Re-Creation of Nature as an Appropriate Means for Biosecurity

- Baby Joseph, Ph.D. and M. Selvanayagam, Ph.D.
Loyola Institute of Frontier Energy,
Loyola College, Chennai ― 600 034, India
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 191-5.

1. Introduction

The environment as a basic life supporting system provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the land we live on. We rely on the environment to provide us with the natural resources such as wood, energy and minerals. Natural and anthropogenic environmental hazards cause much disruption, damage, death, injury and hardship. Today the earth and its ecosystems are threatened with great disasters like the pollution of air, water and land, depletion of non-renewable sources, despoliation of forests, desertification of farmlands, displacement of people from their habitats by the hi-tech industries, and the destruction of numerous organic species. Signs and symptoms of the crisis are numerous; precious resources are diverted to destructive purposes like the arms race, stockpiling of nuclear weapons, star wars, and similar casualties can damage the earth and the life irreparably. Radioactive, chemical and other fatally toxic waste are being dumped in the oceans, on islands and in the countries of the poor and the powerless. Together with polluting effluents and the emissions from factories, such waste and the acid rain they produce, are causing large scale disease and death to plants, birds, beasts, fishes in the lakes, rivers and the human being. The atmosphere of most cities is heavily polluted with toxic fumes and has become a major threat to health and life. The break down at the atomic power generating stations, for example, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, as well as the poisonous gas leak at Bhopal ― are all ominous warning of waters in store for the earth and humanity. These and many other allied factors contribute to the ecological crisis, and constitute acts of injustice towards the earth, our home and mother. If we continue the attitude of over use or unwise use of environment as we have done up to now, then the damage will get worse, the cost higher and the consequences are more serious. The ecological imbalance stems from the disharmony occurs in the ecological processes that shape the climate, cleanse the air and water, regulate water flow, recycle essential elements, create and generate soils and the keep the planet fit for life. The origin of many problems and crisis are due to the interaction between people, resources and pollution.

2. Environmental Crisis

The symptoms of environmental crisis are a threat to biosecurity. They are of various kinds:

A. Population Increase

The number of people on earth has increased eight ―fold since the start of industrial revolution. The roots of the problem are much more to be sought in the inequality of the distribution of wealth and in the lack of efficient utilization of the in-exhaustible resources of nature (Barrow,1995). The real means of coping with the situation is an increased scientific and technical effort on the part of humans to extend our dominion over nature, to amend and improve deficient economic and social conditions and to enhance a greater solidarity of the affluent nations with the poorer ones. If the population increase is too rapid, as is the case in many young nations, then the economic development of the country can simply not keep pace with it. The result is malnutrition, lack of housing, unemployment, deficient educational facilities, want of medical care and unhygienic conditions.

At times it is argued that more people means a more powerful nation. But this is true only if the people are well nourished, well educated, well equipped and able to work in a scientific manner. Some countries have already reached a point of density of population where they can not absorb great increases in population any more. All over the world, population is increasing at an ever accelerated pace, which leaves no doubt that checks are necessary and at times even urgent. The size of the population grows more rapidly than the quality improved quantity of available resources. To such a degree that things seem to have reached an impasse. The urgent need for population control in order to slow down the ever increasing need of energy, raw materials and goods of consumption. A continuously growing population means an ever greater consumption of resources and rates of waste. Demographic pressure is largely responsible for the disappearance of natural resources e.g., forests. The need of responsible parenthood and the justification of a sober population control are universally recognized. Responsible parenthood includes the policy of prudent spacing of birth control. Within the limits of their own competence, government officials have rights and duties with regard to the population problems of their own nation. Public authorities can intervene and instruct citizens to adopt appropriate measures, so long as it is in conformity with the dictates of the moral law and the rightful freedom is preserved completely intact. In the affluent nations and population classes, a turning to moderation, modesty, restraint, gratitude, closeness to nature, humaneness and solidarity with the less fortunate is needed.

B.Resource Use

Industrial production has risen by more than a hundred times during the 20th century. Animals and plants under threat because their natural habitats are being destroyed. Wildlife threatened by excessive hunting and trapping for trade. For example, rare and endangered Rhinos and African Elephants. The oceans are being over fished. (e.g., it rose from 30 million tonnes in 1958 to 90 million tonnes in 1986), putting at risk sustainable yields of some species. Pollution of oceans also reduce fish harvests.

C.Habitat Clearance

In less than 200 years more than 6 million square km of the forest have been removed. One of the most serious environmental problems today is the continued destruction of tropical rain forest. Four-fifths of the forest area is cleared for farming and most of the rest is selectively logged. Although the tropical forest covers only about 6 per cent of the worlds land surface, they are an essential part of our life supporting systems. They help to regulate climate, protect soil from erosion and provide habitats for millions of species of plants and animals. Up to nine-tenths of all the species of wild life on earth live in the tropical forest (Burton,1994).

D. Soil Erosion

Sediment loads from soil erosion have risen three fold in large rivers and eight fold in smaller or more intensively used river basins over the last two centuries. Due to the effluent discharges and toxic substances the virgin soil has lost its fertility. The beneficial soil bacteria and viruses are adversely affected and the earth becomes barren. As a result the biosecurity is disrupted (Lamb, 1996).

E. Water Resources

Water is the most abundant resource, covering about 71% of the earth's surface. This precious film of water (about 97% salt water and the remainder fresh water) helps to maintain the earth's climate and dilute environmental pollutants, essential to all life water constitutes from 50% to 97 % of the weight of all plants and animals and 70% of our body. Use of water resources has increased from 100 to 3600 cubic km, a year over the past two centuries. Water is needed in almost every sphere of human activity. It is required for direct or indirect consumption. Important sectors of human activities where water is very much required are as follows: Irrigation, thermal power generation, industries, domestic requirements, live stock management, hydro-electric generation, fisheries, navigation and recreational activities (Brown et al., 1995). There are three main sources of water, namely, the rain water, surface water (impounding reservoirs, Rivers and streams, Tanks, ponds and lakes) and Ground water (shallow wells, deep wells and springs).

Both the quantity must be sufficient to meet present and future requirements, and the quality of water must be acceptable. Pure uncontaminated water does not occur in nature. It contains impurities various kinds: natural and man made. The natural impurities are not essentially dangerous. These comprise dissolved gases (nitrogen, CO2, H2S, etc.. which may be picked up during rain fall) and dissolved minerals (salts of Ca, Mg, Na etc..) which are natural constituents of water following its contacts with soil; and suspended impurities (clay, silt, sand and mud. ) and microscopic organisms. These impurities are derived from the atmosphere, catchment area and the soil. The more serious aspect of water pollution is that caused by human activity (urbanization and industrialization). The sources of pollution resulting from these are (a). Sewage which contains decomposable organic matter and pathogenic agents. (b) Industrial and trade wastes which contain toxic agents ranging from metal salts to complex synthetic organic chemicals.(c) agricultural pollutants which comprise fertilizers and pesticides and physical pollutants, namely, heat(thermal pollutions ) and radioactive substances.

Surveillance of drinking water quality: The activities that ideally should be included are:

(a) approval of new sources(including private owned supplies); (b) Watershed protection; (c) approval of the construction and operating procedures of water works, including Disinfection of the plant and of the distribution system after repair or interruption of supply, Periodic flushing programmes and cleaning of water storage facilities, Certification of operators, Regulation of chemical substances used in water storage facilities, and Cross connection control, back flow prevention and leak detection control; (d) Sanitary surveys; (e) Monitoring programmes, including provision for central and regional analytical laboratory services; (f). Development of codes of practice for well construction, pump installation and plumbing; (g) Inspection quality control in bottled water and ice manufacturing operations.

Surveillance of drinking water is essentially a health measures. It is intended to protect the public from water borne diseases. These elements of a surveillance programme are: Sanitary survey, Sampling, Bacteriological surveillance, Biological examination and Chemical surveillance.

For water conservation in India, the Ministry of water resources, Govt. of India classifies various projects undertaken by from time to time under the following two headings:

  1. Minor surface irrigation sector: It comprises of small projects which irrigate only up to 2,000 hectares each. Ground water irrigation sector is also placed under this category.
  2. Major and medium irrigation sector: It involves huge projects under which huge dams and bunds are constructed with a capacity to hold billions of cubic meters of water and to irrigate millions of hectares of land surface.
F.Air Pollution

Human activities since the middle of the eighteenth century have more than doubled the methane in the atmosphere, increased the Carbon dioxide concentration by 27 per cent and significantly damaged the stratospheric ozone layer. Air pollution mainly by invisible gas, is produced largely from factories, houses, power stations and vehicle exhausts. These materials can be blown by the wind over vast areas and can damage human health as well as wild life. An estimated 625 million people worldwide live in industrial cities where the air is unhealthy. Increased levels of ozone in the lower atmosphere decreases crop yields by up to 10 per cent and it damages lung and respiratory tissues in humans. At the same time ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere, caused mainly by CFC's, is allowing more incoming harmful ultraviolet radiations from the sun to reach the earth's surface, threatening to increase the incidence of skin cancers and eye damage in humans (Markham,1994).

Restoration of ecological imbalance and building fellowship leads to Biosecurity. Biosecurity demands: (1)To resist the claim that any thing in creation is merely a resource for human exploitation. (2) To resist species extinction for human benefit, consumerism and harmful mass production, pollution of land, air and waters; all human activities which are now leading to probable rapid climatic change and policies and plans which contribute to the disintegration of creation. (3)To resist any policy that threats land merely as a marketable commodity, that allows speculation at the expense of the poor; that dumps poisonous waste in to the land and to the waters, that promotes the exploitation, unequal distribution or contamination of the land and its products, and that prevents those who live directly from the land, from being its real trustees.

There is a link between the environmental changes and national economy.

3. Consumer Ethics

The question of economic ethics is basically one of the consumption ethics. The demands of the consumers determine the production to a large extend and even decisively. The ethics of consumption acquires an enhanced importance in conditions of increased living standards, which were readily tempt to luxury and extravagance (Holdgate,1995). Yet every luxury consumption which is not economically justifiable constituents an offence against the thrift which is enjoyed by social ethics. It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong in a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being", and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end itself. It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. The ecological crisis has created a group awareness that all the participants in the economy, including the consumers, are called up on to protect the human habitat by responsible economic conduct. More than any abstract considerations the concrete dangers to the environment prove to modern men the need for a consumer ethics.

4. Environmental Stress A Threat to Biosecurity

Environmental stress can be considered as the causal agencies for the bio-insecurity in the ecosystem (Freedman,1992). They are of various kinds as follows:

5. Restoration as a Means for Biosecurity

Restoration ecology make us to strive to build the quality improved and healthy environment (Berger, 1989 ) with the following properties: Sustainability (the ability to perpetuate); Invasibility (the ability to resist invasion by alien or pest species); Productivity ( The presence of healthy functions such as photosynthesis, respiration, plant and animal fecundity.); Nutrient retention ( The ability to generate nutrients such as nitrogen an store them in the ecosystem); Biotic interaction( a pattern of interaction between key species similar to the pattern found in undisturbed ecosystems, including relationship in the food chain.

Merely re-creating the form of an ecosystem without attention to whether it is functioning as its predecessor did can lead to cosmetic and aesthetic improvement, but is not considered to be true ecological restoration. As habitat loss accelerates, restoration is taking on increasing importance as means of preserving habitat for threatened species, rekindling lost biodiversity, restoring mineral balance to eroded and infertile lands improving water quality and preserving atmospheric gas balance. The task of restoration, seen as rather abstract in years past, is far more urgent today as the consequences of catastrophic destruction of habitat begin to be understood. The safeguarding of species is a moral obligation of human kind and should improve and sustain human well- being.

Every human act of irresponsibility towards creatures is an abomination. According to its gravity, it is an offence against that Divine wisdom which sustains and gives purpose to the interdependent harmony of the universe (Jordan et al.,1990).

6. Resource Recovery as Part of Biosecurity

Resource recovery is the process of recovering materials or energy from solid waste for reuse. The aim of resource recovery is to make the best use of the economic, environmental and social costs of these materials before they arte permanently laid to rest in a landfill. The Environmental protection agency (EPA) and environmentalists have set up a hierarchy for resource recovery: reduce first (Means cutting waste by using less material to begin with e. g., Makers of disposable diapers reduced diaper size so that they take up less space in land fills), then reuse (Reuse also cuts the need for raw materials e.g., reusing a glass bottle takes less energy than making a new one or melting it down to make a new one), recycle( It means turning an old object in to the same kind of new object e.g., old news paper in to a new one, old plastic in to new, polluted water in to a potable water etc…), incinerate with energy recovery (waste to energy plants burn what can not be recycled and they can recover one quarter to one third of their operating costs by selling the energy, usually in the form of electricity or steam. But incineration also produces waste ash that can contain toxic materials e.g., Lead, Mercury, and is a cause of air pollution too), and landfill as a last resort (Even with extensive liner systems,landfills are expected to leak chemicals in to ground water. Finding space for new land fills has become a nightmare for elected officials and public work managers) (Brown et al., 1991).

Finding the most efficient use of resources derived from both virgin materials and recovered from wastes may have to be considered regionally or nationally or internationally to be fully realized in view of re-creation of nature as an appropriate means for biosecurity.


7. Biosecurity Involves Flow of Energy

Energy drives the environmental system. Chemical energy is possessed by a substance in its atoms or molecules and released in chemical reaction. Electrical energy is associated with electric charges. Heat energy, which is possessed by a body because of motion of its atoms or molecules. Kinetic energy, which is possessed by a body because of its motion, and potential energy is possessed by a body because of its position. It cannot be recycled, unlike materials, but it is used to do the work involved in recycling matter. The use of energy in any system is governed by the first two laws of thermodynamics. The First Law states that 'in a system of constant mass, energy can not be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed. This means that energy is converted from one type to another as it performs work and explains why, for example, people need to eat regularly to have a proper in take of energy to enable them to grow, move and function. The Second Law states that 'energy is dispersed in heat energy (thermal waste) as work is done. This means that a lot of energy is lost from environmental system as waste heat and explains why, for example, people get hot and perspire when they do physical exercise such as running.

A useful indicator of energy use in systems is the amount of original energy available that has been dispersed as heat. This is referred to as entropy, and it really describes the amount of energy in the system that is not available to do useful work. It is a measure of wastage or disorder (Goudie,1983). Human use of energy and environmental resources serves to increase global entropy.

8. Responsible care for creation and Eco-safety and Ethics

The word ecology derived from the Greek word oikos, means house. Man must care for this "house", so that it will remain a homestead favourable to his own life as well as to the subsistence for all the beings that live and dwell there in together with him (Goodpaster et al., 1979). The natural habitat of man is being threatened ever more by an ecological crisis, which is the result either of a too careless and wasteful exploitation of nature's resources or of environmental strain, such as pollution of water air and land, and an excessive encroachments on nature which destroy the space for animals and plants (Hessel, 1985). Concrete requirements of an ecological ethics needs the following factors:

A. Obstacles to ecological responsibility

Humans are tempted to abuse the power of control and dominion which we have over other beings for our own advantage and without consideration for their legitimate interests, even if these other beings are humans and much more so if they are animals and inanimate creatures. There are vested interests of an economic nature, which for the sake of higher output, lower cost and better profit, tend to belittle and to ignore the dangers resulting from certain production processes, often in industry, but also in mining, agriculture and others. There is the constraint of politicians to quick success and political pragmatism. "The real growth of economy is probably the decisive factor in political elections" (Passmore,1974). Indolence, ingrained living habits, lack of flexibility, and reluctance to learn the cause, and aggravation of the dangers to the environment e.g., dangers resulting from faulty agricultural methods, imprudent deforestation, reckless hunting manners may also stand as an obstacle. Not all difficulties and obstacles are of moral nature. They result from: lack of finances, inexorable pressures of competition and of employment needs, rapidly growing population, and from the complexity of the problems. The solution to some problems only be found on a national, or even interregional and international basis.

B. Use of natural resources

Many animal species and plants are threatened in their existence because of human greed, reasons for entertainment, vanity and other forms of private interest. Here the direct cause of the ecological threat is the individual collector, fan or consumer. "The rarer an animal, a plant becoming extinct, the greater the desire to kill it, pluck it, possess it-stuffed or pressed. Whether crocodiles or comb of tortoise shell, ivory carving, fur, Whether varicoloured plumes of birds on the hat- all are gifts in great demand, which are meant to raise the prestige" (Steck, 1978). Renewable resources "should not be used up faster than they can be replaced. When they are needed at a higher rate than they can be replaced, they raise the same problem raised by loss of the nonrenewable resources. We should use what we need, but we should keep our needs rational, avoid waste, and preserve the environment as best we can."

C. Subordination of technology to the comprehensive good of all creation

Technology turns abusive when it loses its function as an instrument in the service of humans and creation and becomes a self-serving end for reasons of prestige ostentation, profit and power. Ecological problems caused by technology are : (1) the pollution (2) Depletion of natural resources (3) The saturation of environment with chemicals (4) Soiling and defacement of the beauty of nature ( Francis, John,1976). In as much as beauty is a value, woven into nature by the creator himself in countless ways, it like wise addresses man's moral responsibility, claims respect and preservation.

D. Personal concern and critical conduct in consumption

Personal concern for the environment begins with the care for the cleanliness in the streets, parks, camping sites and all public places. It shows itself in the solicitude for public goods and utilities, since all damages and devastations signify wastes not only of community goods but also of the resources of nature. A change in the habits of conduct go at the expense of the natural environment is necessary. It is not to hamstring the cycle of the economy by renunciation of consumption but to set new accents through a critical conduct in consumption.

E. Care for the animal world

The careless, reckless extinction of an animal species moreover is an injury against the creator, who has fashioned all thins to manifest his greatness and to proclaim his glory. They are his handwork and his work of art. It behooves humans to care for them and to protect them, and not to wipe them out and to destroy them. Cruelty to animals is a moral offence (Murphy,1989).

F. The law as instrument for environmental protection

"An ecologically committed, social market economy can not do with out orders and prohibitions, impositions, controls and sanctions, if economic process is to proceed according to ecological needs. Who offend against such norms, must have to reckon with drastic penalties " (Regan, 1987). Ecological legislation is a challenge to responsible conduct not only for entrepreneurs and producers, but, for every citizen. Faithful compliance with the laws already in existence, support of the necessary political measures for environmental protection, and a sense of personal responsibility for the preservation of the environment are required from all citizens.

Citizens cannot limit themselves to mere legality and regard as lawful whatever is not forbidden. Everybody is responsible for their actions before their own conscience, in ecological matters as much as in all other spheres of life.

9. Root Causes of the Environmental Crisis Against Biosecurity

The root causes include:

10. Preservation and Conservation: A Means For Biosecurity

involves maintaining areas unchanged from the conditions they were in when their importance was first recognized. Conservation recognizes that natural communities of plants and animals are not static, and it involves preventing any development that would alter or destroy natural habitat but not interfering unduly with ecological changes that occur naturally (Elliot,1993). The World Conservation strategy puts forth three objectives in favour of biosecurity. (1) to maintain essential ecological processes and life-supporting systems. (2) to preserve genetic diversity which is being dangerously impoverished. And (3) to ensure the sustainable use by us and our children of species and ecosystems. (Genetic variation in plants and animal species provides the requisite materials for sustaining and improving farm production, forestry, animal husbandry and fisheries).

11. Conclusions

The problems against biosecurity are numerous and complex. It can only be resolved by determining the cause, means of prevention, and necessary controls of specific hazards and combined hazards through the use of epidemiological research, special study techniques, risk assessment, and risk management techniques .Not only in the ecosystem, the food chain, the growth of the population and the energy cycle must be understood, but also the use and abuse of energy and the impact of humans on their own environment. An economic determination as to the benefit risk of each type of environmental, impact must be made backed by reasonable decisions concerning these impacts. The legal system and the trained environmental practitioners, along with all levels of government, industry and concerned citizenry, must be employed to voluntarily improve the environment of all living organisms. People use of skill, good sense, and planning can avoid this destruction and provide for a wholesome, safe environment for future generations.

12. References

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Berjer J.J., ed. Environmental Restoration : Science and strategies for restoring the earth. C.A: Island Press, 1989.'
Brown, L. R. et al. State of the world. New York: W. W. Norton,1991, 1995, 1996.'
Burton,I. The environment as hazard. Longman,1994.'
Elliot J. An introduction to sustainable development. London:Routledge,1993.'
Francis, John. Facing up to nuclear power. Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1976.'
Freedman, B. Stress and the Management of Ecological Reserves. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1992.'
Goodpaster,K. E. et al., Ethics and problems of the 21st century. London: University of Notredam, 1979.'
Goudie, A. Environmental change. Oxford University press, 1983'
Hessel, Dieter,T. For creation's sake: Preaching ecology and Justice. Philadelphia: Geniva, 1985.'
Holdgate, M. From care to action: Making a sustainable world. London: Earthscan, 1995.'
Jordan W.R. et al., Restoration Ecology: A Synthetic approach to Ecological Research. Cambridge University Press, 1990.'
Lamb, R. Promising the earth. London: Routledge, 1996.'
Markham, A. A brief history of pollution. London: Earthscan,1994.'
Murphy,Charles. At Home on Earth: Foundations of Catholic Ethics of the Environment. New York, 1989.'
Passmore, John. Man's Responsibility for Nature. New York: Charles, 1974.'
Regan,Tom. The struggle for animal rights. ISAR, 1987.'
Steck,Odil, Hannes. World and Environment Nashville: Abingdon, 1978.'

(Paper presented at the Sixth International Tsukuba Bioethics Roundtable: Bioethics, Health and the Environment (TRT6), 27-29 October, 2000)'

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