Thursday, January 15, 2015

“Environmental Ethics: Human Life and the Environment”

International Congress on Bioethics, December 5-7, 2005
Reaction to Dr. Michael (Cheng-tek) Tai Paper
By Dr Abe V. Rotor

It is a special privilege to be a member of the panel of reactors in this international congress on bioethics. I am specially honored to react on the paper presented by a distinguished expert, Dr. Michael (Cheng-tak) Tai, a topic which deals with the greatest revolution that has ever gripped the world - a revolution which has no boundaries – physical, political, religious, cultural and economic – Environmental Revolution.

Environmental revolution has actually started with the age of industrialization, and it will take a very long time and a very complex process to be able to settle it. Environmental revolution does not pit man against nature, as it had been since the dawn of mankind. It is not the conventional revolution of society where man is pitted against man, or nation against nation for political reasons. It is not religious war. It is not a war of ideologies.

For the first time we humans must work together to preserve nature for the very survival of our species, and for the sake of saving Mother Earth, our only home and spaceship which carries all of us in our journey into the perilous unknown universe. It is a war we cannot afford to lose because it also spells the survival of the whole living world.

Let me state the some environmental concerns related to the topic of Dr. Tai’s paper, and relate them with current situations, understanding and outlook.

1.There are conflicting views of change. Scientific knowledge and government policies often disagree and run into conflict at each other. Economic and ecology, though they share a common root word and foundation, are strange bedfellows, so to speak.

Yet these entities support common goals geared toward change. Change has to be viewed more than the measures of GNP, ROI, currency exchange rate, balance of trade, and the like, and should not only be confined to Human Development Indices, such as literacy rate, mortality rate and population density. While these are considered immediate parameters mainly to benefit man and his society, certain questions on sustainability and environmental preservation are left unanswered. How do we ensure future generations. We feel more and more wary about the term progress. We ask ourselves what is “progress without conscience?” And whose development? What is the relationship between progress with posterity?

I remember the late Dr. Dioscorro Umali, national scientist, who addressed the graduating class of UP Diliman in 1992 with this moving statement, “Be the heroes we never were.” The essence of his speech is that the previous - and especially the present generation - have left little for the next generations to inherit. “We have not only abused the bounties of Nature,” he said, “we have destroyed her as well. The hero concept of Dr. Umali revolutionizes traditional and conventional definition of a hero. He is more than a nationalist, an economist, or an ideologist as we know, but a hero for Mother Earth, borrowing the term of Time Magazine.
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Today, rather than defending himself against nature, man realized, he needed to defend nature against himself.

- AV Rotor, Light from the Old Arch
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2.Who are heroes for Mother Earth?

Environmental movements have roots traced to ancient cultures as can be gleamed from our own centuries old Ifugao Rice Terraces. Throughout history as civilizations grew and spread the environment became a sacrificial lamb. Such euphoric phrases “all roads leading to Rome,” “the beauty that glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome,” “the sun never sets on English soil,” and the eight wonders of the world may reflect man’s ultimate achievements, yet all these were ephemeral in the mist of time in man’s dreams. In the end, it was nature that took them from the hands of man. The loss of natural environments has lead to the decline of civilizations and their subsequent demise.
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Revival of environmental awareness came at the heels of the Renaissance. In the 12th century St. Francis of Assisi brought a new concept of devotion. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the creatures on Earth our friends, laid down the foundation of naturalism in the Christian church reviving much of the Aristotelian naturalism. It is fitting that St. Francis of Assissi is regarded as the father of ecology.
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Time Magazine came up with a list of heroes for Planet Earth, among them are naturalist philosophers or conservationist philosophers are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson.

· Emerson claimed that “behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present.”

· Thoreau spoke of the side of “truth in nature and wilderness over the deceits of civilization.”

· Muir believed that “wilderness mirrors divinity, nourishes humanity, and vivifies the spirit.”

· Leopold was behind the development of policies in wilderness and game management. “Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.”

· Carson published Silent Spring, which dramatized the potential dangers of pesticides to food, wildlife, and humans causing wide spread damage to the ecosystem.

· Chico Mendes was a front liner in environmental conservation. He lost his life defending the concept of “extractive reserves” to conserve the Brazilian Rainforest that provided livelihood of the people against the conversion of the forest into ranches and plantations.

Other heroes of planet Earth cited by Time include

· Barbara Ward, author of Only One Earth which shaped the UN environmental conference.

· Ernest Schumacher who did not believe in endless growth, mega-companies and endless consumption, author of Small is Beautiful, a best seller since the sixties.

· Jacques-Yves Cousteau, oceanographer who espoused the need to arrest the declining health of the oceans.

In the Philippines, Macli-ing, a staunch protector of ancestral lands in Kalinga-Apayao from the encroachment of the mammoth Upper Chico River dam, was gunned down allegedly to silence him. All aver the world there are the likes of Macli-ing, like Chico Mendes, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a leader from the Ogoni tribe, and many more who, we may compare to the Unknown Soldier, but this time a soldier in defense of nature.
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We must be prudent in endorsing people for their contributions to the environment until parameters are clearly set, and that we should allow time to make the final judgment. A case in point is DDT, the miracle pesticide against malaria in the forties and fifties. For this the discoverer received the Nobel Award. But in the following years it was discovered that DDT is a poison that persists in the food chain, making it harmful to living organisms and deleterious to human health. AVR
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3. People have varying opinions when defining Environmental Philosophy. There are those who believe that nature shall serve humanity. On the other hand there are those who believe that humanity shall serve nature. And there are those who say, it is “something in between”.

Nature, growth, and progress are concepts that we all use, but which we seldom define either in discussion or to ourselves. We speak about environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, eco-philosophy, and so on, but what do we put into these concepts? We seldom make them explicit or draw conclusions from them. “Trying to answer these philosophical questions does not, of course, in itself solve any environmental problems,” say ecologists Enger and Smith, “but on the other hand it is questionable whether we can solve these problems without discussing them on a philosophical level.”

It is then important to view environmental philosophy with ethics and morals. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that seeks to define fundamentally what is right and what is wrong, regardless of cultural differences. Morals differ somewhat from ethics because morals reflects the predominant feelings of a culture about ethical issues.

How do we illustrate this? A student of mine asked me this question, “Is it a sin to cut a tree?” This question touches ethics and morals, above social and economic considerations. It also pertains to legislation, such as whether we should advocate total log ban or selective logging. It even boils down to analyzing a syndrome known as “tragedy of the commons.” Let us analyze it this way.

a. The naturalistic concept that trees are the source of life is losing its essence as communities grow, and as people tend to move and live in urban places. It is a concept that is being taken for granted even as people become learned. Yet since evolutionary time plants have been providing the basic needs of man – food, clothing, shelter, medicine and energy. The harvesting of plants and their products has been part of human sustenance, as such they must be used properly. This ethnic view was also the basis of early agriculture. It is the key to a sustainable relationship between man and nature that lasted for aeons of time.

b. Like Gold Rush, new lands became the target of economic exploitation, as the frontiers were pushed to the limit. New lands were placed under agriculture, which included our own Mindanao. Accessibility to forests and the wildlife became more and more feasible. Original forests were replaced with ranches, and plantations. Economics was the name of the game. In spurred the second green revolution, and agriculture dominated the trade and industry of the world. It eroded the ethnic relationship between man and nature. Beliefs about the tree spirit, forest deities (Maria Makiling), and nature worships have become mere superstitions and legends relegated to books and comics.

c. The final blow followed – industrialization. It is not only food that preoccupied man. Want over need incessantly drives man to convert lands into golf courses, human settlements, industrial sites, and all kinds of infrastructures. Imagine how easy, and how short a time it takes to destroy a whole forest which nature built for hundreds if not thousands of years, with giant machines of today. It is said that by the time we finish reading a paragraph of average length, three hectares of forest shall have been destroyed.

d. Post-modernism – a paradox of living tomorrow as we grope at the forefront of progressive innovation which usually means “violating traditional norms or ideas in all fields if human concern,” quoting Dr. Florentino Hornedo. “The human being who has abandoned his essence, nature and origin has also given up purpose and aim of existence. Life then becomes a “free play” of what forces may come which construct existence. Neither is there personhood or self to be ethically responsible for one’s action.”

I use this statement to raise questions of accountability of our actions, individually or by group. A businessman who is armed with a franchise to cut down a forest is understood to have accepted the attendant responsibility stipulated in the contract, which may include provisions in selective logging and replanting. But these are far from sufficient in providing the vital safety net of protecting the community and the environment.

I go back to the question, “Is it a sin to cut a tree?” This time the concept of the action has far reaching consequences based on the above-mentioned premises. I would return the question with reference to actual incidents.

· Who is responsible for the Ormoc City (Southern Leyte) tragedy caused by mudslide from a logged watershed? In this incident hundreds of residents were killed and millions of pesos were lost.

· The tragedy was repeated ten years after but on a lesser scale. As the perpetrators in the first tragedy have remained scot-free, so with those in the second tragedy.

· Two years have passed since the Real, Quezon, landslide that was similarly caused by massive illegal logging. What actions have government and society done?

· The Marinduque case of poisoning rivers and coastlines with mine tailings, which as a result, continue to destroy the ecosystem and deprive thousands of fisher folks from their livelihood. To date after twenty years the issue remains unsolved.

· Deserts continue to expand as a result of human activities. So with siltation of rivers and lake, shortening their usefulness and life span.

· Our Pantabangan dam, Ambuklao dam, and Binga dam, are heavily silted as a result of cutting down trees on their watershed. It is indeed a waste.

· All over the world we find similar cases: the shrinking of the Aral Sea in Russia, desertification, and marginalization of farmlands.

· The worst result in the endangerment of natural habitats and species, leading to irreversible loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

All these lead us to re-examine our values. It challenges to look deeper into a paradigm of salvation through the regard we have on our environment.
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There are few frontiers of production left today. We have virtually pushed back the sea and leveled off the mountain. Prime lands have all been taken, swamps have been drained, and even deserts are being reclaimed. But as we continue to explore the marginal edges of these frontiers the more we are confronted with high cost of production that is levied on the consumer, and more importantly, the danger of destroying the fragile environment. AVR
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4. Ecological Paradigm (Why is Mother Earth complaining?)

The prolificacy of the human species sans war and pestilence, plus growing affluence of our society led to a population explosion which doubled in less than fifty years. We are now over six billion. This paradigm, master and subject have joined hands to exploit the earth’s finite resources. Our best economists may not be good housekeepers of Nature. While the aim is directed at the Good Life, they have unwittingly reduced the very foundation of that good life – the productivity and beauty of Mother Earth.

Ecological paradigm endorses an ecocentric approach where all forms of life and non-life are important to human life. Spirituality points out to a unitive force: the sacredness of everything. God’s divinity flows in everything. There is inte1gration in the universe. And we are part of that integration, exceedingly small as we are, notwithstanding.

Under ecological paradigm of salvation, the man responsible in the destruction of the environment leading to loss of lives and properties should be held accountable for it. Salvation does not come easy in this particular case, because he is not only responsible for the actual loss, but in healing nature back to health, so to speak. He cannot just get away with his ill-gotten wealth, he has to use it – among other resources - to amend his wrong doings.

5. Business versus Environment. The environment and the economy need not be viewed as opposites. It is possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time. More and more businesses have begun adopting this concept as a business philosophy. People behind business organizations are becoming more aware of the ethical decisions they face, and their responsibility for their consequences.

A multi-national corporation, responding to the provisions of GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CERES (Coalition of Environmental Responsible Economies), UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program), came up with the following thrusts:

· Restore and preserve the environment

· Reduce waste and pollution

· Education of the public on environmental conservation

· Work with government for sound and responsible environmental program

· Assess impact of business on the environment and communities.

More and more businesses are looking at this model with favor.

Industrialization and urbanization are akin to each other. Industrial growth spurred the building of cities all over the world. Today there are as many people living in cities as those living the rural places. A mega-city like Tokyo has a population of 15 million people. We are 10 million in Metro Manila. Cities are fragile environments. Cities are more prone to epidemics such as the bubonic plague that killed one-third of the population of Europe. Now we are confronted with HIV-AID, SARs, meningo cochcimia – and the dreaded Avian flu which hovers as the next human pandemic disease. AVR
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6. Antarctica, World Park. One of the few places on earth unexploited by humans is Antarctica. Not now, not until recently. With the Antarctic Treaty of 1991 declares that “Antarctica shall be open to all nations to conduct scientific or other peaceful activities there,” seven countries have already laid overlapping claims on the continent, which comprises one-tenth of the world’s total land area. Thousands of tourists are now visiting Antarctica every year. Scientific research is economically motivated, such as oil exploration, with geopolitical or military objectives in mind. Earlier – in the 1970s New Zealand proposed designating an Antarctica World Park, making it an international wilderness area. On the ecological point of view, Antarctica is fragile with simple and short food chains that support few organisms such as the penguin, whales, shrimp-like krill. Any slight disturbance is likely to upset the delicate balance. We have already caused the growing hole of the ozone layer above Antarctica through unabated release of CFCs , and fossil-fuel combustion worldwide.

Would humanity be better served by developing the natural resources of Antarctica than turning it into a world park and preserve its ecological balance? We also ask the same question to areas similar to Antarctica, such as the pristine wildlife of Canada, Greenland, the Yukon Territories, the unexplored islands of the Pacific, and main Amazon Basin.

7. Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gases. On December 10, 1997, 160 nations reached agreement in Kyoto, Japan, to limit emission of CO2 and other gases in order to arrest Greenhouse Effect threatening the whole world. But not all countries, signed the treaty, among them the US and Australia. Actually the Kyoto Protocol is not new. In 1992, some 170 countries ratified a similar treaty reducing emission of gases to the level of 1990 by 2000, but this did not yield the desired result.

8. Ecology and Stock Exchange. In 2000, Earth Sanctuaries was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, making it the world’s first conservation company to go public. We know that conservation efforts have been conventionally under foundations and government projects. But this time this intriguing approach to conserving the environment has raised as lot of questions. Does the market place really have a role in habitat preservation? Is this approach really conserving natural ecosystem or just creating large zoos? Would we rather save and give our children good education that helps rescue an endangered animal? Indeed the conflict between maximizing profits and conservation raises ethical issues.

9. Ecology advertising. In the supermarket we find tags, organically grown, environment-friendly, eco-safe, environmentally safe, children-safe, ozone-friend, and so on. But are these claims true? Consider the following:

· Look for the three-phase symbol of recycling – three interacting arrows to form a triangle.

· When buying a refrigerator or aircoinditioner get the one that is freon-free, ozone friendly. Be sure the purchase is covered by company guarantee.

· Producers of food claimed to be safe, such as organically grown, must be able to show a reliable track record. It is good to trace the source of food that we eat, from beginning with production to processing, and ultimately to the dining table.

· Even materials claimed to be biodegradable, photo-degradable, and the like, may not be readily converted into safe materials. As a general rule, save money from “over-packaged” commodities, and you save the environment as well. Don’t be misled by package advertising, how attractive it may appear.

References

Rotor AV (2004) The Living with Nature Handbook, UST 207 pp Rotor AV (2001) Light from the Old Arch, UST, 215 pp
Enger ED and BF Smith (1992) Environmental Science: A Study on Interrelationship, McGraw NY 486 pp
Scherff JS et al (1991) The Mother Earth Handbook: What you need to know and do – at home, in your community, and through your church – to help heal our planet now, Continuum 320 pp

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