The Dilemma of Ecology - All in the Name of Progress
By Dr. Abe V. Rotor
• It looks like man has been able to trace the source of the water that comes from the proverbial Pierian Spring, the secret of health and long life. For years it was believed that the spring lies up in Shangri-La atop the Himalayas, or according to the Greeks on Mt. Olympus, or the Egyptians in the Pyramids. One does not have to go there now. Even today the average life span of man is mid 70. It will not be a surprise if one out of a hundred individuals will be a centenarian. One report claims that the life span of man can be increased to 140 years by the middle of the millennium. How long did Moses live?
• But cancer is on the rise, so with AIDS, and the spread of genetically linked defects and illness. Work-related and stress-related deaths will likewise increase with heart and severe depression as the leading diseases, followed by the traditional diseases like respiratory and diarrhea diseases. Already there are 15 million who have died of AIDS and 40 million more who are living with HIV, the viral infection. A pandemic potential with up to 1 billion people to become affected with HIV has started appearing on some crystal balls and this is not impossible if it hits populous Asia.
• Cloning, the most controversial discovery in biology and medicine will continue to steal the limelight in this millennium, stirring conscience, ethics and religion. It is now sensed as the biggest threat to human society, and if Frankenstein is back and some people regard him as a hero instead of a villain, we can only imagine the imminent destruction our society faces - the emergence of sub- and ultra- human beings. On the other hand, there are those who look at cloning as an important tool of medicine to enable doctors to save lives and increase life expectancy. They also believe that cloning in situ (on site) will do away with tedious and unreliable organ transplants.
• Gene therapy is in, medicinal healing is out. It means diagnosing the potential disease before it strikes by knowing its source. Actually diseases are triggered by specific genes. Reading the gene map of an individual, the doctor can “cure” the disease right at it genetic source. We call this gene therapy, the newest field in medical science. But the altered gene will be passed on to the next generation. Playing God, isn’t? Definitely it is, and it is possible to use this technology not only for the sake of treatment but for programmed genetic alteration. Another Frankenstein in the offing? But scientists are saying gene therapy can be a tool in removing permanently the genes that cause cancer, AIDS, and genetically linked diseases like diabetes, Down ’s syndrome, and probably alcoholism.
• We are in an age of test tube babies. There are now more than 100,000 test tube babies in the US alone since 1978, the arrival of Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby. The industry has just started booming with sperm and ova banks established and linked with the Internet and other commodity channels. Not only childless couples can have children, but even a sixty year old woman can - through what is coined as menopausal childbirth technology. Surrogate mothers for hire, anyone?
• If diseases can be predicted and successfully treated, and life can be prolonged – these have indeed grave consequences to population increase. Already there are 6.7 billion people inhabiting the earth today, and we are increasing at the rate of more than 80 million a year. After 2150 we shall have reached 13 billion, the estimated maximum capacity our planet can support. Is the Malthusian theory true after all? It looks like the ghost of this English political economist and religious leadert, the founder of this theory, is back to warn us, this time more urgent than his 1789 prediction that as population grows and that food production grows only mathematically, there will come a time when population will outstrip the capacity of the earth to feed the world’s population resulting to famine.
• Our Earth is getting warmer, and this is not any kind of comfort but destruction. We have experienced seven of the ten warmest years in the past decade and we are heading toward another Noah’s episode. Low lying areas where the rich farmlands and many big cities virtually squat will be flooded. Heat is trapped by the carbon that we generate from our cars and industries creating a “greenhouse effect”. As the world’s temperature increases, the polar ice melts, and more rains and climatic disturbances ensue. Climate scientists have predicted that by year 2100 the earth’s temperature will go up from 1 to 3.5 degrees centigrade. But wait, the worst is yet to come. Global warming will plunge us ultimately – towards the middle of the millennium – into another ice age! There will be a buildup of ice at the Polar Regions as the ocean currents fail to carry warm water to the poles and back.
• The trend of lifestyle will be toward the simple and natural, even in the midst of high-tech living. More and more people will go for natural food and natural medicine as they become conscious of their health. The media and the information highway will provide more people access to entertainment and information. Remote management and distance learning will greatly influence business and education. But people will still seek greener pastures in cities and in foreign lands.
• “Save the earth!” has yet to be a denominator of cooperation and peace among nations. The failure of the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, and the first summit before in Stockholm, has produced valuable lessons leaders must learn. There is only one ship in which all of us are riding. Let us all save our ship.
All in the name of Progress
It is all in the name of progress that nations are pursuing. The West insists of pushing the frontiers of technology into the so-called “third wave”. The East, the Asian Pacific region, insists on industrialization in order to catch up with the progress of the West, while the Middle East has yet to undergo a major socio-cultural and political transformation while aiming at lofty economic goals.
Ruins of the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar
Progress, it is generally believed, is the aim of globalization, and globalization is building of a world village. Isn’t this the key to peace and cooperation? This sounds familiar to scholars and leaders.
Maybe, but the greatest challenge lies in the preservation of a healthy Mother Earth, a common denominator of concern irrespective of political, ideological and religious boundaries. It is the saving of the environment that will be the biggest challenge to this and the coming generations.
Poor Rating of Earth Summits
Let us look at what happened to the promises made by leaders from 178 nations who gathered in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro more than a decade ago. These are the four areas of accord: biodiversity, climate, deforestation, and population.
On the biodiversity accord signed by 161 countries (except the US), ecosystems continue to be assaulted and fragmented. On arresting global warming as a result of emissions from industries and vehicles, developing countries on the path of industrialization have exacerbated the problem. Deforestation virtually knows no limits and bounds as long as there is wilderness to conquer. Every year forests are lost the size of Nepal. Asia has lost 95 percent of its woodlands.
Every year about 80 millions people are added. This is about the Philippines population. Although birth rates are going down in the West as well as in the NICS, there is a boom in babies in rural Asia Latin America and Africa.
Rhetoric and promises can not be relied upon. It is in this area that globalization should be reviewed. Globalization should be defined in economic, cultural and environmental terms. This triad approach has yet to be addressed to all members of the global village. And there should be a new world governance, more credible than the UN, to undertake this gargantuan task. Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gases. On December 10, 1997, 160 nations reached agreement in Kyoto, Japan, to limit emission of CO2 and other gases in order to arrest Greenhouse Effect threatening the whole world. But not all countries signed the treaty, among them the US and Australia. Actually the Kyoto Protocol is not new. In 1992, some 170 countries ratified a similar treaty reducing emission of gases to the level of 1990 by 2000, but this did not yield the desired result.
“Hundreds of millions of people will starve to death,” warned Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb.” This is an echo of the Malthusian Theory raised 200 years ago. This means farmers, in spite of biotechnology, can not keep up indefinitely with increasing food demands. Yet there is a great disparity in food distribution. While the average adult needs 2200 calories a day, an American consumes 3603 as compared to the intake of a Kenyan which is only 1991 calories.
Degradation of the land, the breaking up of ecosystems, are resulting to modern day exodus of ecomigrants who cross borders, invade cities and build marginal communities, threaten security of nations, and creates other socio-economic problems. Desertification, soil erosion, overuse of farms drive multitudes to search for greener pasture, many in the guise of overseas workers, settlers, refugees.
The birth of mega cities is a human phenomenon in modern times. The world’s cities are bursting at the seams. Half of the world’s population live in urban areas today, and more are coming in. In developed countries 75 percent of their population lives in cities. By year 2015, 27 of the world’s 33 largest cities will be found in Asia, with Bombay and Shanghai bursting with 20 million each. Today the most populous city in the world is Tokyo with 27 million people. New York has 16.3 millions which is about the same as Sao Paolo. Metro Manila has 10 million.
On global warming, figures show how the world fares under greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is attributed to the severity of the last three episodes of El Nino in the last three decades, and to the prevalence of deadly tornadoes, hurricane, floods and natural calamities.
A hole in the sky was caused by damaging chemicals that tear down the vital atmospheric ozone shield that keeps us from too much heat and radiation. The size of the ozone hole about the Antarctic region is estimated to be like the whole continental US – and is still expanding. CFC use is now restricted in most countries, but there are other damaging chemicals used by agriculture and industry. Methyl bromide for one is 40 times more destructive to ozone than CFC.
Antarctica: World’s Park
One of the few places on earth unexploited by humans is Antarctica. Not now, not until recently. With the Antarctic Treaty of 1991 declares that “Antarctica shall be open to all nations to conduct scientific or other peaceful activities there,” seven countries have already laid overlapping claims on the continent, which comprises one-tenth of the world’s total land area. Thousands of tourists are now visiting Antarctica every year.
Scientific research is economically motivated, such as oil exploration, with geopolitical or military objectives in mind. Earlier – in the 1970s New Zealand proposed designating an Antarctica World Park, making it an international wilderness area. On the ecological point of view, Antarctica is fragile with simple and short food chains that support few organisms such as the penguin, whales, shrimp-like krill. Any slight disturbance is likely to upset the delicate balance. We have already caused the growing hole of the ozone layer above Antarctica through unabated release of CFCs , and fossil-fuel combustion worldwide. Would humanity be better served by developing the natural resources of Antarctica than turning it into a world park and preserve its ecological balance?
We also ask the same question to areas similar to Antarctica, such as the pristine wildlife of Canada, Greenland, the Yukon Territories, the unexplored islands of the Pacific, and main Amazon Basin.
Ecology and Stock Exchange
In 2000, Earth Sanctuaries was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, making it the world’s first conservation company to go public. We know that conservation efforts have been conventionally under foundations and government projects. But this times this intriguing approach to conserving the environment raised as lot of questions.
Does the market place really have a role in habitat preservation? Is this approach really conserving natural ecosystem or just creating large zoos? Would we rather save and give our children good education that helps rescue an endangered animal? Indeed the conflict between maximizing profits and conservation raises ethical issues.
In the supermarket we find tags, organically grown, environment-friendly, eco-safe, environmentally safe, children-safe, ozone-friend, and so on. But are these claims true?
Consider the following:
• Look for the three-phase symbol of recycling – three interacting arrows to form a triangle.
• When buying a refrigerator or air-conditioned get the one that is Freon-free, ozone friendly. Be sure the purchase is covered by company guarantee.
• Producers of food claimed to be safe, such as organically grown, must be able to show a reliable track record. It is good to trace the source of food that we eat, from beginning with production to processing, and ultimately to the dining table.
• Even materials claimed to be biodegradable, photo-degradable, and the like, may not be readily converted into safe materials. As a general rule, save money from “over-packaged” commodities, and you save the environment as well. Don’t be misled by package advertising, how attractive it may appear.
Business versus Environment
Is it possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time? More and more businesses have begun adopting this concept as a business philosophy. People behind business organizations are becoming more aware of the ethical decisions they face, and their responsibility for their consequences. A multi-national corporation, responding to the provisions of GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CERES (Coalition of Environmental Responsible Economies), UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program), came up with the following thrusts:
• Restore and preserve the environment
• Reduce waste and pollution
• Education of the public on environmental conservation
• Work with government for sound and responsible environmental program
• Assess impact of business on the environment and communities.
The environment and the economy need not be viewed as opposites. Or strange bedfellows.
Otherwise the dilemma of ecology which is the very foundation of our existence is progress itself.
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