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Anthropocene and Appropriate Technology

Written by

Linh Phamvu

[ Sustainable Design and Management Course- 1st Febuary 2018]

In this week, we discussed some chronicle terms in terms of environmental sustainability: Anthropocene, Planetary Era and on being an Earthling. The controversy over the agreed start date of Anthropocene- a proposed geologic-time term denoting when human beings began to leave their footprint on the planet, has profoundly reflected the differences in the way how serious people perceive their significant impacts on the Earth system.

The second term- Planetary Era is another approach from the perspective of sociological and anthropological study. It is considered as the third significant transition in civilization from the Empire Era, seeing the hegemony of globalization in all aspects of human life. That is to say, this epoch marks a new geologic era in which human beings play a pivotal role in the changes of this planet.

Earthling- the final term which is more related to the personal perception, questioning about the existence and position of human beings in the relationship with their entire surroundings, including other living creatures. This inquiry indicates the requirement for an ethical rethink from the anthropocentric approach to the equality of all species and nature.

The second part of the session was about the impacts of unexpected consequences of every human activity which are measured absurdly by the emission of carbon. The profound intervention of technologies to the core of human life is undeniable and indispensable. Therefore, the challenge for the sustainable development is now more about the feasible solutions for an appropriate technology which are defined by four criteria: small-scale and localized, accessible and affordable to anyone, simple enough for being applied widely by local people with their own skills and materials and non-violent not only to human beings but also to the entire planetary system.

The example of the unintended consequence is the mass fish death in Vietnam. This worst environmental disaster was recorded in 2016 by 70 tonnes of dead fish washed ashore along 200 km (125 miles) coastline of Ha Tinh and three other provinces (Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue). After more than 2 months for the large-scale investigation of many scientists and the huge pressure from the public, Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastic Group’s steel plants officially admitted its wrongdoing as discharging toxic industrial waste illegally into the ocean through drainage pipes and committed paying $500 million in compensation. In terms of the environment, this calamity has placed a series of severe damages on Vietnam marine life which is predicted to take many decades for recovery. Additionally, a year after this disaster, the livelihood of more than 40,000 workers who rely on fishing and tourism not only in the directly affected areas but also the adjacent provinces has remained ruined seriously: the surge in unemployment which has caused many children failed to turn up for the start of the new academic year because their families could not afford to pay, the unpredictably detrimental impacts on the public health which could be transmitted to the next generations, etc.

Moreover, the outpouring of public anger and the hundreds of rallies, protest marches on social media as well as on the street of big cities were considered as the worst social and political crisis which has not seen in the last four decades since the Communist Party seized power. Consequently, the credibility of the government was damaged severely due to its procrastination in decision-making as well as solving problems.

By this way, the mass fish death is a typical example of the close interrelation between the economy, society and environment. Ironically, in a country where the livelihood of people is highly sensitive to climate changes like Vietnam, environmental safeguards are often a secondary consideration for economic development. The confident statement of the representative of Formosa as being criticized by the public after the incident, “You have to decide whether to catch fishes and shrimps or to build a modern steel industry,” has revealed an underlying reality in sustainable development in a developing country: When people are still struggling to survive, environmental issues are deemed to be unpractical in their daily life.

Therefore, a radical shift in the approach of popularizing sustainable development is necessary, especially in developing countries. In this regards, every solution for the environmental issues should be localized and accessible for everyone to apply and this process needs to be clarified and emphasized as a win-win negotiation rather than a compromise.

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