The wonders of science and technology have brought to man higher
standards of health, longer life, better jobs and education and a more
comfortable existence than his forebears knew 100 years ago.
Commission to Study the Organization of Peace 1972
|Number of countries connected to the Internet
This perception from the 1970s still holds true
today. Science and technology have brought about major breakthroughs over
the past 30 years in, for example, the fields of information and communications,
medicine, nutrition, agriculture, economic development and biotechnology.
Forty-six global hubs of technological innovation have been identified
around the world, principally in Europe and North America (Hillner 2000).
Information and communications technology (ICT) particularly has revolutionized
the way people live, learn, work and interact (Okinawa Charter 2000).
The Internet, mobile phones and satellite networks have shrunk time and
space. Satellite communications technology from the mid-1980s gave rise
to a powerful new medium with a global reach. Bringing together computers
and communications in the early 1990s unleashed an explosion of ways to
communicate, process and store, and distribute enormous amounts of information.
In 2001, more information could be sent over a single cable in a second
than was sent over the entire Internet for a month in 1997 (UNDP 2001).
ICT is advancing rapidly, presenting tremendous opportunities for human
development by making it easier for more people to access available information
from remote locations, quickly and cheaply. However, the uneven diffusion
of ICT means that access to related technological developments may be
an advantage for the minority only. Today, Internet users are predominantly
urban and 79 per cent of users live in OECD countries, which contain only
14 per cent of the world's population. Nevertheless, even in developing
countries the increase in Internet use has been dramatic - for example,
from 3.9 million to 33 million people in China between 1998 and 2002 (UNDP
2001, CNNIC 2002).
Mobile telephones have overcome the infrastructure constraints of fixed
lines and the number of subscribers has increased from slightly more than
10 million around the world at the start of the 1990s to more than 725
million at the beginning of 2001, or one mobile phone for every eight
inhabitants (ITU 2001).
|Number of Internet users (millions)
|Fixed and mobile telephone subscribers
Figures above demonstrate the explosive growth
of the use of the Internet and mobile telephones - but even in 2000
only one-quarter of Internet users were from developing countries
Source: ITU 2001
Additionally, new technologies are helping people to better understand
the environment. In July 1972, the US government launched the first LANDSAT
satellite. By 2002, the LANDSAT programme has acquired 30 years of records
which constitute the longest continuous record of data on the Earth's
continental surfaces (USGS 2001). This has added a new dimension to environmental
monitoring and assessment, enabling changes to be tracked, trends monitored
and early warning improved (see image below). Images from this facility
are included in the pages at the end of sections in -> Chapter 2.
Image over is the most detailed true-colour
image of the entire Earth available in March 2002. Many months of
satellite-based observations of the land surface, oceans, sea ice,
and clouds were pieced together into a seamless, mosaic of every
square kilometre the Earth
Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image
However, for some developing countries, technology can be a source of
exclusion instead of a tool for progress. 'Technology is created in response
to market pressures, not the needs of poor people who have little purchasing
power. As a result research neglects opportunities to develop technology
for poor people' (UNDP 2001). For example, of the 1 223 new drugs marketed
worldwide between 1975 and 1996, only 13 were developed to treat tropical
diseases (UNDP 2001). New technologies also come with unforeseen risks
to human health and the environment: for example, ozone-layer depletion
from the use of CFCs, the side effects of drugs, unintended use of new
technologies as weapons, pollution, concerns over the impacts of genetically-modified
organisms, and technological disasters such as Chernobyl and Bhopal.
'It is only through the deep concern, information and knowledge,
commitment and action of the people of the world that environmental
problems can be answered. Laws and institutions are not enough.
The will of the people must be powerful enough, insistent enough,
to bring about the truly good life for all mankind.'
- Commission to Study the Organization of Peace