Industrialisation without environmental ethics

Sheela Kabir

ENVIRONMENTAL ethics is a systemic account of values carried by the natural world coupled with an inquiry into duties towards animals, plants, species and ecosystems. It deals with the relation between man and nature. But traditional ethics deals with the relation between man and man. Environmental ethics redefines the boundaries of ethical obligations by including nature in its scope. Today this ethics is applied to social, public and business policies.

Industry has been defined in this study taking into account manufacturing activities as well as repairing of manufactured goods, operating on a commercial basis. The raw materials of industries come from nature. These industries are being established in an unplanned way only to serve the financial interests of a group of people.

The mere economic interests of a group of people are destroying and polluting the nature. In Environmental Ethics, Holmes Rolston says, "Nature, and particularly the organic world, is subject to constant change as a result of man's economic activity. These changes include a reduction in the areas of vegetation, the acidification of the soil and water, industrial wastes, including some highly toxic substances, polluting the air, oceans and the soil, the combustion of large quantities of fossil fuels leading to an increase in the carbon dioxide concentration, which may result in changes in the health regime of the earth's surface. Throughout society's history man has modified his relations with nature, mostly in terms of the directions and scale of his action. At the beginning man and society had a purely consumer attitude to nature; later this consumption began to grow and take different forms. Not only did people use material provided by nature, they processed it, giving it new properties alien to the natural world. From that moment consumer relations were replaced by an attitude of dominating nature, extensively exploiting its resources. But this attitude to nature should be changed, improving the relation between human and nature and every organism must be a natural fit, integrated into a life-support system. In the wild, misfits cannot flourish and are eventually eliminated. However, much human business revises spontaneous nature, primarily by deliberately adapting the environment to humans rather than humans to the environment, humans do not escape the fundamental requirement of inclusive fitness to their surroundings. They have many operations among ways to do this but sooner or later must do it one way or another, for better or worse for themselves and the fauna, flora, and ecosystems in which they reside."

As a moral agent no human being should do such work which will harm his fellow people and his surroundings.

First, from the humanistic side, activities that do not degrade our environment and destroy our inclusive fitness are acceptable. Human activities can be considered moral by limiting individual and group benefits. Most of the industrial activities contribute to a reduced fitting of humans into the natural system. These industries do not really contribute to a better standard of living. Given a humanistic environmental ethics, industrial activities ought to be environmentally sensitive because humans are interlocked with their earth.

Second, from the naturalistic side, we have comprehensive duties to consider the natural community. Some natural objects count morally in their own right and ecosystems contains systemic and intrinsic values - from which humans derive a duty to respect "the land". Human activities should not be such which are more harmful for fauna, flora, species, ecosystems, landforms, etc.

In recent decades, for preserving the nature ethics has been developed for commerce. There are many states, which have local environmental rules. Environmental regulations have become a daily fact of business life. Industry is part of business. So, it should follow the ethics, which is mooted for commerce. It is essential to apply rules and regulations for preserving nature. It is also true that one needs to practice ethics in his personal life, which will help to follow the rules and regulations for preserving the nature as well.

Business and humanistic environmental ethics

If the environmental ethics is humanistic the following maxims would be primary considerations:

1. Do not assume that what is good for the company is good for the country. The word 'country' includes the people in their urban, rural and even wild places. Every developer, realtor, purchaser of minerals and fibres, user of energy, and disposer of wastes will find some ways of doing business better. Individuals and their companies are destroying the public domain, including their neighbourhood and countryside, its air, water, soil forests, resources for their own immediate self-interests. To prevent such disaster we have placed an ethics for the company.

2. Do not keep company affairs secret that may vitally affect those from whom such information is kept secret. A company has a limited right to keep trade secrets and to classify its affairs. But we generally see, there is a tendency to hide information that might prove detrimental to the company. Holmes Rolston says, "The reluctance to count spill-over costs and to take the trouble to distinguish the goods of company and country makes it important to get out the facts, and lack of them, for the purpose of open debate. This is especially important if those who may be hurt are to have the chance to defend their own interests." Company policy should volunteer to share relevant information even though it may reduce company profits.

3. Do not disclaim responsibility in inherited problems. When an individual joins in a firm, he gets involved with some inherited problems of the company. A firm enters the market with its inherited problems. It is not the fault of present employees. But the company is responsible for the effects of its past decisions. So, both individuals and firms will find out solution to the problems for which they are not responsible and the present operators, both the company and the concerned, can do something about eversing false conditions.

4. Industrialists should not do such transactions, which may have effect on recycling process of ecology. It is immoral for an industrialist to involve himself in environmental damage or distraction for own benefits. Before making a model of industry an economist should think how we spend resources and should take suggestion from the ecologists.

5. Some sectors of the economy may create market for their goods by using resources and technology. But it may not be socially desirable when it will not carry social value. Business should follow ethics of commerce for preserving the nature and caring for the human welfare. It may keep economic growth limited but it may be desirable to the society.

Business, naturalistic ethics

If the environmental ethics is naturalistic, the following maxims would be first considerations:

1. We should respect an ecosystem as a proven efficient economy. When humans do business they should respect ecosystem because the ecosystem is an efficient resource. When an industry interrupts an ecosystem, it should take care lest there be bad consequences. One analyst warns, "The survival of man may depend on what can be learned from the study of extensive natural ecosystems." That is, our economy can be improved by attention to the efficiency of nature's economy.

2. The rare the environment, the more carefully we ought to build an industry there. In general, this will impose minimally on industry. But it will vitally affect the few industries which work in rare environments. The rare environments are not likely to be essential to regional ecosystems. So, we can do without them. But they may serve us relics, fossils, and keepsakes as clues to the past or to alien and twilight worlds. They add diversity and options and their serendipitous benefit is that they are good indicators of the first negative effects that humans introduce, good laboratories of exotic survival. So, the rarer an environment, the lighter it ought to be treated.

3. The more beautiful the environment, the more delicately it ought to be treated. Before making an industry we should consider the intrinsic worth of environment.

4. Respect life, the more so the more sentient. We have duty to sentient life as a relevant moral consideration for industry and for individuals. Industry pressures have pushed employers and employees toward increasingly callous and inhumane treatment of animals, wild and domestic. Industry is permitted to capture the values in nature and in this capture innocent life will sometimes suffer. Rolston says, "Industries that manufacture or use pesticides ought also fund research to discover products that sterilise in preference to those that kill especially those that slowly and painfully kill vertebrate pests with highly developed nervous systems. Industry should fund research for products that kill pests more selectively, with less killing of non-offending wildlife. As a rule any pesticide that kills half as many innocents as pests ought to be discouraged, even banned. At least the burden of proof should lie with users who desire an exemption to a policy forbidding its use."

5. One to three species vanishes everyday. Within a decade that could be one per hour. If the accelerated extinction rate is unabated, 20 per cent of all species on earth could be lost within twenty years. About half these losses result from tropical deforestation, which is pressed by industrial forces, the second greatest cause is pollution. Many people believe that endangered species must be protected. To control the pollution we should respect life, the species more than the individual.

6. We should think of nature as a community first, a commodity second. An ecosystem is a community. Generally, we think nature is not a part of our community. We use the nature as a commodity for our own benefits. We cut the forests and set up industry. We forget that forest cannot be regenerated. The inhabitation of species and flora are destroyed with the destruction of forest. We do not understand the nitrogen economy. We are failing to recognise how the seemingly useless lichens found primarily on old trees are critical fixers of nitrogen that fertilise the forest. So, we should realise these problems and should think the nature as a community first, a commodity second.

Industries are being built for developing the country. We cannot stop industrialisation for controlling environmental pollution. But we can say an industrialist should follow the environmental laws and take suggestion from the scientist, ecologist and ethicist in order to minimise the industrial pollution.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, July 6, 2001