Research Proposal: Danger of Pesticides for Human and Environment

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Pesticides

It has been fifty years since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, and almost 65 years since Leopold Aldo published a Sand County Almanac. However, the core tenets of these two books remain salient well into the 21st century. Environmental stewardship is one of the most pressing responsibilities of human beings on the planet, as the population continues to skyrocket around the globe and consumption patterns with it. The problems that overpopulation pose for land use are as critical as the most pressing political issues such as terrorism and gender equity. It is therefore important that scholars and policy makers engage in a learned and informed debate about how human beings should live on this earth as it stands now. When pondering the question about how to ideally live on the earth, it is necessary to consider matters related to food security. Food security in turn depends on the global abundance of plant and animal sources of nutrition that can prevent disease and promote global health and well being. Concurrent with the concern over food security is the concern over how to produce enough food without resorting to the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. In 1962, Rachel Carson warned her readers about the dangers of relying on pesticides. Remarkably, Carson's words were heeded enough to lead to some changes to American policies regarding some chemicals like DDT. However, pesticide use remains rampant worldwide. Toxins that are banned in the United States are used liberally abroad, and there are few restrictions on importing products into the United States that were grown with domestically banned pesticides. Gilles states, "recent estimates suggest that pesticides account for more than 20,000 fatalities yearly, and that most of these will have occurred in developing countries," (11). Moreover, the estimate may be "gross underreporting," (Gilles 11). Therefore, it is proposed that a global conference on pesticide dangers be called to promote sustainable agriculture worldwide as a matter of food security.

Food security is integral to environmental ethics and the practice and philosophy of environmental stewardship. Environmental stewardship is a complex practice with no absolute definition, and will differ depend on the culture and locality in which it is applied. There are some common areas to all types of environmental stewardship, though. As Regan puts it, "an environmental ethic must hold that there are nonhuman beings which have moral standing," (19). This does not necessarily forbid human beings from ever killing other organisms, because such an extreme view would lead to the decimation of the human race. Rather, environmental stewardship should be conceptualized much as Aldo Leopold defined the land ethic. The land ethic is a clear and sensible statement that transcends differences of culture and geography. Like environmental ethics, land ethic is common sense.

However, there has yet to evolve a global policy that delineates a code of action related to land ethic. Such a policy is due. The time is right for a clear mandate related to pesticide use worldwide, rather than allowing individual nations to make decisions based on economic expediency. The food that is grown in China and Guatemala is eaten in the United States and Great Britain. Therefore, an environmental ethic and a land ethic become critical universal concerns. As Leopold put it, "The extension of ethics, so far studied only by philosophers, is actually a process in ecological evolution," (p. 238). Environmental ethics and land ethics were radically different concepts when Leopold published a Sand County Almanac, but they should not seem so radical today. The concept of a land ethic should be as commonplace as the concept of any human ethic such as anti-slavery or the right of women to participate in public life. Land ethics are the prevailing moral issue of the 21st century because, like gender issues, land use issues affect all human beings.

It is important to transcend the issue of national sovereignty when it comes to developing a land ethic, while remaining sensitive to important issues like disease. Disease prevention is, after all, one of the most common uses for pesticides in the developing world. Writing about Nigeria, Salako, Sholeye and Dairo note the pesticide use has gone unhindered in countries with poor infrastructure or institutional control. Pesticide use is a political issue, and it also represents the delicate balance between ensuring freedom from infectious diseases and freedom from carcinogens. Whether an effective balance can be struck remains to be seen, but clearly, the use of synthetic pesticides to control mosquitos has not been effective. The argument that Carson made in 1962 regarding DDT sent alarm bells ringing, leading to the banning of that substance from many countries. Eventually DDT was found to be problematic because mosquitos developed a tolerance.

A global environmental ethic is essential because banning chemicals in the United States has no real bearing on food security worldwide. Moreover, it is important to replace an economically expedient model related to land use with an ethical model related to land ethics. Pesticides are deadly, killing thousands of people annually (Gilles). Most of the fatalities related to pesticides are not in the United States, which suggests that countries have to think beyond their borders. Pesticide use is a human rights issue, even as it is a land use issue. Moreover, most people in the world including in the United States do not have control over their exposure levels to pesticides. The chemical companies have wrested political control from the people. "For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals," states Carson (15).

A land use ethic that directly addresses the folly of synthetic pesticides is built on several pillars: education and awareness; finance; attitude; and practice. Education is one of the most important aspects of a strong environmental ethic and land use policy. According to Gilles, "the lack of information at all levels may be one of the most important causative factors of chemical intoxication in developing countries," (11). Therefore, providing information to rural communities will be a major component of future land use policy programs, designed to minimize dependence on synthetic pesticides for controlling pests and disease. New ways of controlling disease can and should be introduced and taught to the people that need it the most: that is, the populations most impacted by exposure to synthetic pesticides. Awareness and education include public awareness campaigns. In the Western world, citizens take for granted a rudimentary knowledge about the potential harm of chemicals. In fact, Carson's Silent Spring was an instrumental and groundbreaking book because of its ability to raise awareness. Both Carson and Leopold changed the American public consciousness regarding pesticides and environmental ethics. It is now time to extend that awareness, understanding, and consciousness to the global community. This can be done in a culturally sensitive way, rather than imposing American values, norms, and beliefs on other cultures.

Financial issues are a pressing matter. It is because of poverty and malnutrition that many governments and private agencies in developing nations are willing to take advantage of the short-term solutions to crop problems. Pesticides might offer perceived immediate benefits, but their long-range problems are tremendous. In addition to the perceived cost savings of using chemical pesticides on food crops, there are also financial matters related to equipment in developing nations. Developing nations do not have the labor laws that would protect agricultural workers from exposure to the chemicals they spray on crops. This phenomenon illustrates the convergence between Carson's Silent Spring and Leopold's a Sand County Almanac. There is an ethical duty to protect both human and environmental integrity, as per Leopold's philosophy. Both of these ethical duties, to the human community, and to the non-human community, can be fulfilled by creating a global anti-pesticide program.

When formulating a land ethic, in accordance with both Carson and Leopold's principles, it is important also to take into account the ecological ethic and responsibility human beings have to the non-human world. This requires a major attitudinal shift. Here is one of the trickiest elements of proposing a radical change to environmental policy worldwide. It is difficult to encourage all human beings from different cultures to share values related to environmental or land use ethics. For some, economic expediency will always be more important than land use ethic. Not all cultures care about the non-human world, and this means that the remainder of the human population suffers due to the unbridled use of chemical pesticides in tolerant countries.

Unfortunately, permissiveness regarding pesticide use is a global ethical problem. As Carson points out, toxic chemicals are found in almost every living organism. Human beings have indelible and perhaps irreversibly altered the genetic composition of all life on planet earth. The pesticides that are being used worldwide are "toxic by design," but they are still "used increasingly in agriculture and in public health programs to control pests and vector-borne diseases," (Gilles 11). Added to the problem of pesticides themselves is the lack of education and awareness… [END OF PREVIEW]

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