Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ecology’s Dilemma Today

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 Shangrila 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. 

Pristine environment such as the Loboc River in Bohol is becoming rare

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 up 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 diarrheal diseases. Already there are 15 million people who have died of AIDS and 40 millions 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.

Street children rehabilitation center. Bahay ni Kuya, Cubao QC

• 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 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 7.7 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 Malthus right after all? It looks like the ghost of this English political economist and priest is back to warn us, this time more urgent than his 1789 prediction that our population would grow until it reaches the limits of our food supply.

• 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 will melt, more rains and climatic disturbances will 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 some years ago at Rio de Janairo, 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.

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? 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 Summit

The recent Copenhagen Earth Summit renewed basically the agenda of previous summits. But demonstrators expressed pessimism over the sincerity of world leaders on environmental issues. 

Idyllic rural life.  People tend to go and live in the city. Painting by the author. 

They had in mind what happened to the promises made by leaders from 178 nations who gathered in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro some years 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.

There are now 7.7 billion people on earth. Every year about 85 million people are added. This is slightly bigger than the Philippines’ total 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.

What is the score of the Earth Summit? Rhetorics 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.

“Hundreds of millions of people will starve to death,” warned Paul Ehrlich in his book, The Population Bomb. This is an echo of the Malthusian Theory raised 250 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 megacities 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 live in cities. By year 2015, 27 of the world’s 33 largest cities will be found in Asia, with Mumbai 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 million 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.

Indeed, this millennium is the deciding point whether we can save Mother Earth - or fail. Already a decade has passed, and the trend of destruction has even increased. If we fail it is also the doom of mankind and the living world. It is yet the greatest challenge to civilization. ~

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