Volume 1, Issue 4 
4th Quarter, 2006

Employing Geoethics to Avoid Negative Nanotechnology Scenarios in Developing Countries

Guido David Núñez-Mujica

The following article was submitted to the editors of Terasem’s Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology by Guido David Núñez-Mujica, a humanities and earth-conscious biology student from the Los Andes University in Merida, Venezuela. Núñez-Mujica was Winner of the 2006 World Transhumanist Association’s J.B.S. Haldane Award for Best Undergraduate Transhumanist Paper advancing transhumanist thought, analysis or applications.

Intensifying the current trends of using fewer raw materials per unit of manufactured consumer goods will eventually lead to fewer mining extractions and the preservation of natural resources. Applying nanotechnology to recycling will improve today’s efficiency rates and enable the extraction of materials from sources that are currently impossible. This would make an almost perfect recycling system feasible. However, integrating these trends in industrialized Western countries could decrease their import needs to almost zero, threatening the export markets of developing nations as new technologies render junkyards and landfills a good source of raw materials. In discussing the crucial role of geoethics within such a scenario, several measures must be taken to ensure the economic, environmental and social welfare of affected Third World developing countries, as they will be severely affected by a loss of foreign trade.

Despite the astounding growth of the world’s economy, the physical impact of it has not grown at the same pace. In fact, thanks to new technologies, new materials, and smaller components, the volume of manufactured goods is steadily Mujicashrinking. This trend is called dematerialization, and is defined as: “the absolute or relative reduction in the quantity of materials required to serve economic functions” [1].

Replacing heavier and scarce materials in industry with lighter and more abundantly available materials has been a constant practice within industrial research and development, which has lead to an astonishing saving of resources. A heavy, old coaxial cable made of copper carries far less data traffic than a fiber optic cable made of silicon, a far cheaper and more ubiquitous material. Plastics and resins have replaced much of the metal in cars, leading to a decreased net weight.

The importance of a given material in the economy can be measured by dividing its consumption by the Gross Domestic Product. Employing this analysis makes it possible to see the dramatic decrease in materials such as timber, steel, copper, and lead since 1900; almost in an exponential fashion. This does not means that the net consumption has dropped. On the contrary, it has grown, but not at the same pace as the economy.[2] The incremental consumption of some materials, such as lead and steel, is further exacerbated by high recycling rates.

To achieve sustainable development, recycling has been encouraged and is being pursued as a responsible and environmentally friendly practice. Recycling rates have increased over the years. For certain items, more than 50% of the amount used in industry comes from recycling. In terms of energy, recycling can be more efficient than extracting raw materials when compared to the huge amount of work and energy needed for mining ores. Waste management is an equally important factor.

The profitability of recycling a given resource and its impact on dematerialization depends on three factors: 1) The ease of its isolation amidst a huge amount of waste; 2) whether the material is available in large amounts in a uniform fashion, rather than being mixed with other materials; and 3) the intrinsic value of the material.[3]

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1. Treder, Mike. About Geoethical Nanotech, Center for Reponsible Nanotechnology web site. August 10, 2006 2:36 P.M.

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2. Scarlett, L. “Hacer más con menos. Desmaterialización, ¿Triunfo ambiental desdeñado?” Reporte Tierra, la Herencia del Siglo XX. McGraw Hill Interamericana, Ciudad de México 2000. (back to top)

3. Ibid. (back to top)



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