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Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

How do science, engineering, and the technologies that result from them affect the ways in which people live? How do they affect the natural world?

From the earliest forms of agriculture to the latest technologies, all human activity has drawn on natural resources and has had both short- and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of both people and the natural environment. These consequences have grown stronger in recent human history. Society has changed dramatically, and human populations and longevity have increased, as advances in science and engineering have influenced the ways in which people interact with one another and with their surrounding natural environment.

Science and engineering affect diverse domains—agriculture, medicine, housing, transportation, energy production, water availability, and land use, among others. The results often entail deep impacts on society and the environment, including some that may not have been anticipated when they were introduced or that may build up over time to levels that require attention. Decisions about the use of any new technology thus involve a balancing of costs, benefits, and risks—aided, at times, by science and engineering. Mathematical modeling, for example, can help provide insight into the consequences of actions beyond the scale of place, time, or system complexity that individual human judgments can readily encompass, thereby informing both personal and societal decision making.

Human populations and longevity have increased, as advances in science and engineering have influenced the ways in which people interact with one another and with their surrounding natural environment.

Not only do science and engineering affect society, but society’s decisions (whether made through market forces or political processes) influence the work of scientists and engineers. These decisions sometimes establish goals and priorities for improving or replacing technologies; at other times they set limits, such as in regulating the extraction of raw materials or in setting allowable levels of pollution from mining, farming, and industry. (p. 212-213)

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