Our textbook

Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment. Edited by Dr. Eric Chivian, Dr. Michael McCally, Dr. Howard Hu, and Dr. Andrew Haines. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts (1993).
This book is a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The PSR was a recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Fact Sheet

Freshman Seminar

Fall 1996

(FSEM 100; class # 40653)

Technology and the Environment


Dr. Najm Meshkati

Institute of Safety and Systems Management
SSM 205
Telephone: (213) 740-8765
Fax: (213) 740-5043
Email: meshkati@usc.edu
University of Southern California
University Park
Los Angeles, California 90089-0021

Seminar Description

It has been said that a paradox of our time is "the mixed blessing of almost every technological development." The relationships between technology and the environment are also paradoxical, complex and multifaceted. Technology could be regarded as the source of many environmental problems which at the same time, it is only through further technological development that solutions to these problems can be found. Cases in point are: preventing global warming and cleaning up hazardous (nuclear and chemical) waste sites. Furthermore, technology is a major building block of the two pillars of environmental conservation and restoration: pollution prevention and waste management.

The major objective of this seminar is to demonstrate the different safety, health and environmental facets of technology. This is done by analyzing the sources of grave environmental problems, investigating the causes of major industrial accidents, and discussing lessons and proposed solutions. The role and effects of national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies, regulations and accords will also be discussed. Concepts of "sustainable development," "environmentally conscious manufacturing," "design for environment," "life cycle analysis," etc. will be reviewed.

The role of international activities and entities in the technology and environment arena such as the Agenda 21, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Bank [e.g., Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Vice Presidency for the Environmentally Sustainable Development ], etc. will be discussed in this Seminar.

In addition to the so-called creeping environmental problems, caused by some industries, human ingenuity can now create technological systems whose accidents rival in their effects the greatest of natural disasters; sometimes with even higher death tolls and greater environmental damage. The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union in April 26, 1986, demonstrated, for the first time, that the effects of any such nuclear accident would not be localized, but rather would spill over into neighboring countries and have global consequences. According to a recent book on Chernobyl, this accident may ultimately claim more victims than did World War II. Environmental damages included: the two million acres of land in Belarus and Ukraine that cannot be exploited normally which comprise 20 percent of Belarus' farmland, one-fifth (1/5) of the republic of Belarus' more than 10 million people have to be moved from areas contaminated by radiation, including 27 cities and more than 2,600 villages, and it will take up to 200 years to "totally wipe out" the effects of the accident in the affected areas. The radioactive fallout resulting from Chernobyl was detected all over the world, from Finland to South Africa. Specifically, the Europeans, in addition to serious health concerns, have had to deal with significant economic losses and serious, long-lasting environmental consequences. The United States has not been immune from Chernobyl's fallout, either . "Effects of the Chernobyl accident were even apparent in the small but statistically significant excess mortality in the U.S. in May 1986." This phenomenon has been described most succinctly as a nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere.

Presently there are 16 Chernobyl-type reactors, operating in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Finland. Even Alexei V. Yablokov, President Yeltsin's counselor for ecological affairs, has stated that all the commercial nuclear reactors operating on Russian territory are nothing better than "bombs temporarily generating electricity." However, because of their major share in energy generation and the lack of alternative sources, at least in the near future, shutting them down is out of question.

Seminar Procedures

According to USC procedures, a Freshman Seminar typically meets 10-12 times per semester. Material will be presented in a variety of ways. These will include: text related material, lectures, handouts (published articles and unpublished manuscripts), discussions, case studies, videos, and guest speakers. Additionally, the instructor may present alternative approaches, theories, models, and points of view that are different from the reading material. While this may not represent personal beliefs, it is often helpful in:

- familiarizing the student with different theoretical models used in the discussed subject matters, and

- give the student a chance to examine his/her own studies, experiences, and integrate these with other sources of information.

Suggested Textbook, Readings and References

Main textbook:

Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment. Edited by Dr. Eric Chivian, Dr. Michael McCally, Dr. Howard Hu, and Dr. Andrew Haines. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts (1993). [This book is a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The PSR was a recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.]

Selected journal articles (handouts) and the following reference books:

- Ausubel, J. H and H. E. Sladovich (Eds.) (1989). Technology and Environment. Washington. D.C.: National Academy Press.

- Allenby B.R. and D.J. Richards (Eds.) 1994). The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Engineering, National Academy Press.

- Makhijani, A., Howard, H. and Yih, K. (1995). Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and its Health and Environmental Effects. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

- Meshkati, N. (1991). Human Factors in Large-Scale Technological Systems' Accidents: Three Mile Island, Bhopal, Chernobyl. Industrial Crisis Quarterly, 5, 133-154.

- Read, Piers Paul (1993). Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl. New York: Random House.

- Shirvastava, Paul (1992). Bhopal: Anatomy of a Crisis (2nd ed.). London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

- Casey, Steven (1993). Set Phasers on Stun. Santa Barbara: Aegean.

Grading Basis

Grades will be based on active participation and assignments.

Participation. Informed and cogent comments about the readings, lectures, case studies, and presentations are ways of meeting this requirements. However, please do not confuse quality and quantity.

The key to effective participation and maximum course benefit is to come to class prepared. Read critically; while it is not necessary to write it down, be prepared to present your arguments and their underlying rationale in class.

Assignments. To be assigned from course material and other sources for specific classes. Assignments include: article evaluation (critique) and other written exercises.

Performance on these dimensions will be appraised by the instructor.