According to the fao.org,
“The word ethics is often misunderstood, e.g. when it is identified with religion or, more narrowly, with emotion, intuition or sentiment. All these might contribute to an ethical viewpoint (though many people do not have religious beliefs) – but defining it as ‘the science of how we should live’ puts a proper emphasis on the fact that ethics is based in reason and can be discussed openly. Bioethics deals with ethical questions that arise from our knowledge of biology and how it is used, e.g. in biotechnology.”
I am currently majoring in Biology at Winona State University. Undertaking two bachelors of Science I have learned a great deal about how animals live and plants function, and how new science and technologies are providing methods to give faster growing animals and crops. During my continuing studies I cannot stop the many questions that permeate my thoughts. While the questions about how the Earth works, from the life cycle of a fruit fly to the succession of an ecosystem are being answered; I am riddled with even more questions as to why all of this knowledge is being used solely to dominate the earth’s cycles and natural patterns instead of synthesizing and contributing to the more resilient cycle that has been in place long before we humans existed.
Personally I think we are quite arrogant and foolish in our current normative thinking of humans as being somehow superior to other forms of life. Yes, we have the ability to reason and have a high capacity for critical thinking but so far we don’t seem to use these skills in any sort of capacity that we should. We have such promise as a species, yet for all of our intelligence we will be the only species to cause its own extinction. Take for example our ever ongoing arms race with bacteria. We keep creating antibiotics to combat the adverse effects that certain bacterial infections cause us. The problem with this system is that bacteria have been around for eons longer than ourselves and can rapidly evolve to become resistant to whatever antibiotics we can create. Only human beings would have such hubris to think that we could synthetically create a worthy adversary to something that has successfully been living and evolving for 3.5 billion years. (versus our standing on the earth merely 1/2 million years…David Morrison NAI Senior Scientist June 12, 2006). This current system is why we know have ‘superbugs’ that we have no way of dealing with. Many think that pushing for more antibiotics is our only option, but there are so many alternatives out there that work better, and more importantly within the natural system. I will save the medical system rant for another post however. 🙂
Another fatal flaw in our logic is that we seem to think that there is only ever one option, to fight and to dominate. There is another and much more effective alternative however. According to Gut flora in Health and Disease, (Guarner F, Malagelada JR February 2003), …
…bacteria make up most of the flora in the colon and up to 60% of the dry mass of feces. Somewhere between 300 and 1000 different species live in the gut, with most estimates at about 500. However, it is probable that 99% of the bacteria come from about 30 or 40 species. Research suggests that the relationship between gut flora and humans is not merely commensal (a non-harmful coexistence), but rather a symbiotic relationship. These microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system, preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria, regulating the development of the gut, producing vitamins for the host (such as biotin and vitamin K), and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut_flora)
This is just one example of how humans using the accepted utilitarian, Judeo-Christian, world domination view are creating an arms race with nature, and this is a race that we cannot win. Bringing this into our key subject here we can see a similar arms race against nature in agriculture. The terrible effects that intensive farming has on the soil causes farmers to dump nitrogen and other chemicals onto the soil to keep production up. The chemicals that are dumped onto the fields are found on and in almost everything that we ingest. Our fruits and vegetables, our water supply, even the meat that you eat!
Industrial Agriculture is a reductionist philosophy. In a nutshell: the farmers, and scientists helping them reduce the productivity of crops to one nitrogen. They then feed hyper concentrated fertilizer nitrogen to the plants and bigger plants are produced. This is seen as a success but fails to see the bigger picture or consequences like the hypoxic or dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the run off of all these chemicals. It also does not take into account that plants can only uptake certain amounts of nitrogen during certain times that depend on rainfall, etc. so most of it is wasted and is leaked in high quantities into water supplies, feedstock, etc. (Union of Concerned Scientists of Massachusetts).
Click here to visit the website that provided the above picture.
Click here to view the website where I got this information.
Agrichemical use causes contamination of groundwater reserves with poisonous pesticides or herbicides such as: Atrazine, Simazine, Dieldrin, Chlorpyriphos, Amitrol, Metolachlor, Trifluraline and Diuron Dieldrin, Lindane, and Alachlor.
Synthetic agrichemicals (and most plastics widely used in our society) are derived from oil, and thus a source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (especially xenoestrogens) in the environment. There is also evidence to link xenoestrogens to a range of human medical concerns, particularly reproductive problems such as reduced sperm count in men and breast cancer in women.
Even the “safest” herbicides such as Roundup (glycophosphate) are now known to pose a danger to wetland ecologies, and can totally decimate frog populations at routine contamination levels.
If this is happening in America now…..
How long do you think it will take before this is happening in America….
Click here to see more about how the Chinese pollution is affecting there lives…
The problems with our current system of agriculture can be listed and discussed for an eternity. I have already outlined some of the major disadvantages in previous posts so you can review them as necessary.
Let us outline a few of the philosophical disciplines that are used in the debates within environmental ethics. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia…
…Environmental ethics is the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents. … (1) the challenge of environmental ethics to the anthropocentrism embedded in traditional western ethical thinking; (2) the early development of the discipline in the 1960s and 1970s; (3) the connection of deep ecology, feminist environmental ethics, and social ecology to politics; (4) the attempt to apply traditional ethical theories, including consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, to support contemporary environmental concerns; and (5) the focus of environmental literature on wilderness, and possible future developments of the discipline.(Jan 3, 2008)…
In any literature on environmental ethics you will read about the distinction between instrumental value and intrinsic value. The former is the value of things as means to further some other ends (usually anthroprocentric ends), whereas the latter is the value of things as ends in themselves regardless of whether they are also useful as means to other ends. This basically means that instead of valuing something for what it can provide for you, you value it simply because of its own worth. For example it is often said to be morally wrong how human beings pollute and destroy parts of the natural environment and are consuming the planet’s natural resources without any thought to the consequences. The distinction that needs to be made here is why it is wrong. Is it wrong based on its instrumental value to current and future generations or is wrong because the living things within the environmant have their own rights to be respected and protected?
I am personally of the opinion that all life should be valued for its intrinsic value and not its value to humans. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. It was refreshing to read something not quite so weighted down with the deeper language of philosophy and just glimpse into another’s mind for a moment and realize that their thoughts and ideas were similar to yours.
(Left: Aldo Leopold, Right: Christopher Stone)
I also really enjoyed reading Christopher Stone’s Should Trees Have Standing-Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. I agree with him in that Natural Objects such as rivers, and trees, and animals should have legal rights to protect them. I think most of us can agree that beating your pet dog, or making your cat homeless, or starving your horse are all morally wrong.We appreciate having laws in place to punish the people who do such unimaginable things to their pets. Why should you feel any different towards the people that are beating the soil into uselessness, making thousands of life forms homeless and extinct, and starving things like wetland ecologies?
I do not think it logically possible to believe that all living things are intrinsically valuable and not believe that all living things should have rights. I mean seriously, if we can give humans the right to sue a company for it coffee being hot, don’t you think we can give other living beings the right to live? Think about it.
All in all one could say that all of these arguments are arbitrary since it doesn’t matter why you think protecting the environment is necessary, (for the good of humanity vs. the good of all the living things themselves), the result is the same. The logic holds that the system that is currently in place will eventually kill humankind, if not our entire planet; possibly killing all living things as we know it. It all boils down to our inevitable hubris again. While we sit and argue about our opinions about this, assuming in fact that our opinions matter in the least, our planet will continue dying until either it dies, or we do. The answer is clear, we need to create a new system, starting with sustainable agriculture.
Over 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been permanently lost because of the constant use of monocultures in industrial farming. Monoculture means that the farmers use only a very small number of genetic variations in their crops. (For more information about the topic Monoculture, follow this link to read more articles.) This practice was implemented to increase the amount of food produced while lessening the amount of resources needed to produce the harvest. Monoculture will lead to build up of resistant pests and disease pathogens, the depletion of soil fertility, and it will lead to scarcity in the availability of other crop products. For example the Irish Famine or the more current issue of the Rust Fungus afflicting many countries wheat. In both cases monoculture was used, and in both cases entire crops were wiped out because the crops couldn’t resist the diseases that came. Mass starvations followed and in the case of the Irish Famine over one million lives were lost. To read more bout the Rust Fungus and its impact around the world click here.
Regardless wether you believe that the environment should be protected for its use to human beings or that it should be protected for its own sake, the environment needs to be protected and this will not happen unless the leaders of the world collaborate and make laws against its abuse. Many countries are already implementing eco-friendly laws. To see a collection of the top ten ecofriendly countries and there descriptions click here.
It is sad that here in America, one of the richest most technologically advanced countries in the world takes second place in the top ten list of the worst polluting countries in the world. Please click here to watch a video about why sustainability isn’t just an ethical standpoint, but a necessary change.
In my next post we will talk more about the animal side of farming…….
Side note: Click here to take a look at a wonderful web based interactive exercise complete with brain storming tools specific to farming and food ethics.