pp. 30-38 in Bioethics for the People by the People, Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D., Eubios Ethics Institute 1994.

Copyright 1994, Darryl R. J. Macer. All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with Eubios Ethics Institute.

3. Sustainable living and technology

Sustainable living

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. Sustainable living involves not just efficient agriculture, but also minimising our energy use and pollution. It involves changing public policy and the very way people think. We must realise 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. 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 (59). 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 ask 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. We must ensure that efficient and sustainable agriculture is encouraged, but recognise 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) (60). 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 development of herbicide-tolerant plants, that biological control is better, but they do have immediate environmental advantages in some cases. For example, maize growers make 4-6 herbicide applications a season, but if the crop was 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 eventual widespread use of the ideal, biological control.

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 industrialised countries technology will allow the shift to renewable energy resources over the next 50-70 years. This will reduce the emissions of pollutions 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 (61). Transgenic plants of the nitrogen-fixing tree,

, 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 (62).

However, the affect of introducing genetically modified species is not ecologically predictable for natural ecosystems, so genetic engineering should not be used in "naturally" occurring ecosystems. 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 utilise 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 (63). 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.

Lifestyle Change

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, mean 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 colonisation, 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. We may not have immediate change, 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.

We cannot leave it to governments to look after the planet, the actions of individual members of the human community are required. Some types of environmental improvement can be brought about already by individuals. Some useful guides have already been produced (64). Using alternative products is one option. In many countries improving the efficiency of lighting, in houses and street lighting, can result in very large reductions (50-75%) in energy consumption. Not only do the consumers save electricity charges, the lights may also be cheaper. There also should be a change in behaviour that uses excess resources, such as a reduction in the use of unnecessary lighting. Another example is how we can reduce the human health damage caused by the increased UV radiation. The quality of sunscreen lotions, the clothes that we wear, and changes in people's behaviour are needed, what is called preventive medicine.

Birth control is essential, to reduce the numbers of humans. This is a medical and political issue, and even some scientific academies of the world do not agree. In 1993 an international gathering of scientific academies called for zero population growth, however, the academies from Africa disagreed, saying overpopulation is not a problem for Africa (65). Let us hope that in several generations time their children do not have to face the dire consequences of ignoring population growth. In addition to growth in population, other lifestyle factors are important. Fairness in the distribution of food and materials would decrease the needs of the poor, an economic and political issue. More efficient agriculture will also reduce the the land that is required for agriculture, a scientific issue. Reducing consumption will aid this, an issue that the public as individuals must change.

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. In addition, in industrialised countries, especially in the USA or USSR, 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 industrialised 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. There should not be much debate on whether particular pursuits, such as driving large high speed cars, really improves life, rather they may 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 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!

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 (66). 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 recognise limitations on individual liberty when activity prevents others from pursuing the same amount of liberty. The actions of many people living in industrialised 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.

Above all, the destruction of the environment, disregard for other people, 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.

Bioethical maturity

In order to have a sustainable future, we need to promote bioethical maturity, as I have said elsewhere (67). We could call the bioethical maturity of a society the ability to balance the benefits and risks of applications of biological or medical technology. It is also reflected in the extent to which the public views are incorporated into policy-making while respecting the duties of society to ensure individual's informed choice. Awareness of concerns and risks should be maintained, and debated, for it may lessen the possibility of misuse of these technologies. Other important ideals of bioethics such as autonomy and justice need to be protected and included in the benefit/risk balancing which is important for the ethical application of biotechnology in medicine. Concern about technology should be valued as discretion that is basic to increasing the bioethical maturity of a society, rather than being feared.

An important measure of the progress of society and cultural maturity is the degree of the development of better ethical discretion in the personal and societal use of technology. The criteria of technological progress as a measure of social progress is inadequate because technology may be misused, or may be unavailable. Part of the maturity is justice, to give everyone a fair chance. Methods to increase the ethical discretion and maturity of individuals and social systems should be developed.

A lasting earth is possible only if we all share proper concern. Both social and technical approaches are required to solve the environmental crisis. We should reduce pollution by adaptive changes to our human society and system. Reducing consumption is something that the public as individuals can already change and must. Birth control is essential, to reduce the slowing but continuing population explosion, this is a medical and political issue. Fairness in the distribution of food and materials would decrease the needs of the poor, an economic and political issue. We should work towards life philosophies emphasizing the shared earth that we live in.

Over the medium term the industrialised countries can switch to alternative energy sources, and more efficient energy use, combined with more significant lifestyle change. This would be aided by the early introduction of personal environmental quotas to ensure people are conscious of the environmental costs of different products and behaviour. The use of new technology will aid us in reaching a lasting earth. More efficient agriculture will reduce the land and energy that is required for agriculture, and the pollution arising from agriculture, a scientific issue. Changing the way human beings behave towards each other is a supernatural task, that can be aided by all of us changing our attitudes. We must ensure that sustainable living is encouraged, but recognise that it is only part of a broader solution. Sustainable living involves not just efficient agriculture, but also minimising our energy use and pollution. It involves changing public policy. It involves changing the way people think. In developing countries the population growth rates must be decreased, and economic pressures that lead to the destruction of the environment must be eliminated.

In the medium-long term the whole world can be using a large proportion of renewable energy sources, such as biomass and solar energy, combined with efficient agriculture using new varieties of crops. In the long term (50-100 years), the world could be living in a stabilising earth, with a stabilising population. Improvements in lifestyle can be made through the increase in energy efficiency brought about by technology, and by the acceptance of more natural things that consume less energy, as the pleasures of life. Let us hope that urbanisation does not mean that people lose the enjoyment from being able to be in the presence of undisturbed nature under a blue sky.

We also need to change the philosophy of science to achieve such change. Francis Bacon made knowledge out to be of great human and social value. Under Baconian philosophy, the longterm aim of inquiry is to contribute to human progress, but the immediate aim of inquiry is to produce objective knowledge, together with explanations and understanding. The search for truth is considered to be of intrinsic human value when pursued for its own sake, or of pragmatic or technological value when pursued as a means to the realization of non-academic, human, social ends. The idea that the philosophy of science should be based on the pursuit of wisdom rather than the pursuit of knowledge has been put forward by various writers (68). The philosophy of knowledge would say that the proper aim for rational inquiry is to acquire objective knowledge about the world. While there may be secondary uses of this knowledge, the first priority is to achieve the purely intellectual aim of acquiring objective knowledge of truth. The claim is that it must dissociate itself from the goals and values of common social life, so that claims to objective knowledge can be subjected to rational assessment. This is inconsistent with bioethical decision-making.

Proponents of the philosophy of knowledge may acknowledge the importance of moral and social problems associated with science, but seldom do they call into doubt the integrity of science itself or their philosophy. As a human being they can be concerned, but as a scientist their task is to concern themselves exclusively with problems of fact, truth and knowledge. Instead of priority being given to the tasks of articulating problems of the life, with problems of technology being secondary, it is the reverse. A philosophy of wisdom is that it may avert further human disasters that have come about as science has been used, if we can develop socially influential traditions of inquiry and education devoted to the promotion of cooperative, rational problem-solving in life.

People make claims that science is ethically neutral. This implies that scientists do not have responsibility for the production of knowledge. However, this belief confuses the findings of science, which are ethically neutral, with the activity of science, which is not (69). Some pursue the neutrality argument, by claiming that the moral burden lies with those who choose to implement knowledge for all purposes. We may not be able to predict the abuses of pure knowledge, however, scientists are still moral agents and must think in advance of the possible abuses. They may not be solely responsible, but they share responsibility with all of us. All human activity needs to be subject to ethical discretion. Technology has been the most powerful agent of change in the recent past, therefore, we can clearly see the need for universal ethical maturity, and understanding.

Similarly, economic growth is pursued for its own sake. Countries try to increase their economies by a certain percentage every year, regardless of the environmental and social consequences. There is only a limited correlation between economic growth in % terms and increased living standard, other measures such as personal wealth and ease of living are economically desired. Yet further measures are required for life goals of societies, for sustainable living. There must be an end to consumer demand and increased economies - or is this the only goal that people of the world have for themselves?

These questions need international and cross-cultural answers for the world we live in. The questions need the perspectives of all, and some groups are represented in this book. I certainly do not imply by the absence of a viewpoint or the inclusion of one, that this is the only solution. Rather some papers illustrating approaches from different persons and traditions are included, and other diverse views are found in some other recent publications of Eubios Ethics Institute. The word "Eu-bios" means good-life, and such a life must be sustainable. We are still at the synthesis stage for determining what bioethical maturity is, and how it may be measured, but the comments from peoples in different countries from the International Bioethics Survey is another necessary part of the total picture needed to formulate any international measure of bioethical maturity, and to develop approaches to improve maturity.


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