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Archive for the ‘Science and Technology’ Category

Why? you ask, surely more divisions with this debate can only hold us back more. Isn’t this issue above politics; anarchist, capitalist, communist or fascist, surely we can all agree that rising sea levels, desertification and forced displacement of billions is a bad thing? So, let’s just all get on together with the job at hand – preventing climate change.

I’m sorry but it’s not this simple, everything is political, as is climate change, and here’s why.

We have to look at why our current efforts to halt the process are failing. The simple fact of the matter is that for the whole planet to consume at Western rates we would need between three and five planets just to sustain ourselves and we only have one. Our consumption is at the heart of the matter, it’s something we are unwilling to change and it is the standard for the rest of the world. Forget human rights, welfare, equality, etc. Consumption is the Western ideology, it was publicly stated by President Eisenhower’s chief adviser that to continually increase production of consumer goods was the ultimate purpose of the American economy. Consumer industry journals explicitly and openly discuss ideas such as forced obsolescence and identity branding, check out the exemplary quote below by economist and retail analyst Victor Lebow,

‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today is expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.’ (Price Competition in 1955, Journal of Retailing Spring 1955)

What about recycling and renewable energies, can’t we just change our consumption habits rather than cut consumption full stop? Well obviously recycling, buying local and using energy efficient light bulbs is a good thing, but it won’t be enough. The fact is that no matter how much we recycle as long as our measure of progress persists to be a growing GDP it will never be enough. The same applies to renewable energies, exploiting 100% of the renewable sources in the UK will not sufficiently satisfy our current energy needs.  So why are we obsessed with a constantly growing GDP? Is it just because we love to work so much that the more we are working the happier we must be? No, work equals power, the more we do of it, the higher our capacity to smash our enemies and more able we are to maintain the status quo. This would surely explain the massive disparity that exists between our pro human rights / equality rhetoric and the harsh reality throughout the developing world and even within our own countries.

Bringing it back to climate change, we can put forward as many facts and theories as we like, but the fact is that facts and theories don’t inspire people. What is more, persuading people with nothing more than scientific evidence is self destructive as there will always be a fractional possibility, however small that may be, that you are wrong; in fact, the very integrity of a scientific argument is based on its own potential to be disproved. The only real absolutes are values and principals and ultimately they are what people demand change on the back of.

So, this being a political post, maybe you’re expecting some kind of call to arms, something to fight for. Well, you’ll get one, but it won’t be to recycle more, stop eating meat, shut down coal-fired power stations or airports, it won’t be to support one political party or the other. Well, not existing politics anyway as 95% of contemporary political discourse is focused on the best way to get more ‘things’. I just ask you to get out, take a risk and live life. Love people, nature, and beauty, even God, Buddha or Allah (swt) if you’re that way inclined. In the next revolution we won’t be fighting over things but over life itself. I can only expect you to fight for something you love; the rest is up to you!

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By Luci Storelli-Castro

After the black stain left in our common human heritage by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial legacy, economic redress is certainly something the world owes Africa. However, our debt to Africa does not end there. Adding to the list of ways Africa has been shortchanged throughout history, is the overlooking of its contribution to science and technology.

Like most people, prior to this semester I was not aware of the significant gains made in the modern scientific tradition as a result of African scientific thought. Even more foreign a concept was the idea that there was such a thing as African technological innovation.

In part, the on-the-ground situation in most African countries helps explain why this false perception of the continent’s scientific and technological incapacity continues to be perpetrated.

I can attest from my time in Ghana, for example, that science is not a strong suite within the educational curriculum. Where schools and research institutions in the developed world benefit from state-of-the-art equipment facilitating scientific rigor, that is not the case in Ghana where such institutions are strapped for resources. Moreover, one hardly hears of any new scientific discovery originating from Africa.

In terms of technology, Ghana does not fare much better. What are common technological fixtures in developed countries are largely absent or found to a much lesser degree within Ghana.

Another factor diminishing the role Africa has played in furthering scientific and technological advancements is the belief held by some that there exists a duality between African traditional thought and scientific-technological methods of inquiry.

The misconception of African traditional views as strictly anthropomorphic and superstitious has drawn much welcomed criticism over the years, however. Central in this effort has been G.P. Hagan, whose work on Akan aphorisms has exposed evidence of principles reminiscent of Newtonian mechanics.

An area in which African knowledge has been especially useful, yet seriously unrecognized, includes the realm of biomedical and pharmaceutical research. Indigenous African herb specialists have, for example, discovered an array of anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral therapies.

Unfortunately, however, patent laws protecting these indigenous efforts against multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies are lacking.

This is the case in the controversy surrounding Michelamine, a compound discovered by native herbalists in the rainforest of Cameroon. Of course, the ante goes up considering Michelamine is believed to be a promising marker in the route to curing AIDS.

In writing about the Michelamine case, Dr. Helen Lauer of the University of Ghana writes, “if the promised drug ever comes to the world market, it will be subjected to the protections of the WTO, which is promoting an extension of patent laws to monopolise drug production world-wide. Then the drug will still cost too much to save the life of the child whose herbalist father first pointed out the plant’s value in the forest patch near his home to the inquiring pharmaceutical researchers on exploration from the US.”

Technological innovation is also not alien within Africa. To provide just one example, Ghanaians have made a name for their cocoa by employing a bean drying procedure that is unique worldwide. According to Dr. O.A. Akoto, an economist, this procedure involves maintaining a 13 percent moisture content which, in turn, adds 15 percent more value to Ghanaian cocoa in the global market.

These are only some of many examples of how Africa has contributed to the modern scientific cannon and technological progress. Yet, one finds that the continent is not given due credit for its contributions. It goes without saying, Africa is long overdue in claiming entitlement to its legacy in the development of science and technology.

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