the structure of consumer demand, the population and resource base for agricultural development, forms of national political organization, and development policies. However, the nature of these contingent relationships, particularly the relationships between policy and the other variables, is not understood in detail. Research is critically needed on the ways consumer demand changes as income increases, the effects of national policies on patterns of production and consumer demand, the effects of agricultural intensity on economic growth and the environment, and the causes of shifts from more to less energy-and materials-intensive economies. These questions call for research both within and across the boundaries of disciplines and academic specialties.


Technological change affects the global environment in three ways. First, it leads to new ways to discover and exploit natural resources. Second, it changes the efficiency of production and consumption processes, altering the volume of resources required per unit of output produced, the effluents and wastes produced, and the relative costs and hence the supply of different goods and services. Third, different kinds of technology produce different environmental impacts from the same process (e.g., fossil-fuel and nuclear energy production have different effluents). Some technologies have surprising and serious secondary impacts, as the history of refrigeration illustrates (see also Brooks, 1986).

In one view, technological development tends to hasten resource depletion and increase pollutant emissions. In this view, technology as currently developed is a Faustian bargain, trading current gain against future survival (e.g., Commoner, 1970, 1972, 1977). Modern technology is seen as a much more significant contributor to environmental degradation than either population or economic growth. One reason is that modern technological innovation progresses much faster than knowledge about its damaging effects, both because the effects are intrinsically difficult to understand and because the powerful economic interests that benefit from new technologies influence research agendas to favor knowledge about the benefits over knowledge about the costs (Schnaiberg, 1980).

Three arguments are advanced to oppose or qualify the Faustian theme. In the first, technology's contribution to environmental change is deemed relatively unimportant (Ehrlich and Holdren, 1972). In the second, technological innovation and adoption are

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement