Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Part 1: Bioethics and Environment - Two Basic Lessons in Life

Bioethics and Environment - Two Basic Lessons in Life
Dt Abe V Rotor
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This world, which appears to be a great workshop in which knowledge is developed by man – which appears as progress and civilization, as a modern system of communication, as a structure of democratic freedom without any limitations – this world is not capable of making man happy.

- Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope
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Pristine water of Abra River passing through Banaoang Pass, Santa, Ilocos Sur

I thank the International Congress on Bioethics for inviting me through Fr. Tamerlane Lana, to make a commentary on Bioethics and the Environment. Distinguished lecturers, fellow reactors, participants, guests, friends, good morning.

Our resource person, Dr. Michael Cheng-tek Tai, said, “… not only human life is influenced by biological factors but also by social, psychological and even environmental factors.” He asked, “Is our environment in a good condition to fortify a good life for mankind?”

First allow me to me to relate a story before I proceed with my reaction.

But there are no neighbors!

Once there was a workshop for adult leaders somewhere in Asia. The teacher asked the participants to draw on the blackboard a beautiful house, a dream house ideal to live in and raise a family. It was of course, an exercise, which in the minds of the participants was as easy as copying a model from experience and memory. Besides it is a universal dream to own such a house, which allows free interplay of both reason and imagination, using the left and the right brain. The participants formed a queue to allow everyone to contribute his own idea on the blackboard.

The first in the queue drew the posts of the house, on which the succeeding members made the roof and floor. The rest proceeded in making the walls and windows. On the second round the participants added garage, porch, veranda, gate, staircase, fence, swimming pool, TV antennae, and other amenities. Finally their dream house was completed and they returned to their seats. A lively “sharing session” followed and everyone was happy with the outcome of the exercise, including the teacher. Just then a little child happened to be passing by and saw the drawing of the house on the blackboard. He stopped and entered the classroom. He stood there for a long time looking at the drawing and the teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no neighbors!”

Human relations is very important. Sociology has become a major field in education. There is a field of biology known as Human Ecology. Economics is rooted into the theory of equitable wealth distribution, where everyone gets a fair share of the pie. Most religions, including ancient religions, are anthropocentric. The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Matthew 25, Sermon on the Mount, the meaning of Messiah – all these and many more speak of man to be good to his fellowmen. Salvation is not aimed at oneself, but should be one that is collective, which means, “No one goes to heaven alone.” Very little mention is made on the role of the environment, or nature for that matter, in leading man to heaven.

But there are no trees, rivers...

In a another village near the first one I told you, there was a similar workshop. This time the participants were asked to draw a community. So they made a queue for the blackboard and after working together, came up with a beautiful drawing of a community. There are houses - many houses; a church, a school, village hall, plaza. Roads and bridges make a network in the village showing many people. The market is very busy. Anything that makes a typical village is there. The participants discussed, “What constitute a community?” and everyone was so eager and delighted at the result. Just then a little child was passing by, and when he saw the drawing on the backboard, stopped and entered the classroom. The teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no trees, no birds; there are no mountains, no fields, no river!”

As no man is an island, so is a village without a natural environment. What good is man living on top of a hill while being surrounded by people in abject poverty? What good is progress – megacities, science and technology, internet, - when progress itself is responsible for the destruction of the land, the seas, and the atmosphere, in short, the Planet Earth.

Many days had passed since the two workshops. Virtually no one ever thought of looking for the little child - who he was or where he lived. Then the whole village suddenly realized, and so they began to search for him, but they never found him – not in the village, not in the neighboring village, not in the town, not in any known place.

Who was the little child? Everyone who saw him never forgot his kindly beautiful and innocent face, and they pondered on his words which remained a puzzle to them for a long, long time.

Environmental Philosophy

What is wrong with our relationship with nature? There are those who believe that nature shall serve humanity. On the other hand there are those who believe that humanity shall serve nature. And there are those who say, it is “something in between”.

We speak about environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, eco-philosophy, and so on, but what do we put into these concepts, and how? Understanding these terms may not solve environmental problems, but on the other hand it is questionable whether we can solve these problems without discussing them on a philosophical level.

There are different views about change. Scientific knowledge and government policies for example, often disagree and run into conflict at each other. Economics and ecology, though they share a common root word and foundation, are strange bedfellows, so to speak. Yet they support common goals geared toward change. But change has to be viewed more than the measures of GNP, currency, balance of trade, and the like, and should not only be confined to Human Development Indices, such as literacy rate, mortality and population. While these are parameters of growth and development, certain questions on sustainability and environmental preservation are left unanswered. How do we ensure future generations? We ask ourselves what is “progress without conscience?” And whose development? What is the relationship between progress and posterity?

Which leads us to Dr. Tai’s paper, Who is man on earth? Is he Master? He proceeded in saying that man is a steward – one who must treat nature with overwhelming respect. Man has responsibility to God, to nature, to his fellowmen, other creatures and the Earth.

It is on this concept that we measure the obedience of man. It is also on this concept that man’s greatest achievement is made, his martyrdom, his heroism. The hero concept revolutionizes traditional and conventional definition of a hero. He is more than a nationalist, an economist, or an ideologist, as we generally know, but a hero for Mother Earth. The late Dr. Dioscorro Umali, national scientist, addressed a graduating class at the University of the Philippines with this statement, “Be the heroes we never were.” The essence of his speech is that his generation left so little of the earth’s resources for the next generations to inherit and enjoy. “We have not only abused the bounties of Nature,” he said, “We have destroyed her as well.” Which leads us to the topic, environmental movement.

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Today, rather than defending himself against nature, man realized, he needed to defend nature against himself.

- AV Rotor, Light from the Old Arch
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Environmental Movement

Environmental movement has roots in ancient cultures as gleamed from such old structures as the Banawe Rice Terraces. Throughout history as civilizations grew and spread the environment became a sacrificial lamb. Such phrases “all roads lead to Rome,” “the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome,” “the sun never sets on English soil,” and the eight wonders of the ancient world may reflect man’s ultimate achievements, yet all these were ephemeral in the mist of time in man’s dreams. In the end, it is nature that takes them away from the hands of man. The loss of natural environments has led to the decline of civilizations and their subsequent demise.

Revival of environmental awareness came at the heels of the Renaissance. In the 12th century St. Francis of Assisi brought a new concept of devotion. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the creatures on Earth our friends, laid down the foundation of naturalism in the Christian church reviving much of the Aristotelian naturalism, and those in ancient cultures.

It is but fitting that St. Francis of Assisi is regarded as the patron saint of ecology. Time Magazine came up with a list of heroes for Planet Earth, among them are naturalist philosophers or conservationist philosophers are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. Here is a glimpse at their contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other heroes of planet Earth cited include Barbara Ward, author of Only One Earth which shaped the UN environmental conference; Ernest Schumacher who did not believe in endless growth, mega-companies and endless consumption, an advocated for Small is Beautiful, a best seller; Jacques-Yves Cousteau, oceanographer who espoused the need to arrest the declining health of the oceans. There many more whom we can compare with the Unknown Soldier, but a soldier in defense of nature.

Continued...

1 comment:

Ria Salaveria said...

Since I entered college, I never had the chance to enjoy the beauty of nature. I was always busy doing school work or resting when there are no classes. I never realized how much nature can do so much for me until I got the chance to do so.

One day, I was so stressed with school that I decided to sit at the Botanical Garden of our school. It was only then that I realized again the beauty of nature. Not only did I see its beauty, I also realized how relaxing it was. The fresh air, the chirping of the birds and the swinging of the trees was a relief. For a second,I forgot about my problems.