Introduction

Since scientific advances can be applied in many different ways, some good and some evil, technology raises many moral problems. The development of new means of generating energy is no exception. A new technology may displace a well-established one; this benefits the whole community and provides new opportunities for employment, but will inevitably destroy the jobs and lifestyle of those working in the older industry. This is no argument against the new developments, but it requires concerted action to alleviate the distress of the unemployed workers, and ensure that whenever possible they are re-trained for other work.

Many new technological advances can be used both for good and evil purposes. Thus nuclear power stations can be used to produce electricity and also to make fissile material for bombs. This is no argument against a new technology, for otherwise it would be immoral to make knives. It is different if the technology has only an evil purpose and there is continuing argument about whether this is the case for nuclear weapons.

It is much the same for all methods of generating energy, for as described in Chapter 5 there is no perfectly safe way to do this. Whatever method we use will involve the likelihood of people being killed and injured. Certainly we are obliged to reduce these as far as we can, but it is not possible to eliminate them entirely. It is not only the workers who are concerned as there are usually deleterious effects on the whole of society, particularly in the case of fossil fuel power stations.

The responsibility of choosing the optimum choice of energy sources lies first with the Government and all those involved in the design, construction, running and maintenance of these energy sources. Moral problems can arise even for a scientist asked to work on a fundamental problem. He may know that it is the intention of his sponsor to apply it for a purpose that he considers immoral. He may then consider that it is his moral duty to refuse to work on such a problem. I knew one such case where the scientist refused, and another scientist undertook the work. As it happened, the result proved useless for the hoped-for immoral applications but had many useful and legitimate applications. It was one more illustration of the general experience that it is impossible to foresee the results of any piece of research.

Intractable moral problems arise when a new technological advance renders an existing industry obsolete; such cases are considered in Section 10.2. The moral questions require the guidance of Church leaders, and their responses to the energy problem are considered in Section 10.3. Some misleading statements about energy questions are listed in Section 10.4 and conclusions are drawn in Section 10.5.

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