Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
Eubios Ethics Institute
1. Love as a common basis for life
A blue sky also fills our soul with delight (Miura, 1998), but grey is usually depressing, though long-awaited rain can also be blessed. While blue is the ideal, if we are in drought the sign of a grey cloud can bring joy. Prayers for rain are seen universally in times of drought, whether it be Australia, New Zealand, India or Egypt. The blue sea is yet another ideal. Is it because we came from the sea, or our food comes from the sea? The blue ocean is clean and pure, like the Pacific. I live in Japan and New Zealand, two Pacific islands, and often see the coast or fly over the Ocean. The love of blue is soothing, and it is where I have asked my ashes be returned to.
Colour may also be important for our sense of cleanliness, and perhaps this was evolved as a safety method for avoiding drinking contaminated water. Polluted water from factories is more dramatic when it includes colour, such as waste water from dying industry or the pulp and paper industry. Oil spills discolour the sea, and bring much outcry. Invisible pollutants are better tolerated aesthetically, although they are often more toxic.
In the 1930s Leopold proposed a land ethic, to protect the land from further degradation, focusing on the degarded land although 70% of the world is covered by water and some have suggested aqua ethics may be a better term. Leopold (1949) proposed land ethic "as a mode of guidance for meeting ecological situations so new or intricate, or involving such deferred reactions, that the path of social expediency is not discernible to the average individual".
Despite the nice words and sentiments, from
the lack of practical concern shown for the environment it appears
that environmental protection is not a dominating motivation in
peoples lives. Environmental education is to teach
the facts about the environment. It can teach people our relationship
to other parts of nature. Environmental ethics education is more.
It is to teach how to incorporate the facts and values of different
organisms into ethical decision-making. Environmental ethics
education teaches how we should live, whereas environmental education
is linguistically descriptive, how we do live. However, much
of environmental education is actually also teaching some values.
But without teaching how to balance all interests, and facts
and values, it can be propaganda.
7.1. Is there love of life?
If such strong education is needed we can ask do we really have an inherent love for life and nature? By nature we include the natural world, both living and non-living. People do have a greater affinity for living beings than material objects in general, though some mountains and other landscape features have been given spiritual qualities and characters at times. The idea that there was an ether that made things alive special has been generally dismissed in mainstream science, but still many people feel more empathy for plants than for rocks.
The inter-relatedness of all living organisms can be readily seen in most ecosystems. All organisms need water, all organisms have the same genetic code and share similar genes. All creatures appear, at first sight at least, to be temporal, they live and they die. This relatedness is expressed by the idea that they are all alive. They share something - life. There is also a continuity between inorganic and organic, ecology refers to the relationship of every organism with the environment. Is there anything which distinguishes living organisms from non-living materials beyond that they use information to replicate, and that information is non-random?
Ed Wilson (1984) proposed the theory Biophilia, saying that human beings inherently have a love for nature. He defined it as "the innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes", noting that "to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place greater value on them, and on ourselves". It is still a matter of debate whether it is real or not (Kellert & Wilson, 1993). Included in the hypothesis is that the human inclination to affiliate with life is inherent (biologically based), part of our species evolutionary heritage, associated with human competitive advantage and genetic fitness, likely to increase the possibility for achieving individual meaning and personal fulfillment, and that it has a self-interested basis for a human ethic of care and conservation of nature. Although many in modern society seem to destroy nature, it is suggested that this many merely be a result of an unnatural estrangement with nature.
One of the aspects of nature which people seem to love is a diversity of living organisms. People put high value on biodiversity. The United Nations World Charter for Nature (1982) declared "Every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man". This type of valuation is extrinsic. We need to ask whether there is intrinsic value to nature and life? We could reconsider the term selfishness as the conservation of intrinsic value, but we left with a fact that "The planet loves life and so do we" (Rolston, 1993; 1994). We may not know where the value of life comes from, but every organism loves its own life, and at least tries to reproduce its own kind. Some organisms can picture others as themselves, giving extrinsic value to the other, but at least in their actions to love life, all try to survive (Figure 16).
If there is intrinsic value then we have even more reason not to do harm. Many want to protect nature, not because of its value or property, but simply because it is there. As Mary Midgley (1983) wrote about the duty of care and responsibility in the use of the terms "motherland" and "fatherland", "To insist that it is really only a duty to the exploiting human beings is not consistent with the emphasis often given to reverence for the actual trees, mountains, lakes, rivers and the life which are found there. A decision to inhibit this rich area of human love is a special maneuver for which reasons would need to be given, not a dispassionate analysis of existing duties and feelings."
This widespread respect for nature and life was seen in the results of the International Bioethics Survey and the comments and pictures have been reproduced in the book Bioethics for the People by the People (Macer, 1994). By more research into the way people look at nature, we can find shared universal ideas about the relationship of humans to the earth and human responsibility to nature. We can find images of life in statues and brand-names (Figure 17), to mention just a few aspects of imagery of life. We should emphasize the value of being alive and the principles of do no harm and environmental stewardship common to the roots of all people's beliefs.
In Japanese the word "inochi" can be translated as life, nature, the energy that holds things together. There are various images, as shown in comments about it (Macer, 1994), but the inochi of every living organism is distinct, unique, and equal (Morioka, 1991). The inochi departs when an organism dies, and is distinct from the idea of a soul. All organisms share the same amount of life, they are either dead or alive.
A similar idea is expressed in some ancient Greek thinking, and the idea continued in Western thinking with the idea of vitalism. There is a similar idea in Hebrew (Leavitt, 1994). This thinking was challenged by the discovery that the chemicals found in living organisms were the same as those found in inorganic matter. It is now possible to synthesize DNA from chemicals, and to use the information in such DNA to make proteins, such as an active enzyme. There is no longer anything vitalistic with the workings of a cell, and the genes can be changed around in a predictable way. What remains is undiscovered, but the basic mechanisms are becoming understood. However, we may still believe that life itself is special, no matter how it comes into being, or how much of the process we understand. Even if we understand the reason for a blooming flower we may still value its beauty. This value is distinct from the value given to a being because it has a soul, but there are similarities as mentioned above with regard to autonomy.
The idea of a vital energy of life is still found in many people's thinking. Even if they understand the biological reductionism of genetics they may still believe that there is a special "energy" or "essence" associated with being alive. Whether or not we do, we may still want to protect life. On the other hand, we may attempt to destroy diseases, because they destroy lives that we value.
There are numerous poems and images from the point of view of plants from around the world. They are used both as allegories for human love but also by that use in itself, suggest a feeling of one with other species. For example: When the fig feels called to speak its mind (Egypt - New Kingdom, Papryus Harris 500, Foster, 1974),
When the fig feels called to speak its mind, moving leaves begin to whisper:
If she ever decided to ask it, I would quietly die for my mistress. (Was ever lady so noble as me?)
If even her quickhanded slaves were not there, it is I would play humble servant.
I was brought from a wet, hostile land, uprooted as plunder for my beloved.
She had them set me here in the orchard; she saved me.
But the dear never lets me spend my day drinking nor fills my insides with sweet ditchwater.
How in the world can a girl enjoy life with such terrible thirst and not drinking?
By my deathless soul (if it survives), sweetheart, fetch me some water!
A more definite sympathy with the non-human is seen in Buddhist writings. For example in the Hymn to Friendliness in Pali literature in Theravada Buddhism (Sutta Nipata, Eliade, 1987), "May all be happy and safe! May all beings gain inner joy - all living beings whatsoever without exception, weak or strong, whether...seen or unseen, dwelling afar or near, born or yet unborn...may all beings gain inner joy."
An extension of love to other species could be considered under the concept of stewardship. Stewardship can apply to both the way people use other humans and the rest of nature. It has often been neglected, but has a long history in many religions, being central to a Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation. Usually people prefer to ignore it and to think of dominion of humans over the earth, treating the earth with little value, however we see what problems this has caused. There are numerous pollution problems that we can readily see, which affect humans and other species.
Throughout time many have considered nature has intrinsic value, but usually these calls have been neglected. Alfred North Whitehead (1925) in Science and the Modern World said "The western world is now suffering from the limited moral outlook of the three previous generations ... The two evils are: one, the ignoration of the true relation of each organism to its environment; and the other, the habit of ignoring the intrinsic worth of the environment which must be allowed its weight in any consideration of final ends". The intrinsic value of nature can be argued by Christian and Buddhist values, as shown by Schumacher (1968, 1974).
Human beings affect all the world, most directly
when they exploit or use resources. Human beings are dependent
upon this use, and we need to consider agriculture
and aquaculture in particular. Nature includes both agricultural
land, cities, and wilder regions - all is nature. We need to
have an integrated view, and not consider agricultural areas as
areas which are "artificial". At the same time plans
to green deserts with genetically engineered trees and plants
may concern us - though such future forests would be part of nature
- as would a potato making plastic.
7.2. Images of nature as a whole
The idea of holism suggests we should treat all of life as a whole system, not pulling apart the elements or individuals. While reductionism is useful for scientific investigation to understand mechanism and to break down problems, nature works as whole ecosystems together in a biosphere (Figure 18). This is analogous to trying to isolate individual persons from their family and communities as moral agents. Holism has been the norm through history.
Early human cultures worshipped the mystery of life in various ways. The earliest cultic figures from palaeolithic ages are mother figures. Mother Earth was worshipped under many names in America, India and Europe. Mother Earth is worshipped in some rituals, she is set against the Father of Heaven. The symbol leads to a more dualistic view of the world. The creation narratives in the Old Testament are polemics against the Canaanite matriarchical cults. The pre-Aryan, Indian Jains saw the Universe as a colossal human being, the organism of the World Mother was populated by living things without number. There are numerous other symbols that have been used for the world, like the feast, or the dance, the theatre, as music or as play. These ideas unite the things of the world together (Derrick, 1972). In a similar spirit, recently the Gaia hypothesis has been advanced, that the earth as a whole is alive (Lovelock, 1988).
In a Judeo-Christian view, nature is created by God, nature itself is not divine but is the handiwork of the Lord. Therefore humanity does not face a world full of ambiguous and capricious gods who are alive in the objects of the natural world. Nature is not terrifying, as it is to those primitive cultures that view every act as gods response to their actions. The Biblical view of the relation of man and nature is that they are both continually dependent on God. Humans have been told to subdue, cultivate and take care of the earth, to multiply and to have dominion over the created order (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). A Christian's vocation is to continue the "good" work of creativity (Berry, 1991). The world was made good, but humans chose evil. A very common alternative world view is that humans are innocent, but trapped in an evil world. We see this view in some Asian traditions that look on the visible universe as illusory or insignificant or evil. Matter is seen as relatively bad, goodness is only attributed to the spirit, and the religious task is to transcend the world.
Another metaphor is that the earth is just as a machine. This has led to a segregation of the divine from the world, including the world of human beings, and ultimately leads to atheism, that the world machine, and human beings, can function without God. It also leads to devaluation of nature and life (Azariah, 1994).
There are also scientific arguments supporting holism. Human life affects other organisms and the environment and it always will. We can see the effects of human activity everywhere in the world, in the atmosphere and throughout the oceans, from the poles to the tropics and from the coastal lowlands to the highest mountains. The amount of land that we use to live in and grow our food on, and the amount of resources that we use, can be easily seen. However, it is the substances and wastes that we produce that may have the greatest effect. We produce new substances and release very large quantities of naturally occurring substances that may disturb local and global cycles.
The flow of these substances is important. Such cycles do change with time. Nature has a history from a beginning and it changes, or evolves. The physical world regularly changes, for example ice ages. Some organisms die and others thrive. Nature has changed in dramatic ways in the past. The current number of different species that are alive may be only a few percent of the total species that have existed since the dawn of life. At no time in the past has nature been more dynamic than today because humans are rapidly changing it. We are raising the temperature of the earth. We are depleting the ozone layer and increasing the amount of UV radiation reaching the surface. We are causing the extinction of tens of thousands of species, and within our lifetime we may see the extinction of a quarter of the world's species. We are adding many pollutants to the environment. We are making many new crops, and are using genetic manipulation to change lifeforms themselves. We are increasing our population rapidly, which exponentially increases the problems. Today we can doubly say that nature is dynamic, maybe too much so!
Biodiversity is a word used to picture the great diversity of living organisms on the planet. Just as the individual processes of life are dynamic, so is the composite of the lifeforms. The idea of dynamism also implies a balance. This is illustrated by the words biosphere, foodwebs or ecosystem, with the largest ecosystem being nature itself. The dynamic nature is implied in both science - the second law of thermodynamics, and religion - in the religious doctrines, both Judeo-Christian creation and preservation; and other Asian religions with "harmony". Nature changes with time; some organisms die and others thrive, and has done so in dramatic ways in the past.
There are various religious stories to support preservation of biological diversity, the most famous of which is the story of Noah, which is shared by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. Noah preserved all the domestic and wild animals from environmental catastrophe, a catastrophe that it says was caused by the actions of humans. Modern efforts at conservation may focus on the whole ecosystem, such as protection of forests, or particular species, such as croccodiles (Figure 18).
The balance of nature, the way different species at different levels of the food web exist together, is delicate. Some eating others, while others eat them, and others dependent on the modification of the environment made by another species, with competitors at every level. There is an important inbuilt tendency for species to reproduce so quickly to be able to increase their numbers, yet this does not occur dramatically in a balanced ecosystem, in the competition for resources, the struggle for existence, each species tries to survive to reproduce. This concept is very old, it is seen in Plato's Timaeus who answers the question "in the likeness of what animal did the creator make the world?" with the answer that god did not make the world like any one species but rather as "one visible animal comprehending within itself all other animals of a kindred nature". The idea highlights how life itself is intertwined, in a web of complex relationships. There is also a continuity between inorganic and organic, ecology refers to the relationship of every organism to the environment.
Most people are aware of the loss of species and "nature". Because the abundance and complexity of ecosystems has not been able to be assessed, an accurate estimate of the rate of species loss is not currently possible. While less than 2 million species have been identified, 5-30 million remain yet to be identified. The problem of diversity loss is broader than the extinction of species, because diversity losses can occur at each level of biological organisation. Although the loss of a few individual species may seem unimportant, the disappearance of a few species can dramatically affect the ecosystem from where they disappeared. The current rate of loss of species is greater than the estimated rate that species evolve.
7.3. What is the integrity of nature?
We need to ask whether there is ethical value in having different species? While we can argue for human benefit from biodiversity, is there any ethical value in maintaining different species? Does it make any difference if the biodiversity is found in a rain forest or a botanic garden, in a wild hillside or in a golf course? There is also a value assigned to life because of its naturalness or unplanned structure, in extreme wilderness areas.
A related idea is that of "species integrity", which says that species should not be mixed, for example by genetic engineering. Modern biologists generally think of species as reproductive communities or populations. There is no universal or absolute rule that all species are discretely bounded in any generally consistent manner. One species may exchange little or no genetic material with related or adjacent species, while others may do so all the time. Species exist in nature as reproductive communities, not as separate creatures. The cross between a horse and a donkey, the mule, is certainly accepted in many cultures.
Both cell fusion (joining two cells together to make a cell containing parts or all of both cells) and genetic engineering techniques, allow species barriers to be readily overcome. To challenge the integrity of a species requires more than a single gene change. Mammals like mice contain 50,000 or more genes and changing a small number of genes will not violate species integrity. Preservation of each species as a species is important, so we should not lose each species' identity, but the question of changing the genetic identity of individuals for human utility is harder to answer. The new strains should not be thought of as special, man-made, forms of life, considering the wide genetic variation naturally occurring. In fact to think that we are the "makers" is "pretending to be God", or arrogance.
We can at best, or worst, generally only modify existing attributes. The exception is to add additional genes for human benefit, for example medical proteins in the milk of animals, or vaccines into banana. New genes can be designed by human ingenuity for generally medical reasons, but the ethical issue is what we do with them, not to modify something for human benefit - or else we should stop building houses, and more relevant, we would have to stop traditional agricultural breeding. For conservation of biodiversity we should maintain unmodified organisms and ecosystems separate from agricultural areas, and encourage diversity of crops.
Some people, from all countries, say that some developments of science and technology such as genetic engineering are interfering with nature because "nature knows best". Protests have been seen in all countries (Figure 19). In all activities we should not ignore the detrimental interventions that our lifestyle has upon nature. We have some good reasons to interfere with parts of nature, for example, we try to cure many diseases that afflict humans or other living organisms and we must eat.
The idea that genetic engineering is in some way interfering with nature lies more in the idea that genes are a foundation of life. The idea is that genes in some way are more sacred than other parts of the organism. However, DNA and entire genes can be made by purely synthetic procedures in a laboratory. A new catch phrase is "Genethics". Suzuki and Knudtson (1989) suggested that the problems raised by genetic technology cannot be dealt with ethically by existing ethical principles, or by Western morals, and we must turn to Eastern religion. However, the principle of stewardship is not limited to one region of the world or one religion. It can be balanced with support for the creativity of humanity to find new technology. While the use of genes may be seen as novel, we have had a very long history of genetic manipulation using conventional techniques of plant and animal breeding, but only recently do we understand the details of why they worked. We should consider our knowledge when implementing any new variety of organism, however it was made, there is no barrier to love based on method of creation.
Heyd (1992) and Bayertz (1994) also used the term "genethics" as book titles. Bayertz focuses on human reproduction, starting with contraception and eugenics, and discussing the idea of self-alteration. It also bases its conclusions on a reductionist view that genes determine what human beings are, and that we have not been substantially altering ourselves through culture and environment and education in the past.
For some there is a feeling that we should not explore all the secrets of life, that the mystery of life will be gone if we discover too much. However, as many scientists will say, the more we know, the more appreciative of the workings of life we become. The fact that we have practical requirements, such as to feed, house and heal people of the world, are major justifications for the pursuit of practical knowledge in any system of religion or philosophy that places a high value on human life, it is the principle of love.
A negative science fiction image has been easily promoted and is appealing to the human imagination. The fascination with creating "new forms of life" is coupled to a fear of how far it might be taken. The Frankenstein Factor was coined by Gaylin (1976) as a suitable name for the wild scenarios imagined by some people, which represent the fear of the unknown, as symbolised in the movie. There are many movies which play on similar themes, in 1993 the blockbuster movie Jurassic Park brought genetic engineering into the imagination of many. These are very powerful in shaping public perceptions. There have been many accusations that scientists are "creating new life forms", however, our present technology is capable only of transferring one or a few genes into a genetic background containing the order of a hundred thousand genes.
The term "Playing God" is a term applied to situations where humans make life or death decisions without reference to God, this being seen as pride or arrogance. It may not be the use of power and creativity that is wrong, but rather attributing power to our own resources. This reasoning is found in different cultures. What is wrong is not the act itself, but the attitudes that could be involved. However, useful applications of technology are positively advocated in some religions, such as the Judeo-Christian tradition which suggests co-creativity with God is part of good stewardship of the earth's resources, and can be acting in creative love.
The expression suggests that we should be cautious in the use of technology whose potential risks and side-effects we do not fully understand, the idea of do no harm, as discussed above. The idea is that while God may understand all, we do not, so we should only tamper cautiously with things as basic as genes, or new life and death.
Whether or not nature itself has "rights", we certainly do have many duties to it. We should not manipulate it solely to satisfy human desire. The theocentric approach challenges two common tendencies. Some religions tend to blur the distinction between God, humans and nature, leading to a glorification of nature. However, industrialised thought tends to divide humans from nature, seeing nature as something to exploit for human comfort. The same could be said of some interpretations of Darwinian theory (Azariah, 1994). We must remember that we are creatures, part of nature, which is another interpretation of evolution. We are currently in a crisis of domination, not just an ecological crisis, but a crisis of our whole life system, brought upon the entire globe by ourselves. The origin of this crisis is in human behaviour and attitudes, and the tremendous power of our technologies to shape the world. As a reaction against this, some people attack what they see as the cause, science and technology, and its effect upon people's philosophy; however, the real cause is the age old problem of human selfishness, which has become embedded in the short term economic desires of many businesses and governments.
The greatest public concern is over the mixing
of human and animal genes. There is generally more concern about
insertion of animal genes into humans then concern about insertion
of human genes into animals. However, some people object to the
insertion of human growth hormone, or hemoglobin, genes in pigs.
These animals may be used to make medically useful proteins,
and could be considered just an extension of the modern dairy
industry which tries to increase milk production in cows. There
is also research to produce transgenic animals which can be organ
donors for humans. This is technically difficult, but ready for
safety trials and application. Eating animals, or having inbred
dog varieties is considered acceptable, which suggests that it
will be within the bounds of common morality
to use animals for organ donors. One could argue that medical
need is a greater reason than the desire to eat meat, so that
this will be accepted. However, one can also say that everyone
has some limit to changing nature, and we do not know where this
7.4. Human needs in nature and sustainability
If we consider a complete bioethics we must include the duties we have to human beings as well as to nature. In the midst of growing awareness of environmental change and damage we should be aware of the need for sustainable living. We not only have to view the environment in its role as essential to human existence, but we should value the environment itself.
We can argue for conservation from human dependence upon the environment, an anthropocentric environmental ethic. Preservation has socio-economic benefits, and in some countries nature tourism is one of the major, or the main, income earner. Reduced diversity also eliminates the options to use untapped resources for agriculture, medicine and industry. More value could be obtained by harvesting the renewable resources from tropical forests than deforestation. In agriculture the use of wild crops in breeding crop plants has accounted for half the production increases, and is estimated to account for US$1 billion annually, in U.S. agriculture. Future gains in production will also depend on the use of genetic diversity as well as genetic manipulation. Nature provides the raw materials, the genes. There are indirect benefits of wild species such as the role in pollination, pest control, storing flood waters, and detoxifying many pollutants to name a few.
We can alter the genetic blueprint of organisms much more easily than in the past with genetic engineering. The introduction of genetically modified organisms into the environment presents ecological risks that we must be careful to minimise, through field trials (Figure 19; Macer, 1990). However, stewardship also leaves room for the genes of organisms to be altered if it presents a better alternative to the other options available for providing food for other members of the human race. There is no inherent "sanctity of the genes" in this approach, however, we may value to maintenance of existing species and "natural" nature beyond our agricultural use, as the survey results show world-wide.
Food concerns are a basic need to humans, and there is also a strong case to make a right to food a basic human right, as argued by the Food and Agricultural Organization at the World Food Summit in 1996. Agriculture has been more than the supply of food, it has been credited with the birth of "civilisation" and cultures, when humans changed from hunter gatherers to planting crops and having domestic animals. The food supply is sufficient now, if distributed properly, however, we cannot trust people to give food to the hungry. Improvements are still necessary, especially given the increasing areas of the world which have salty ground and unpredictable rainfall.
Some of agricultural issues are transnational, for example ocean resources. Currently, 98% of the food products of humans are obtained off 7% of the world's surface area. From the oceans, 71% of the world's surface only 1% of the foodstuffs are harvested. Aquatic food proteins are an important source of animal protein, but this proportion needs to grow in the future. Only about 30% of the world's fish catch is from cultured areas, whereas fish like tuna are almost entirely from the use of international ocean resources. Most maritime nations have declared 200 mile limits within which they claim prior rights to exploit marine resources, including fish. Therefore international fishing strategies are necessary, and we can see many examples of over-fished species. The form that such fishery protection takes is often to enact quotas, a given number of fish of each species that should be caught. Fish have been well studied wild animals because of the need for a knowledge of their biology in the management of sustainable fishing. Quotas were introduced to North Atlantic fishing since 1970. However, the needs of local fishermen are much smaller than those used for export (Figure 20).
Agriculture produces food, but it needs to be sustainable. The most efficient production is using plants, and eating grains and vegetables. Assuming that realistically animals will continue to be eaten, we need to think that animal species differ in their efficiency of converting plant material to animal protein. Animals also produce a lot of waste, for example in 1970 the animal population in the USA was estimated to be 564 million head, which produced the waste equivalent to 2 billion people.
Sustainable living involves not just efficient agriculture, but also minimizing our energy use and pollution. The spirit of love is to minimize consumption and disturbance of others. It involves changing public policy and the very way people think. We must realize how important the use of new technology is when it aids this process, and work towards this goal. The type of research that is required for a transition to a lasting earth is of three broad types (Macer, 1994). One is the use of science to discover the workings of nature, such as elemental cycles, and developing technology for energy and resource conservation. Another is economic systems that are consistent with sustainable living. Recent reports suggest that technical change alone will not allow a switch to sustainable living because the global economic system may not be able to be made compatible with sustainability (Krupp, 1993). Even with an optimistic view, the time delay in global implementation of new technology would mean that the world may be very different from that of today.
We need a fresh approach to add to the battle of protecting the environment. In the long term the most important approach is a lasting change of human attitudes to those that are compatible with sustainable life. We need lifestyle change. We cannot isolate any environmental problem from the whole crisis of modern life. The environment is influenced mainly by human behaviour, national and international development, economics and politics.
The recognition that we live on "Spaceship Earth" has led to the growing acceptance of international accords, such as the United Nations Bills on Human Rights, the Law of the Sea, the Montreal Protocol to eliminate the production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and the Antarctic Treaty ban on mining. As people's of the world attempt to unite more, especially in the increasingly positive international spirit of the last few years, further agreements on global responsibility will be made. However, lasting attitude change to proper stewardship is required to save the planet. There is a danger that like the many short-lived public concerns of the last few decades, the focus on ecological survival will pass. In order to assure the permanent attitude change that is necessary for a lasting earth, we must consider how people view life. Changing the way human beings behave towards each other is a supernatural task, that can be aided by all of us changing our attitudes.
Practically we must ensure that efficient and sustainable agriculture is encouraged, but recognize it is only part of a broader solution. Sustainable agriculture could be defined as the appropriate use of crop and livestock systems and agricultural inputs supporting those activities which maintain economic and social viability while preserving the high productivity and quality of the land. Technology does change the way we live. We need to improve agricultural efficiency to succeed, however current research interests in biotechnology are not necessarily the best way to provide sustainable agriculture. Large corporations are developing new techniques that may require constant application. An example is biological weed control where about one case in six has worked, and is very cost effective (most projects cost less than US$150,000). This success rate is still much greater than that achieved in searching for useful agrochemicals, and much cheaper.
Some of the criticism is against technology, and needs balanced consideration. For example, there are valid criticisms about the increasing use of herbicide-tolerant plants developed by genetic engineering, and if it worked well biological control would be better, but they do have immediate environmental advantages in some cases. For example, maize growers used to make 4-6 herbicide applications a season, but with the crop tolerant to a broad-spectrum post-emergence herbicide only one application would be needed. Reducing herbicide use and switching to biodegradable products is consistent with sustainable agriculture and is an important practical step in that direction, as long as commercial interests do not prevent the continual development of better biological control systems.
We also need to ask what type of world is sustainable? Current economics do not consider the environment and its value, and this needs to change. By taking into account the value of the environment, we are thinking of long term interests, something that is not considered in most modern economic policies. In industrialized countries technology will allow the shift to renewable energy resources over the next 50-70 years. This will reduce the emissions of pollutants substantially. However, in developing countries it will take longer. The level of pollutants can be reduced to one that is compatible with sustainability, but the world may be in a different state from that today. It will not be possible to return the world to a state that existed before the industrial age. The biological regions will be different. This leads us to more easily accept some human directed change of the natural regions of the earth.
Some proposed solutions have been called "eco-engineering". These include biochemical changes such as increasing the efficiency of carbon fixation, by the engineering of certain cell enzymes. It may be useful to do this to agricultural crops, or specially planted forests that will be used for biomass production. For example, recently hybrid Black Cottonwood trees that grow twice as fast as parent trees have been bred. The price of alcohol from woody sources will be competitive with petroleum products in the near future, and by the time those trees grow it will be a clear advantage. Transgenic plants of the nitrogen-fixing tree, Allocasuarina verticillata, have also been grown. This tree is a member of the family Casuarinaceae, which as fast growing trees will be important in efforts to reforest desert areas of the world, and to provide fast-growing wood sources.
However, the affect of introducing genetically modified species is not ecologically predictable for natural ecosystems, so genetic engineering should not be used in "naturally" occuring ecosystems like wilderness. Large scale afforestation has already been conducted in many countries, such as New Zealand, and is underway in many countries. Forestry has become much more important with the recognition of the role of forests as a carbon dioxide "sink" (if carbon dioxide is taken up into plants or dissolved in the oceans there will be less increase in greenhouse warming). To prevent deforestation is still more effective, however, because it preserves biological diverse ecosystems, which may also be more stable to climatic change. In the future the greening of deserts can occur, though also in this case, desertification is a major problem. For example, Libya has just completed the construction of water tunnels to utilize ancient underground water reserves, and it also intends to use these to green the desert to produce agricultural crops. The extreme of eco-engineering is the atmospheric conversion of the entire planet Mars, in order to grow plants there, and over long time periods, to make it habitable. More importantly, we should concentrate on not ruining the planet we already have.
Sustainability may occur only in a more human-constructed and designed world than that of today. The cities may include many artificial parks rather than natural parks. Ornamental plants are already selected for specific characters, and genetic manipulation will add to the choices possible. However, from these choices of humans will select which varieties to plant in the parks, so that more "nature areas" and parks will be artificial. Nature which contains less diversity and complexity may be the norm for many. To retain a major proportion of the original biodiversity is only possible if people decide to leave some of the areas of nature undisturbed, and some for nature to reestablish.
As discussed above, the most important change required for sustainable living is lifestyle change. Already the social and cultural religions of many cultures do attempt to control human lifestyle for the benefit of the environment. The concept of harmony with nature is found in many cultures. The problem is that selfish behaviour of people, combined with the preeminence given to modern economic policy which does not value the environment, means the environment is destroyed and exploited. Even a country like New Zealand, seen as a home of nature, has had 80% of its forests destroyed since humans came. It is interesting that before European colonization, at which stage there was still a majority of forested land, it was suggested in Britain that the whole colony be a national park!
There are two phases in the lifestyle transition to sustainable living. One is the dramatic change in lifestyle, and action, to clean up the pollution already made and to avoid making more of it. In any event there will be a changed world, but immediate action will reduce the difference between the world we have today (or in the recent past before widespread pollution) and the possible future sustainable world. The next is to continue to live in a way healthy for the world and for future human society.
Human lifestyles have changed dramatically over the last few centuries, and will continue to change. We need to direct the change in the direction of sustainable living consistent with a lasting and healthy world. The life goals of people can change, and the image of money as the most important life goal can be changed if replacement images are provided. The impact may not be immediate, but even if people start adopting new lifestyles today, it will not be too early, and it will still take decades for the whole world to change. The human addiction to intervention in nature needs to be changed so that we can enjoy more of what nature we have left. This will also give human beings more emotional security for living in the lasting earth.
Ethically, one guiding principle is to try to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number. However, happiness is not necessarily related to the consumption of energy and goods, and creation of pollution. In fact, many people will admit that the most enjoyable moments in their lives are times like being with their family, being on the beach or in a forest, or playing sport; activities which are often compatible with very low levels of consumption. Yet at the same time, driven by peer pressure, and advertising ideals imposed by the media, people purchase expensive and large cars, pursue wasteful pursuits, practicing high levels of consumerism, making the objects of their love or happiness material. In addition, in industrialized countries, especially in the USA, people's lifestyles are based on a false low cost of energy. The energy prices need to be changed to reduce CO2 emissions, as a result of change in lifestyles because of economic pressure. The increased cost of transport will affect lifestyle in all industrialized countries, but especially in those that use the least efficient energy conversion.
Generally, the real quality of life will not be decreased by decreased energy and resource consumption. Particular pursuits such as driving large high speed cars impose great costs on society both in energy use, in potential medical costs, and in environmental damage. It is symbolic that in the pictures of life in the International Bioethics Surveys, a picture from Thailand had someone riding a bicycle in the countryside, whereas in Australia or Singapore, for example, they were driving a car! (Macer, 1994).
How can we change these values? Respecting autonomy encourages free lifestyle choice, and suitable environmental-"friendly" options could be promoted as "trendy" pursuits, however, these are likely to be insufficient. One ethical possibility is personal environmental quotas as an incentive to lifestyle change, which I suggested in 1991 (Macer, 1991). These would be possible if people of the world believe that the environmental crisis is important, and are prepared to change their lifestyles. These quotas would give every person an equal quota of environmental currency. We could modify so that people could trade these quotas with others for a regulated set cash price if they wanted to do so.
The image of a normal life has been changing throughout human history and especially during this century. Quotas would provide encouragement, and some penalties for those who can abuse the system. We could impose environmental sales taxes on luxury products in money terms, but this would still allow the rich to purchase them and continue their pursuits, while the middle class could not. This would be inconsistent with our ethical principle of distributive justice. The consumption of all goods could be given an environmental points value, and this could be summed for each person. The consumption would be monitored, rather than the production (which would be subject to government pollution emissions control). If a production facility uses a more polluting method it would result in high demerit points, whereas if it was very clean and energy efficient it would be given a low demerit point score. This would allow consumer pressure to result in a change in production efficiency, and also would limit excessive consumerism. The consumption would be assigned to the country of consumption, rather than the country of production. There should also be production efficiency limits. This would still allow free international trade, but would encourage the adoption of more environmentally sustainable processes.
The main objection to this approach comes from the group who claim that the pursuit of individual freedom is the most important ethical principle. If people cannot pursue their freedom to consume as much as they wish, they call it a violation of individual liberty. However, we also recognize limitations on individual liberty when activity prevents others from pursuing the same amount of liberty. The actions of many people living in industrialized countries today is resulting in environmental destruction which will prevent others in the future from pursuing their liberty. Permitting humans to pursue their unlimited selfish drives is not consistent with the goal of reaching a lasting earth. The few percent of humanity that create the most waste, and pursue the most wasteful lifestyles must not be allowed to sacrifice the whole planet.
The destruction of the environment and disregard for other beings, ignores love. Love has more claims to be the principle ethical ideal than desire coming from autonomy. Bioethics does involve all of life, if we do not love all of life we cannot love other people. We need to seek ways to balance need and desire, and just distribution of the freedom that everyone is allowed. We should not only aim to give the greatest good for the most, nor the greatest freedom for the most, but the greatest love for all.
In conclusion we can answer yes to the question "Is there love of life?". It is a conditional love only in terms that we may not love lives which cause harm. While our love should not be conditional on any other factors, we are left with an arbitrary definition of harm. Biologically a lion harms a gazelle when it kills to eat, and despite claims of some interpreters that the Garden of Eden saw no meat eaters, biological history suggests some animals have eaten others throughout history. Following the arguments in the previous chapter, we will draw a line and hierarchy among species, which I argued could be based on the ability to express love outside of species boundaries, not only personhood or rationality. We can do our best to minimize harm to life, a principle of ecocentrism (thinking from the view of an ecosystem) that results from a love of life and diversity. Nature does have an intrinsic value, which is its love of life, and this may be applied to the broader ecosystem not only the component organisms, the biocentric view, or the view of human beings, an anthropocentric view.
- The swan swimming in the river is a symbol
of peaceful harmony
- The love of flowers is universal, and many
farmers and shops rely on this for their business.
The love of flowers also is an expression of beauty used to make
urban areas look more natural.
The Forbidden Palace, Beijing, ChinaChina
- A common image found on Chinese and Korean
buildings is animals.
PainPainted fusumas, Kairakuen, Mito, Japan
- The images of the garden, azaleas in this room, are painted onto the doors of cupboards (fusumas) bringing nature into the rooms.
Images of life in stone
A stone temple garden in Kyoto, Japan
- The stones are presented in the garden to
better allow Zen meditation.
Images from the Taj Mahal, Agra, IndiaIndia
- The carved plants adorn the outside of the
tomb, bringing nature there.
A lion, Paris, FranceFrance
- Statutes of lions are found around the world
as symbols of power.
Peter Rabbit shop, Lake District, EnglandEngland
- One of the global images of animals found on baby china.
Figure 18: Nature as an integrated
yet sometimes flexible system
Black Bear in Pine tree, Banff National Park, CanadaCanada
- Many animals depend upon forests for a habitat.
As one part of an ecosystem is perturbed, parts of the system
or the whole may disappear.
The railway, a sign of the growth of societies into nature
- The railway, and today the road, are signs
of the loss of wilderness.
Crocodile Farm, TamilTamil Nadu, India
- Conservation efforts for some species, the
crocodile have succeeded to preserve many species, though there
may not be natural habitat left for re-introductions to wilderness.
Kangaroos on golf course, AustraliaAustralia
- The kangaroo can feed on the grass of farms or golf courses, adapting to the modification of former grassland habitats.
Figure 19: Food production and the advent of genetic engineering
A Vegetable Market in Mumbai, IndiaIndia
- A variety of vegetables are eaten around
the world, many are universal.
Growing algae in ponds, Eilat, IsraelIsrael
- Will our future food production
be supplemented by single cell organisms that have high productivity
in hot climates? The Dunaliella algae can also be used
to produce substances, such as carotene.
Ministry of AgricultureAgriculture Isolation Fields, Tsukuba Science City, Japan
- The principle of love of life (do no harm)
makes us cautious in the introduction of new varieties to the
environment, such as those made by genetic engineering.
However, if safety is confirmed, they are grown openly.
Protest against genetic engineeringgenetic engineering, Tsukuba Science City, Japan
- A sign of bioethical maturity is the presence of protest signs. This sign protests the presence of a P4-level containment facility in Japan.
MaoriMaori waka, New Zealand
- Polynesian culture spread across
Pacific Islands relies on fish as a protein resource,
also these canoes were signs of power and used for migration.
Fishing boat, Marina beach, Chennai, IndiaIndia
- Small-scale fishing boats support whole communities,
and can be sustainable.
Fishing boats, Taiwan
- The mechanised fishing boat allows fishing
further from shore, able to feed a greater population, however,
sailing in international waters has led to depletion of many fish
stocks at a global level.
Chinese fishing nets, Cochin, IndiaIndia
- Local people without boats exploit the mouths of rivers for fish.
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