitted the aspect of development in regard to human psychological
well-being and the preservation of our natural surroundings that should be
concurrent with technological development. With ours as the only current model
of successful development, newly industrializing countries such as South and
Central America, and Africa (and up until quite recently many Asian countries)
attempted to achieve results in the same way. The problem that ensued for these
countries was that instead of working slowly towards their goals, they sold
themselves to get ahead economically. Instead of recognizing the problems that
this method was causing and stopping them, governments and the wealthy private
sector, took control of the industry and continued to exploit it. With the rich
in control, the poorer classes had little choice but to follow, and the downward
spiral of poverty and instability began.
HOW IT HAPPENED
As the Third World nations struggled to become “developed,” the rich
countries became involved in their affairs. Interest in the countries arose
primarily because of the trade resources that these lands provided. The
potential for profit became evident because the new countries were struggling
with their economy. They were experiencing internal unrest between their members
and they needed money and resources to get started. Before they had a stable
internal economy, they were bounding into the international market and selling
their resources for a quick profit. Cash-cropping became a way to enter the
international arena of market and trade, but the damage to the land took only a
few short years to be discovered, and by that time luxuries had become
“necessities.” People wanted the cash flow to continue and instead of finding
ways to use their land sustainable, they continued poor resource management
regardless of the consequences. Deforestation became another common practice
because of the demand forwood overseas. Export, although a seemingly beneficial
development strategy, became detrimental to third world countries because it
catered to the demand for certain items. Coffee beans are a large export item in
South and Central America. With the rising demand for coffee in North America,
land that was previously used for agriculture was taken over and used for
growing coffee beans. The consequences of this were twofold; local people were
suffering from lack of land to use for food production, and the potential land
was useless because of the cash-crops.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESULTS OF TECHNOLOGY :TODAY
A more current example of the technological development that is
resulting in environmental degradation is the misuse of resources. In Africa,
industrial water pollution has become a widespread problem. Third World
communities don’t often have the awareness that the South has about sustainable
techniques and the importance of employing them. Most people in North America
live in cities and have their water purified to a certain health standard and
brought to them. People in the Third World use the river for washing, drinking
and bathing. Unclean water leads not only to damage of the ecosystems but also
to the health of those who use it. Another problem is that countries from the
South have based their industry in developing countries because they have lower
environmental standards. With the benefits of jobs and money that these
companies bring, the host country will rarely challenge the damaging techniques
that they use. “Pollution forms another major set of environmental problems in
the region. It used to be said that pollution is a problem of the rich countries,
and that for the developing countries, development must come first and we can
worry about the environment later. Pollution and the deteriorating quality of
life caused by environmental degradation in our region has shown how fallacious
this argument is.” (2) We no longer have a choice but to address the problems
that man is creating in nature and the environment. The excuse of development
will no longer hold.
“(we, the) people.. in Latin America are using our best resources for
the benefit of the rich countries – exporting to them our energy, our fish, our
raw materials and using our labor resources to extract and export these
materials and all at low prices and poor terms of trade.” (3) While our
technology is helping the third world countries in areas such as health and
education, our own desire for goods and profit prevent us from allowing them
their full potential. We create an economy where we will do whatever it takes to
get what we want. As an example, we of the developed nations tell the third
world that they should stop environmental damage, while it is our companies that
are taking advantage of their low standards. We tell them to stop cash-cropping,
but we buy their coffee beans at any price. With these hypocritical standards,
we will never influence them to turn their economy around. As we our
economically motivated in our own interest, they too need economic motivation to
change their destructive habits. Especially since with us, their products are
primarily “extras,” while for them, their trade of the product is negatively
influencing their economy and affecting their people.
In Asia and the Pacific, urbanization, modernization, and technology are
creating different environmental problems. It is the problem of human need.
Thousands of people have been displaced from farms because the government or the
private sector expropriates them for industrial use. Rich foodlands are being
destroyed and turned into highways, airports or dams.With no where to go and no
jobs, the people are migrating to the city in search of homes and employment.
Slums and squatter dwellings result with problems of rising crime and unhygenic
living conditions. This puts terrible strain on both the human and physical
environment, creating a situation with little hope for a successful future.
To combat these crisis, we must adopt some new behaviors. Our current
model of development is showing some obvious flaws and it is evident that it is
the impact of technology that has resulted in. environmental damage. But
technology is not the only factor at fault. It is the influence of technology
combined with human greed that has presented these complex human and
environmental problems. Laws monitoring pollution of the environment must be
enforced, and followed equally in all countries. With the knowledge that we now
possess of the global chaos that is at hand, we have no excuse but to do so.
The hypocrisy that exists between the systems must also be stopped.
Considering not only ourselves, but the endangered lives of others is essential
to the continuation of our species as a whole. Our fortunate position in a
developed nation does not give us the right to create a hierarchy of our
existence as more important than the life of another.
Possibly, the only way that we are going to combat any of these problems
is by education. It will take more than a few dedicated people to change the
world, but with the influence of many, anything is possible.