Bioethics and ecosustainability

- Dipankar Saha
Indian Council of Agricultural Research, IGFRI, Jhansi-284003, India. Email:

- C.R. Hazra
Agricultural Commissioner, Govt. of India, Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi-110001, India. Email:

- Darryl Macer
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City 305 - 8572, JAPAN

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 181-183.
A new dimensional axiom to perceive the ethics of human beings and our relationship with other biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem has to be reconciled. An ethical vision towards the mode of action of human beings help us to find a synoptic resonance of this manipulator and spoiler of the natural equilibrium of the ecosystem. It is pertinent enough to visualize the facts which have asserted that the squandering of natural resources is not only inexpedient but morally wrong. Bioethics includes perception of limitations on freedom of human action. Human perceptions of the environment and attitudes towards it, have emerged as integral parts of human interactivity with the rest of the nature over a long history. Individual perceptions of the environment are configured naturally by several factors including tradition, personal observation and experience, education and non-informal information from variable resources. The acceptance of the oneness of humanity and the notion of the total world as one family will only be sustained by a unifying vision of a peaceful, prosperous world society. Without such global bioethics, people will not be able to become fully active and constructive components in the global development process.

This vital and abstract component of understanding has an unique linkage with the sustainability, another key word for this new century. An in depth realization of sustainable resource usage, growth and development has to be juxtaposed with economic development and resource conservation in light of resource dynamics, mobilization and improvisation in research, development and in corporate sectors as well.

Because civilization is a state of mutual and interdependent cooperation between human beings, animals, plants, soil, water and the atmosphere, bioethics needs to be holistic. O'Riordan and Turner (1983)'s philosophy of environmentalism can be viewed in this context and one syllogism of neo-environmentalism and communalist ecocentrism results into an abstract perception of ecotechnocentrism.

The Stockholm conference of 1972 and the resolutions of the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, can help us to perceive and implement international cooperation to salute the ethics of the environment by developing an ethic of our own sustainable utilization of the environment. Practically the solutions to most environmental problems lie almost entirely in the political and economic domains. The resonance of Ward and Dubos (1973) "Only One Earth" is as relevant today as it was earlier during Stockholm conference. Barney (1980) in his "Global 2000 report" confirmed the environmentalist prophesies about the consequences of the neglect of the global "common interest" and the over exploitation of open access resources. Simon & Kahn in "The resourceful earth" extended the "Global 2000". Reports from the World Commission on Environment & Development (1987) and Repetto (1985), emphasize the rejection of the physical limits to growth thesis, the appropriate role of market forces in the development process, the role of poverty in natural resource degradation and the need to recognize and build on common interests. More and more people have been conscious about the fact that the earth is not only limited in size, but that any one country's problems often affect, either directly or indirectly those of others (Zuckerman 1992). Without any complacency an eco-synthetic approach by incorporating population (human resources), basic needs, pollution and hazards has to be formulated keeping in view the environmental protection and continuing economic growth and require a search for what Clark (1976) has termed bioeconomic equilibria.

To have an indepth bioeconomic calibration in our social progress and sustainability, interestingly we may look into the biology of business both in corporate and governmental setup and in entire social structures. We should understand the potential conflict between human inheritance and creation which will certainly help us to configure the mammoth task of bioeconomic calibration. The objective shift of development from economic growth, to achieve social justice, to remove poverty and in the politically correct terminology - participation, empowerment and development have become the main concerns of global society. A critical view of modern civilization and the mental attitude of exploitation surmises that if the human beings do not like the direction in which the world is heading, then, they should examine the individual behavior in terms of ethical distortion and government policies to determine if they should be changed so that they contribute to a more "desired future".

Some would argue that the present developmental paradigm is mostly equated with the rate of national income as such it is being perceived in quantitative terms at the cost of qualitative values like human life quality. We ought to have a need based regional indexes of socio-psychology. If we look into human resource management sectors where the bioethical principles naturally affect service sectors or manufacturing units, the overall human ecological and real bioethical principles are the same. But during this era of a need for collective mentality, if we want to make the most of this ethical revolution, we have got to make sure that we maintain and enhance our diversity in employment and strive for better integrity in that diversity. According to Alec Reed, Chairman of Reed Personal Services UK, 80% of organizations in the UK see their people as more important than their capital investments. The ecology and overall resource management has to be intermingled and can be figured out in this context which has tended to fragment, with inadequate exchange of principles, theories, methods and ideas about data processing and interpretation techniques among the various professional groups of resource managers. However all the resource management fields are related to each other by dependence on a common science, common problems and a common set of tools. It is not possible to gain an extensive insight into all the principles or procedures of resource management by looking at any one type of resource or even a smaller number of types. They have to be figured out in the light of economic activities (agricultural, industry, trade & tourism etc.); living resources (forests, aquatic systems, genetic resources and endangered species etc.); conservation and management controlled by and for human resources with the application of a broad spectrum of human resources developmental techniques in a wider panorama of social milieu.

Some fields of resource management have in depth realization in some aspects of theory and techniques, while others are strong in different planes. An interdependent communicative procedure has to be facilitated through the creation of a common body of theory and methods applicable to all fields and contributed to by all fields, for example by information exchange in EJAIB.

Arie de Geus's "habits for survival in a turbulent business environment" help us to get an interesting analogy again between biological metaphor and corporatisation wherein he concludes that a company (e.g. Copper mining - Forestry - iron smelting - paper, wood pulp and chemicals) can survive by reacting rapidly to changes in its environment. Moreover, de Geus believes a company dies because their managers focus on the economic activity and on producing goods and services, by forgetting their true nature which lies in human resources. Equally as an epitome of our productive facets, thinking in analogy and the reorienting mode of developmental fashions overall resource management, which needs to have a congruence of economic/environmental/social/psychological dimensions which are pertinent and will be productive functions for maintaining long range ecoresilience.

Allan Wilson of the University of California, Berkeley developed a theory that species behaviour rather than environmental change alone, is the major driving force behind evolution. In well known experiments, he studied titmouse, a common song bird of Britain. This bird had to siphon out cream from the milk bottles left outside doors by milkmen. After dairies began putting aluminium seals on the bottles, the birds figured out how to pierce them, and spread their skills from individuals to the species as a whole. The word behaviour can be viewed from his derivation as a reflection of any individuals/masses perception from various and/or same encounters in a continuum or once. De Geus emphasized that institutional learning requires "flocking" - bringing people together so that learning can be disseminated among them. That, in turn requires an organization or any developmental mode that's tolerant, giving every involved individual a certain kind of freedom to experiment without fear or reprisal.

For example, hunger is now global, so we should keep different avenues open, ranging from genetic diversity to novel foods, like micro-algae like Spirulina as nutritional supplements. Many millions of people are just not getting enough protein of any kind, and for them the origin and palatability of the protein would be of little or no consequences. A tolerance towards the margin is thus a key survival strategy, de Geus maintains.

Value for most modern individuals is almost exclusively marked on material goods, with only some attention to open spaces and clean air. The relationship of the state, its possible responsibility for, and its share of control over the environment of its territory are controversial through out the world and have been so, though perhaps in different terms, so long as state civilizations have existed. If we look into behaviourist ideology, we can isolate the role of cognitive dissonance factors in bioethical progress. This is an internal conflict and anxiety that is created when a person receives information incompatible with their so-called value systems, prior decisions or other perceptions they may have. Since persons usually do not feel easy with dissonance, they try to erase or reduce it. They may even refuse to believe the dissonant input, or they may rationalize it out of the way. Perhaps people will try to obtain new information input, change their interpretation of the inputs, reverse their decisions, or change their values as Newstrom & Davis (1993) predict.

An important part of bioethics is risk assessment, the analysis and prediction of risks. Risk assessment is the use of scientific data to estimate the effects of exposure to hazardous materials or conditions. Risk management is a different thing. It is the process of weighing alternatives to select the most appropriate regulatory strategy or action. It integrates the results of risk assessment of different alternatives (Macer, 1998). A difficulty is what is harm? The extent to which the change is judged to be subjective harm depends on human values, whether nature should be "intransient" or modified. This relates to the fears that technology is unnatural.

For sustainable social development an integrated approach of socio-economic principles with environmental concern is necessary for better reconciliation by juxtapositioning towards maintaining or enhancing production/service; reducing the production risks; achieving environmental stability and improving economic viability and social acceptability in any one of the developing sectors.

It is pertinent enough to visualize the impediment towards the application of sustainability where interpretation and enactment embrace political values and the exercise of power. The cataclysm of social sustenance is the motivating factor for involvement of the community, including voluntary organizations. There are thousands of good reasons for enhanced interest in participation both in corporate and social sectors. The educational level of the people often provides unique capacities that can be creatively and genuinely applied to sustainable development. In this process, the people used to acquire both a greater desire for influencing development related decisions, with an expectation that they will also be allowed to participate in many decision processes which virtually culminate into a state of gratification which matters for value system imposition in growth and development phase. In this context participation is an ethical imperative for every log phase of development.

Decentralized planning must begin with the village community wherein every individual will be expected to be ethically clear enough to bear with the common attitudinal problems by adjusting themselves in a clear cut line between demand and satisfaction, or needs and desires. Environmental awareness, value to human resources, derivation of ecoethical principles, leading to social reconnaissance can certainly help us to delay the biological death of this universe. A form of humanism that contributes to natural human perfection, both individual and social, has to be brought in. It is a biophilosophy to look towards human life and behaviour from a natural and empirical viewpoint. The existing crisis is the result of our disillusionment with modern civilization because of its failure to deliver things which it had promised and because it is unsure of itself. Civilization is nothing but a symphony of hearts and minds of individuals. Sustainability is not an absolute term. We must define our goals to achieve production with environmental friendly resource utilization for the long term sustenance of civilization. To transform, so far the inimical relationship between development and nature's resilience into an intrinsic one, we have to apply bioethical principles to preferential changes at the individual level.


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