Science in Christian Perspective
The Engineer, the Consumer and Pollution
Consultant in Mechanical Engineering
6411 Cambie Street
Vancouver 15, B.C., Canada
From: JASA 25 (March 1973): 17-20.
The relationship between the techniques of the engineer, the demands of the consumer, and the capacity of nature to dispose of wastes requires careful scientific analysis before realistic solutions to pollution can be found.
It is the duty of the engineer to minimize the depletion of natural resources, to optimize recycling processes, to consider side effects of technical proposals and thus to control and develop the resources of nature for the use and benefit of a maximum number of people. Only by rationally developing practical solutions and realistically following optimum priorities will man prevent waste disposal from causing an ecological catastrophe.
It is the engineer who develops technical solutions, but it is the consumer who must pay for them. By deciding where he spends his earnings, the consumer ultimately determines what goods are produced and services rendered and how much they effect the environment. The consumer who holds the value of material goods and natural resources in perspective should be willing to pay his share of pollution control costs. Such a responsible perspective, however, is possible only when man enjoys a proper relationship with the Creator.
To satisfy the basic necessities in life and the compulsion in man to accumulate material possessions and power, engineers have controlled and developed nature's vast resources of materials and energy for the use and benefit of mankind. As new sources of raw materials and energy were discovered and ingenious methods, machines and processes developed, making man more affluent, his urge to accumulate material possessions increased. Realizing the great potential of this urge, marketing and sales organizations fostered and nurtured man's desire for goods and services in order to sell more and thereby reap a larger profit.
The desire for more and more material goods led to an emphasis on quantity and looks rather than on quality; reliability and endurance began taking second place to low price. Throw-away items replaced reusable containers and repairable gadgets. Built-in "obsolescence" was a natural consequence; if people wanted the latest model and were too lazy to have an article fixed, why not reduce the price of the item by designing only for its expected life? Heavy duty models would serve the professional who requires durability, and the limited duty models would serve the casual user who needs the item only occasionally and so does not want to pay the price of a durable model.
The engineer's role in this scheme was to minimize the prime cost of an article by technical breakthroughs, cost reduction techniques, and more efficient processing. The salesman's role was to maximize the distribution of the article, decrease the unit cost through volume sales and thus increase the profit or decrease the selling price. In this way business firms increased the availability of a product for their benefit and their customers, since even the low wage earner could now afford some luxury goods.
The need to satisfy the drive towards accumulating wealth and material possessions also became evident in the desire for higher wages. Most often a raise was demanded by the worker without a corresponding increase in productivity on his part. Through ignorance or indifference, he failed to accept the fact that the price of articles is determined by the sum of the earnings or wages of the people directly or indirectly associated in any way with the article. Ultimately, only an increase in productivity can increase earnings or decrease prices.
Otherwise, a wage raise must be offset by a price hike. Price hikes, in turn affect international transactions. Without a corresponding increase in the purchasing power of the country importing the goods, a price increase reduces sales and therefore fewer articles will be produced.
To maintain a high export volume, which incidentally also benefits the local consumers by giving them lower priced articles, it is necessary to maintain low prices. Fringe benefits and unproductive expenditures must therefore be kept at a minimum. Some unproductive expenditures which have traditionally been avoided are the costs incurred in converting waste materials into biodegradable or harmless forms, or disposing of them in safe containers.
The capital investment required to install and operate pollution control equipment is often a significant proportion of total production costs. In a highly competitive field there is often only a slight profit margin so that the additional expense of purchasing and operating pollution control equipment would bankrupt the company.
Pollution control costs must be added to the cost of the goods produced or the services rendered. These additional expenses have the effect of decreasing the purchasing power of the consumer and thereby reducing the volume of goods on the market. This holds true no matter who provides the cost outlay initiallybe it the government, the company directly involved, or the consumer. Ultimately the buyer pays for all unproductive as well as productive expenditures.
Along with the affluence made possible by innovations, cost reductions and high productivity, came prodigality and indolence. Lost was the true value of goods and services received. Clothes were discarded without being worn out. Leftover food was thrown away. Containers were not reused. Overpowered cars were bought for appearance, not function. Unneeded lights were left on. Affluence had distorted and diminished the value of goods and work. People had become lazy.
The natural desire for material possessions and the necessity of making a profit were not the only factors leading to the indifference towards an improper use of nature. Contributing to pollution was the emergence of the impersonal corporation. In the old family firm there usually existed a personal approach and a personal responsibility in the activities and reputation of the company. The few people in control of the firm were usually content with a reasonable level of affluence.
The mammoth corporation, with many shareholders to satisfy, is insatiable and amoral. Whereas a million dollars profit is a large income for one extended family, it is a small income when divided among a thousand shareholders. The necessity of showing a large profit, which is never enough, may cause the directors to make decisions collectively which are contrary to individual convictions.
The establishment of some mining or manufacturing companies is often based on marginal appraisals. If unproductive expenditures for pollution control equipment were necessary, the promoter could not project a profit and therefore his shares would not sell. Consequently, provisions for environmental safeguards are few and possibilities for the misuse of nature are many.
It is obvious that our culture has chosen pollution as the crisis of the decade. The destructive potential of arsenal satellites each with clusters of H-bombs orbitting a few hundred miles above our major cities, ready to disperse death and destruction within minutes, is not at present considered as significant as pollution. But,
what is not clear at the moment is whether "ecology is an old science, a new religion, or a fad which will go to join the technocracy of the 30's in history's museum of naive and outmoded ideas."1
Ultimately the buyer pays for all unproductive as well as productive expenditures.
In creating an awareness of the problem even biased information has
Impulsive action based on misinformation, however, can be dangerous.
But now that
the pollution problem has been exposed it is necessary for man to act
and to support the development of scientific solutions. If action is initiated
before scientific solutions are available, the "cure" may cause more
damage than the problem. An example of this is the ban on DDT.
Because of a sudden
public emotional desire for action, the use of DDT was banned and the balance
of nature again changed. Gypsy moths, formerly controlled by DDT, now threaten
to destroy much of the hardwood timberland in a belt spreading from New England
to Pennsylvania and Maryland2. In a few more years the pests will probably be
controlled biologically by breeding sterile moths. Meanwhile, the ban on DDT is
causing foresters great concern.
Consider also air pollution. Emissions from industrial plants and cars can be registered on an air quality or mass level basis. Figures presented by Robert F. Sawyer show that
On a mass, or ppm (part per million), basis the motor vehicle is responsible, as of 1965, for 61% of pollutants, with industry responsible for 16% and powerplassts for 14%. Taken on so air quality basis, a more legitimate scale according to Sawyer, we find that motor vehicles are responsible for 12%, industry for 37% and powerplants for 36% of our had air.3
The importance of basing priorities on a proper comparison is obvious.
Social benefits of technology have a price tag attached. The initial social benefit usually costs very little but refining the benefit costs increasingly more. Take air pollution from automobiles as an example. The cost of reducing pollution emissions of the early 1960's by 50% was less than $20, while a reduction of about 80% cost $80. Further reductions will he increasingly expensive. Heinen4 estimates that an outlay of about $110 per car would cut hydrocarbon emissions by 88%, carbon monoxide by 76% and nitrogen oxides by 66%. To meet the 1975 U.S. standards (reduction of hydrocarbons by 98%, carbon monoxide by 97% and nitrogen oxides by 90%,) cars could cost $500 more and increase gasoline consumption by 1025%.
These figures show the costs as a function of air quality based on a reduction of hydrocarbon emissions. Extrapolating to the proposed 1980 U.S. exhaust emission standard indicates that the cost of pollution control then will be as much as the car itself costs at present.
Besides increasing its price, more restrictions on the engine decrease the practical utility of the automobile. Already the power and fuel economy of cars have been decreased and engine adjustments have become more critical. As the number and severity of the restrictions increase, the usefulness of the car decreases and the law of diminishing returns catches up very quickly. This means there is an optimum number of restrictions for the greatest social benefit. A completely exhaust free ear, for example, would be prohibitively expensive and would probably have to be built like a tank to safely carry all the equipment, chemicals and controls necessary. It is possible to build a one horsepower pollution-free car using a thermo-electric convertor powered by solar energy, but who wants to drive only when the sun is shining?
Obviously a compromise is necessary. The consumer must decide what price he is willing to pay for a healthier environment. Ultimately the cost of pollution control devices and processes must be born by the consumer. The workers, shareholders and governments cannot bear the costs for very long before passing them on to the consumer. In cases where the by-products which are removed in controlling emissions become a source of income, sometimes even exceeding the cost of the emission control equipment and its operation, the consumer of the by-product helps meet the cost of pollution control.
The necessity of providing pollution control devices reduces individual freedom. The privilege of spending earnings freely is being restricted as governments collect a larger portion of the public income for environmental engineering such as sewage treatent, garbage disposal and urban transportation. The versatility of certain products and services is affected when the number of technological constraints they must meet is increased. Society has already dictated that certain restrictions such as regulated rubbish burning, noise suppressors and exhaust emission controls be accepted by the individual in the interest of the group as a whole. -
Often government action is necessary because individual motivation is lacking. A recent study by General Motors showed that individuals are reluctant to have a pollution-control kit retrofitted to existing automobiles. In a limited test market a major advertising campaign to encourage individual owners to install a $20 kit to reduce exhaust pollution by 50% cost G.M. $100 per kit sold.5 Individuals must either freely sacrifice some earnings for the benefit of society or else governments must step in and make pollution controls compulsory.
The basis of Christian ethics is man's individual responsibility towards God and man. Each person must account for his actions and attitudes. The individual is to exercise responsibility in his God-given dominion over nature. If this dominion continues to be misinterpreted as exploitation, an ecological catastrophe could result as punishment for man's sin.
Social benefits of technology have a price tag attached . . . . The consumer must decide what price he is willing to pay for a healthier environment.
The Christian engineer, therefore, must be aware of the consequences
of his actions.
He cannot blindly
fulfill his technological functions and ignore their moral
consequences. The decision
he makes as an engineer in industry is simultaneously made as a human being in
society and as a son in God's family. The Christian premise is that the secular
and the religious spheres are one. The Christian must act with a sound mind and
a compassionate heart. In a society where ecology has been adopted as a popular
religion, and where individuals are easily motivated to mob action by fear and
hatred, the Christian engineer must be technically knowledgeable,
and rooted in fundamental Biblical truths.
The first responsibility of the engineer is to examine himself and his motives. Without a cleansed life he cannot act on the highest motives. A spiritual life along with technical abilities are credentials necessary for validly understanding problems and proposing feasible solutions.
The action undertaken to avoid an ecological dilemma should be based on rational principles.
1. The value of nature for man is in its potential to benefit and satisfy him. The power man has over nature carries with it a responsibility for thoughtful stewardship. Property is necessary and good but held in trust, to be used under God for the benefit of all.
2. Man grows to full status in his responsibilities to others, toward nature and to God through personal involvement in various natural groupings such as family, neighborhood, school, job and worship.
3. What is natural is not necessarily good and what is divine is not necessarily in accord with man's laws. Man's compliance with secular authority is not to he in conflict with divine revelation.
4. Laziness and waste are sins before God, no less than selfishness, greed, envy and lust.6
5. God has a definite plan for each individual. Finding that plan through the confession of sins and acceptance of Christ as divine restorer brings freedom from fear, true purpose for the existence of man and nature, and a divine perspective for intelligent action.
These principles should affect attitudes toward the control of nature and the disposal of wastes.
1. The accumulation of material goods should not be the main goal of people whose basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and security have been met. Instead, people should seek spiritual and social goals, keep nature beautiful and use durable goods. This preference for durability would create the need for an entirely new group of high or medium quality products.
2. People should not become indolent, wasteful, litterbugs but use their time creatively.
3, Motivation for action should be based not on fear but on the desire for responsible stewardship.
4. It is not yet time to relax when politicians have found the "courage" to compel the whole country to use pollution control devices and to ban manmade "poisons" such as cyclamates and DDT, despite great commercial pressure. Considering the evidence that led to the hasty ban on cycla mates,
The Christian engineer cannot blindly fulfill his technological functions and ignore their moral consequences.
Gerald Leach writes in The Observer:
The only conceivable explanation for this extraordinary saga is that the government and its advisers were pressed ton hard by mounting public fears that we are all being slowly poisoned by fond additives, pesticides and the like, when a convenient scapegoat came along, they threw it to the wolves to keep them quiet.7
Another convenient scapegoat was the United States automobile industry which will be required to install expensive emission control devices on all cars, irrespective of where the cars are to be used. It makes little sense to compel the farmers of the Dakotas to purchase the same $500 device which the commuters in Los Angeles need,
5. It is the Christian engineer who can and must sort out symptoms and causes,
and offer solutions and judgments. For modern man's viewpoint in a
culture is, as Francis Schaeffer contends, "without any
categories, and without
any base upon which to build."8
6. Engineers must be concerned with ways of meeting human needs by conserving depletable natural resources and by optimizing the recycling of waste materials. Long term side effects should be considered and analyzed.
7. Engineers will find new usefulness in moderating the interaction between the individual, society and technology. To develop what he calls the "technological morality", Phillip Meyers suggests three types of group activities for engineers;
a) Provide qualified, unbiased group judgment on technological costs and thus indirectly on technological feasibility.
b) Provide qualified, unbiased group judgment and evaluation of proposed national policies involving technology and of the action or lack of action by government agencies charged with overseeing and executing the technological aspects of government policies.
c) Educate the lay public (including public officials) in a factual, unbiased manner on the technological problems and judgments lacing our society.9
8. Those who have not made the wonderful discovery of a personal God and are therefore often compelled by fear must be shown the way to achieve freedom, worthy goals and a new perspective. It may be that more Christians will
dedicate their lives to sharing their Christian experiences. Many non-Christians are dedicating their lives to a search for solutions to poverty, education, bigotry, congestion and pollution. But the elimination of the pollution of the human mind and heart must be accomplished before society can properly chart a course for the elimination of environmental pollution.
In regard to pollution, it is the responsibility of the
Christian engineer to
1. Be a conscientious, diligent professional.
2. Share his Christian experience to bring man into a proper relationship with God and so give perspective to the ecological crisis.
3. Understand conditions and causes of pollution and develop solutions and provide judgments on their technological feasiblity and and costs, educate others and embark on a reasoned course of action based on proper priorities.
It is the responsibility of the consumer to;
1. Demand, and he willing to pay for the necessary pollution control devices on products purchased and on the factories and equipment producing the goods and services used.
2. Act intelligently to help solve existing problems at the opportune time.
3. De-emphasize the competitive accumulation of material goods and substitute more worthy goals for the benefit of mankind.
4. Be diligent, not wasteful and value work,
5. Praise the Lord.
1Angus MacBcon quoted by Mark Wilson "Ecological Zeal Decried", The Province, Dec. 2, 1970.
2Bob Stedfeld, "The Gypsy Moth", Machine Design, No. 12, 1970, p. 131.
3"Just Between Us", Gas Turbine International, March, April 1971.
4"How to Clean a Car and How Soon?", Life.
5Sumner Alpert, "The Engineer & Society, New Challenges New Responsibilities", Auto Tug., Nov. 1970, Vol. 78, No. 11, p. 28.
6World Council of Churches, meeting in Evanston, 1954, reported in D.L. Munby, Christianity and Economic Problems, London, Macmillan, 1956, pp. 252-266.
7Reprinted in The Vancouver Sun, November 14, 1969, p. 5.
8Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, Wheaton, Tyndale, 1970, p. 13.
9JPhillip S. Meyers, "Technological Morality and the Automotive Engineer", Auto. Tug., February 1971, Vol. 79, No. 2, p. 26.