Techno-fixes to environmental problems almost certainly create secondary, unforeseen consequences. Techno-fixes operate in three distinct ways with regard to the problem: as transformative, as re-locational, and as delaying (LeCain, 138). A transformative fix is one that changes the nature of the problem, so that it may be perceived as having been solved. A re-locational fix is one that moves the problem out of the immediate area or realm of visibility. A delaying fix is one that appears to solve the issue, but really just ends up delaying the consequences. These modalities are illustrated in LeCain’s examples of the Tennessee Copper Company and the Anaconda smelter. The copper company’s solution to the problem of sulfur dioxide gas was to transform it into sulfuric acid, thereby creating a “profitable by-product” (140). This by-product was then used in fertilizers and exported around the country. In these ways, the copper company’s solution was transformative and re-locational. Similarly, the techno-fix employed by the Anaconda smelter was a device called the “electrostatic precipitator” (148), which captured arsenic. The arsenic was used in pesticides, which were also dispersed from the immediate area. Arsenic did eventually continue to pollute the air, although the effects were not as immediate or visible. In this way, the techno-fix at the Anaconda smelter was transformative, re-locational, and delaying. It is precisely because techno-fixes transform, re-locate, and delay environmental problems that they appear to be fixes, when really it is difficult to view the full scope of their effects.
At this point in human history, we continue to require copper and other minerals to support our lifestyles. Techno-fixes do allow for some mitigation of the environmental problems caused by this dependency. LeCain urges us to be cautious in evaluating and depending entirely on techno-fixes; he acknowledges that it may be unrealistic to expect to become un-reliant on minerals and metals (151). To their credit, techno-fixes are engineered largely out of a genuine concern and reverence for the environment; however, engineers are limited by their technical, rather than wholistic, understanding of the world. I think that over the past several thousand millennia, the earth has undergone transformations beyond any one person’s comprehension; that human beings have put forth such an array of contrivances, abstractions, and tangible circumstances that almost nothing can be said with absolute certainty. That is to say, can we techno-fix our way out of this mess? I don’t know, I guess we’ll see..