Regarded only as a failure in the plant's function, the accident at Chernobyl amounts to a serious but local fire that destroyed the plant. But the resultant release of radioactivity threatens many thousands of people all over Europe with cancer.
A free lunch is really a debt. In the technosphere, a debt is an acknowledged but unmet cost-the mortgage on a factory building for example. Such a debt is tolerable because the technosphere is a system of production which-if—it functions properly-generate—goods that represent wealth potentially capable of repaying the debt. In the technosphere, debts are repald from within and, at least in theory, are always capable of being paid off, or, in some cases, canceled. In contrast, when the debts represented by environmental pollution are created by the technosphere and transferred to the ecosphere, they are never canceled; damage is unavoidable. The debts represented by the radioactivity disseminated from the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and by the toxic chemicals that enveloped Bhopal, have not been canceled. These debts were merely transferred to the victims, and are paid as they sicken and die.
Since they inhabit both worlds, people are caught in the clash between the ecosphere and the technosphere. What we call the "environmental crisis"-the array of critical unsolved problems ranging from local toxic dumps to the disruption of global climate-is a product of the drastic mismatch between the cyclical, conservative, and self-cons-processes of the ecosphere and the linear, innovative, but ecologically disharmonious processes of the technosphere.