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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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1. Environmental Impact

The built environment, the world of houses and cities, is considered responsible for two-fifths of the world’s energy consumption. In the United States, it is estimated that one-sixth of all energy is used for air-conditioning alone on hot summer days; this can go up to 43 percent of the peak power load.1 The impact on the environment is obviously enormous. The US Department of Energy estimates that heating and cooling systems in the United States emit each year over half a billion tons of carbon dioxide and generate about a fourth of the sulfur dioxide that goes into the atmosphere (sulfur dioxide is the main ingredient in acid rain).2 According to the World Resources Institute, heating, cooling and lighting buildings together make up 12 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions (which amounts to about 3 percent of global warming gases).3

A telling metaphor for the environmental impact of the built environment is its “ecological footprint.” The term was introduced by William Rees in 1992 to indicate the bioproductive land and water area that is required to support a human population with food and timber products and to assimilate wastes and emissions such as carbon dioxide. The ecological footprint is expressed in terms of “global hectares” (gha) and “global hectares per person” (gha/cap). Herbert Girardet has calculated the footprint of London in 1996 when it had around 7 million inhabitants and was covering a surface area of 158,000 ha.4 Given prevailing ...

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