News Analysis | Jan 05,2020
April 11 , 2020
By Dejen Yemane ( Dejen Yemane is a PhD student at Addis Abeba University's College of Law & Governance Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. )
The planet is at war with a pandemic that originated in the Hubei province of China and has currently made Europe and the United States its epicentres. It has already taken the lives of tens of thousands, while over a million have contracted it.
Rapidly, international and national lockdowns have become a global reality. The virus indiscriminately attacks everyone from all walks of life, the politically and economically privileged as well as the “common” people. The globe currently finds itself in a panicked state of mind, entirely unsure when or how this pandemic will end.
If we take a bird’s eye view of the situation, there is an important take away here. Like all natural crises, the pandemic is a consequence born out of the ignorance of humankind. This is the price we pay when we fail to take precautionary measures while also pillaging and ransacking the environment for the sake of perpetual technological advancement. The onus for this falls mainly on the shoulders of developed nations.
Humankind has forgotten that it relies on nature as it moves to pillage it in ever more innovative ways, especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Unmitigated population growth, limitless production of goods, scientific innovations with indeterminate effects, international trade, endless capital accumulation and consumerism have led humankind astray. We have surpassed the amount we can extract without posing a serious threat to upsetting the balance that allows living things to survive.
The cause for this is human interference in the environment beyond its safe operating capacity. As if in a war against us, nature is retaliating through disasters and crises such as pandemics.
Worse still, our insistence on technological advancement has not been limited to any one region or country and has taken over the world. There has not been any safe place against “modernity” and materialism. Through colonialism and then a combination of diplomacy and mutual interests, international trade in goods and services has taken over the world at an incredibly fast pace. In the name of trade, a monopoly on culture, morality and custom was created, subconsciously or not, to propagate the same mentality of constant technological development. Now, everyone has become a player.
There were signs that, as this worldview of excess capitalism developed, humanity should reconsider its ways. But it was too late already, and it had become taboo to assert that economic development does not necessarily entail progress for humankind and that there may be drawbacks involved.
This is not to say that scientific advancement and innovation are bad in themselves. But the uncertainty of how we are to deal with every new piece of knowledge we gain or every new gadget we discover makes it dangerous.
Science has no definitive answer even for its own innovations. It is always open to being accepted, rejected, used for good or for bad. It is not unprecedented to see scientific innovations and development projects have negative effects on the environment and human lives. We are applying and consuming increasingly advanced gadgets without developing the necessary moral and ethical principles to use them.
This scientific uncertainty could have been managed through precautionary measures, which are usually disregarded. This has led to the devastation of the environment and our future.
Taking precautions based on a better-safe-than-sorry approach during decision making in times of scientific uncertainty on the possible harms of products, projects and innovations is necessary. Decision makers know this, but political expediency and calculations of profit usually get in the way.
The most obvious example of this is global warming. The fossil fuel industry heavily invested in carbon and is unwilling to change its ways because of the costs involved. It not only lobbied governments across the world not to introduce policies that protect the environment but sullied the debate around it through media.
Developed nations are responsible for many of these problems, but the effects are felt more drastically in the global South, where resources and infrastructure are hard to come by. They are not only unwilling to advance us in some way for burdening us with the negative consequences of their development but, in most cases, unwilling to acknowledge this fact.
The same is true for most of the causes of the pandemics over the past two decades. Scientists have warned for a long time that the global meat industry is creating the highly unsanitary and crowded animal farm conditions that serve as breeding grounds for new kinds of viruses.
This outbreak is purely a symptom of a failure to take precautionary measures. The defunding of research, international institutions and disregard of science and knowledge is the primary reason we find ourselves in this state.
Hopefully, humankind’s takeaway from the pandemic will be that the environment is our friend. Science is not necessarily against nature, but when applied without the necessary moral and ethical framework, the effects can be devastating and can lead to the perceptual drive for technological advancement that will, in the end, doom us all.
PUBLISHED ON Apr 11,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1041]
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