Global Ecopolicy

By Carlo Pelanda

GLOBIS, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA

January 2002

Preliminary Paper



1. The global ecological risk

The problem of managing and safeguarding the ecosphere commands a growing priority, which, by its very nature, requires a solution based on global political harmonization. Let us analyse its most urgent features.


1.1 Climate change (Global warming)

It is still not clear how much of the current warming of the planet is due to the earth’s natural evolutionary cycle (alternating glacial and warming periods) or to the emissions caused by fossil fuel use that produce a sort of greenhouse effect. A consensus on the overall scenario in the scientific community has yet to be reached.  However, the available data is sufficiently clear to demonstrate that:


·         The planet is becoming warmer at an exponentially increasing rate. New hypotheses indicating that the end of the last glacial era took place in the space of a few decades rather than a few centuries are disturbing since, if they are correct, we cannot exclude the possibility of a sudden change of the earth’s climatic structure without having the time necessary for gradual and natural acclimations;

·         The melting of glaciers could cause sea levels to rise to such an extent as to make living and working conditions impossible in many of the world’s coastal areas and river basins. While there is no scientifically agreed scenario concerning the timing or the extent of these phenomena, the fact that glaciers are melting everywhere is something that we can all observe with our own eyes;

·         The warming of the temperate areas of the world is certainly more measurable and certain, partly due to the fact that the northbound migration of tropical species in the northern hemisphere and toward southern areas in the southern hemisphere is more conspicous. These abnormal temperature fluctuations expose populations that are not biologically suited to a warmer climate, and to new illnesses or the return of previously eradicated ones (such as malaria, for example). Moreover, this problem affects very seriously countries that lie along the moderate climate belt, where those nations with the most advanced economic development are concentrated;

·         Increasingly, researchers are trying to chart the consequences of such climate changes on the world’s agricultural and water systems. In particular, they are trying to find out which areas are undergoing desertification and tropicalization transitions. The scientific community lacks a consensusual preliminary idea as yet on how to proceed. In particular, it seems impossible to make a reasonable assessment on the time such changes would take to occur; some scholars estimate centuries, others predict decades. Nevertheless, there is sufficiently convincing data suggesting that certain areas will suffer from the loss of water and green biomass while others will have more than they have today. Should the timescales for such changes to occur be brief – perhaps a few decades – many nations would encounter a structural economic crisis due to an ecological shock combined with a possible rise in sea levels.


In summation, while we still do not know what might happen, we can be sure that something major is occurring.

On the one hand, highly intensive international activity is taking place on these matters in terms of both exchanges of research findings and conferences held by the UN and its relevant issue-based organizations. Governments are beginning to include these problems on their meeting agendas, but in spite of a widely felt urgency on the subject, we are a long way from turning hopeful discussions on global climate management and, more broadly, eco-politics into more tangible policy decisions.


1.2 Gas Emissions


 The urgency of this situation could reach crisis proportions if the scientific community studying climate changes informed us that gas emissions are demonstrably a factor in accelerating its current rate of change. If this was the case, we could “buy time” by reducing emissions as much as possible to reduce climate change and introduce more gentle and manageable adjustments.

In order to do this, we would have to give up economies based on petroleum: an effort that would be impossible to achieve painlessly in the absence of a sophisticated international agreement. The prospective premises of such an agreement, however, are not even barely visible on the horizon. This latent inactivity further increases the already high risk of overall instability in the near future.


1.3 Environmental impact of emerging countries


In general, the process of industrialization, modernization and urbanization that is occurring in emerging countries has a devastating environmental impact. The use of outdated technologies (such as were used in the West in the 1960s) and the lack of effective control measures to assess their ecological sustainability, especially in terms of pollution, complicate this scencario. 


1.4 Limitations of the current concepts of sustainability


The concepts of environmental safeguards that have evolved in Western political jargon are still very undeveloped and difficult to apply universally. The way in which they are currently formulated, in fact, contains a marked ideological orientation that utilizes justified concerns about environmental protection as a subjective tool to counter and restrain capitalism. The concepts are overly ideological; they are exploited for election purposes and imply that there is a conflict between eco-politics and economic development.

“Green” economists, for example, have worked out a principle of “total cost assessment” (full cost principle) that accounts for the use of natural resources, using a method of calculation that compensates for the supposed current underestimation of its costs. If we were really to apply this criterion, we would ultimately have to pay, let us say, 10 euros for one litre of water or one cubic meter of air that we breathe added on to regular prices as an ecologically imposed tax. The idea is the relatively elementary: by increasing the cost of natural resources we would expect a reduction in their destructive exploitation. Technically, this arrangement is possible, but the price would be to make the healthy development of economic processes impossible, as well as to introduce an endemic risk of “green inflation”.

Moreover, this scenario would be unacceptable on a macro scale and as a systematic policy, while the principle of increasing costs to induce transitions from polluting technologies to new, cleaner ones, if applied with flexibility and by sector-specific intervention, is acceptable.

  The concept of sustainable development – very fuzzy in itself  – is technically weakened by the fact that the idea of containing technological progress is understood, by some of the proposals of some of the most extremist movements, as an effort to squeeze out or actually eliminate the capitalist cycle. Even the plans of those who attempt to be moderate include constraints on the market and burdens that undermine expansion. The result is that, ultimately, the antagonism between development and safeguarding the environment does not produce any truly applicable eco-political measures.

Emerging countries in particular, refuse any possibility of restraining their development for environmental reasons. This resistance is understandable since part of their wealth derives from the fact that their profits are based on strategies that maintain poverty and the absence of any form of environmental safeguard.

If we continue in this manner, the world will end up with a significant minority proposing increasingly extreme and inapplicable measures and a majority that could not care less. Our health and that of the planet will be increasingly at risk. The ultimate solution is to shift from a conflict between capitalism and the environment and to ensure that they are no longer mutually exclusive. Much of the current eco-destruction is caused by backward technology: we use dirty petroleum instead of cleaner and more refined sources of energy. More specifically, the bulk of industrial processes take place under an open cycle, that is, releasing dangerous substances in the environment. More advanced technology and further research and development, certainly not less, are necessary to attain closed-cycle processes that avoid contamination and destructive ecological impacts.

In conclusion, the promise of resolving the risks of sector-specific strategies and global environmental degradation lies in an increasingly accelerated and widespread form of development and not its curtailment. This idea, however, is considered heretical by those who are concerned with the problem, amid the general indifference of political and economic actors whose reasoning is based on rushed and extremely short-term agendas.

We are lacking a credible and strong strategy for safeguarding the environment: for this reason we stand face-to-face with an “ecogap”.



2. Searching for New Global Ecoinstitutions


The risk of seeing life on earth disappear is compounded by a new danger, coming from the opposite direction, that such life will be manipulated and created in ways that are deleterious and create situations that exceed society’s ability to absorb them culturally and politically.

What is becoming clear, therefore, is the need to create international institutions designed both to define global eco-standards and to set the current biological and technological paradigms on a path which ensures that these processes will always remain within peoples’ reach rather than being forces that work against them.

Let us consider the essential missions that should be carried out by these two groups of new institutions.

2.1  HOME (Holistic Model of Earth)  

The most urgent goal concerns the redefinition of an integrated model of the earth’s ecosphere, thereby producing a model that can evolve over time and be constantly updated. The new pattern should represent the various environmental levels such as animal and plant life, climate cycles, air, water, temperature, contamination, and so on, in conjunction with one other. The model would be holistic in that it would look at these issues as a whole, boosted by the use of rese cartografiche and computer simulations that would allow political decision-makers to consider situations in an objective way and devise detailed measures at the regional, national and micro-local levels.

In light of current technological prowess, such a plan would be by no means futuristic. All it needs is for it to be designed as a tool of the international community: everyone must be in a position to see the findings and developments of the scientific community from the moment of discovery. The difficulty lies in the essential task of reaching a proper understanding of the cycle of life and of the planet before taking political decisions to safeguard them.

Some might argue that it would be better to have a number of models in competition with one another, and indeed, the variety of experimentations and scientific alternatives generated would surely grow rather than decrease. The point, however, is that this variety should be organized within a scheme that is available to politicians since it is they who must take local and national decisions and link them to those of their colleagues in the continental region and across the world. All of these actors must start from a common reading of one single and unambiguous view of reality that, in each situation as it arises, is considered in probabilistic terms to correspond most closely to the truth.

Science has to produce an interface with political decisions without which the opportunity to create technically consistent global eco-political decisions would be precluded from the start. Such a tool would be the locus where the (delegated) community of scientists decides, by means of the appropriate scientific consensus-building mechanisms, what the state of the system is at any given time, what potential problem could arise, and what would be the best method and theory to resolve it.

To compensate for this funnel-shaped constriction, which is ill adapted to the methods of scientific probability, the model must remain constantly open to criticism by all. By its intrinsic and highly worthy nature, the scientific community tends to divide into divergent schools of thought. Cases where the facts are so clear as to make everyone agree are extremely few, partly because members of the community are inherently influenced by their subjective ideologies, and certainly do not include total knowledge of the planet among them. If single politicians were able to coerce scientific factions to support their own theses of convenience, international coordination would surely collapse.

The function of a bridge between science and politics should be seen as a cession of sovereignty on the part of states of the cognitive dominion of their territory. In practice, this situation already exists since only a few nations have the ability to activate independent functions of advanced scientific research. Therefore, the construction of an eco-model as a source of information available to all, under the aegis of a system of credible control, would be a huge improvement on the current situation of vacuum and international imbalance in this area. Indeed, an eco-model as an all-encompassing information base would restore to every nation an enhanced form of its original sovereignty.

We are thinking, in particular, of an actual institution – whose structure will be consistent with the constituent process referred to earlier – which we would like to call HOME, that stands for a Holistic Model of the Earth, or the earth as our home (oikos in Greek).

There is no doubt that HOME will be an expensive project and that it will have to be financed by all the member nations in proportion to their GDP. Clearly, we do not presume to give a detailed plan of its contents, but we can suggest a number of functions it should perform:


·         to represent in summary form all the interacting cycles that make up the earth’s ecosphere;

·         to provide a detailed description of each area as an incessant flow of information, with particular emphasis on pathological situations (such as pollution, desertification, specific environmental crises, and so on);

·         to update the results with the contribution of the international scientific community ensuring that the model always remains open to criticism and improvement, and that, time after time, it expresses the most probable scenario based on the consensus of the scientists appointed to this task of certification;

·         to assist regional, national and sub-national political organizations both with supplying information appropriate for specific territorial management, and with functions of subsidiary integration of data in cases where such bodies are unable to analyse and process such information and thereby reach conclusions leading to the relevant political initiatives.


2.1.1   The priority of confronting the common risks of climate change

The first level for structuring the HOME project should be predicated upon the priority of addressing the current situation regarding climate change, defining a possible need for action in individual areas, and formulating preventive and precautionary measures in the form of maps that show the risks and the technical alternatives proposed to minimize them.

Modern nations have adapted to an environment that has not essentially changed in  centuries, and in some cases, millennia. History (which has been perpetuated as information) is still very young. If it were older, social systems would have memorized that not much longer than ten thousand years ago, the European and the American continents were covered in ice and the sea levels were so low as to allow migrations on foot from Asia to America and from continental Europe to Great Britain (we apologize to our British readers for this low shot to their “isolation”...) However, we have not memorized these phenomena as a cognitive habit derived from continuous change in the ecosphere.

The civilizations whose memory contained the volatility of the climate of our planet have disappeared and can tell us nothing; some have perished as a result of floods and the desert has buried others. Generally speaking, current cultures are borne of a relatively stable period of the ecosphere and have obviously adapted to it. However, should the earth’s substratum begin moving again, the world population would be caught wholly unprepared. Suffice to think, for example, what it would mean to lose roads, cities, and factories under the force of floods or if the earth on which they stand were to turn into a swamp.

If all this were to occur in a brief space of time, the planet would be subject to the stress of relocating at least three billion people and their associated paraphernalia. It would be a move of biblical proportions that the global economy, totally unprepared for such an event, would be unable to cope with without suffering serious crisis. Fortunately, there are no current indications that this scenario of rapid and catastrophic change could happen. Nevertheless…


2.1.2 Examples of Ecomissions

A number of measures are necessary to ensure a political and technological adaptation to the new situation, such as the following, for example:


·         The global epidemiological supervision of transmittable diseases for their preventive identification and elimination through cooperative methods. This would also be useful to contain pandemics – AIDS for example – that are increasingly more likely as a result of the more frequent contacts between areas of the globe consequent of fully integrated globalisation;

·         International sharing of situational data related to environmental evolution. This arrangement would facilitate as well as stimulate political decision-makers to take prevention measures at the international level: consensus concerning data would minimize social dissent on policies which would lead to immediate disadvantages. This consideration is worth even more where international agreements are concerned;

·         In general, to prevent irreparable damage and to manage any emergencies that may arise as a consequence of climate change, it would be sensible to set up functions with a global scope where each nation can be reasonably certain that the data obtained is correct and not strategically influenced by anyone, that it can negotiate its own need in relation to that of others cooperatively; and that it will find a forum for the formulation of solutions that are politically mediated between global needs and its own national requirements.


To sum up, the process of global “eco-constitutionalization” needs to draw from a common platform of knowledge; one which is constructed to ensure that scientific information is politically open and which in turn will contribute to building a series of ad hoc agreements and measures for the management of known risks. To achieve this, we trust to the political process we have described earlier, according to which the basis for cooperation among nations is understood as a shared perception of a common risk. It would be unrealistic to propose new eco-standards starting from an abstract optimal vision of the issues involved. It is realistic, however, to believe that these can evolve from an international structure that is initially narrower and aimed at the common management of global emergencies. Therefore, this is how the eco-institutional process should be set in motion, pragmatically and not through the expectation that nations can be bound by eco-standards which can only be applied to rich countries or be defined according to ideologies that would sacrifice development for the sake of a “lyrical environmentalism”. Proceeding in this way, we would be able to save the planet as well as ourselves, while other solutions would prove to be more unpalatable and probably even impossible.

HOME represents an ordering design which, even if it were conceived on a smaller scale than we have envisioned here, should be planned to include in its original draft the possibility to evolve up to the optimal scenario of a total future knowledge of the parameters for preserving life in our ecosphere. Therefore, in practice, HOME should foster the co-evolution of eco-policies aimed at observing these parameters and to constantly reinstate them if they are undermined.

The project would be small at birth but contain the potential to become eco-total from its inception. In its future developments, HOME will be able to and must become an artificial intelligence system, equipped with multi-level sensors (from satellites to sea-based thermometers) designed to constantly monitor the planet.

In cases of planetary emergencies such as the fall of a large-sized meteor or a sudden climate change, HOME will become the technological and political base for managing the emergency. In the worst case, it could also be the tool for devising the physical repair of the planet.

The timescale for these projections spans over centuries, but when we consider a project of this magnitude, it is useful to predict functions that can be applied in the distant future so that they can be incorporated as potential developments in the initial plan.


2.1.3. Pragmatic prudence  

It would not be healthy, at least in its initial development, to invest the HOME mission with the arduous task of directly managing eco-policies to rectify environmental damage and of defining the operational procedures for doing so (though generating alternative technological scenarios would fall within its field of competence). In any case, it would remain a scientific structure specifically organized to subsume political decisions which would themselves however remain embedded in the context of institutions that have an equally and quintessentially political function.

There is no point in pretending that the ultimate creation of a planetary eye such as HOME would not cause enormous problems to traditional politics. An increase in the scientific ability to forecast area disasters, for example, would make governments automatically responsible for them, since they could no longer be perceived as if they were accidents. This potential power presents an added problem since the prevention of an area disaster involves introducing changes in the local markets and in the respective current economic cycle that would lead to strong distortions and disagreements.

Identifying a seismic risk, for example, in an area where there was no suspicion of such a risk would increase construction and insurance costs and subsequently reduce the value of real estate. This scenario presents  a political nightmare that to this day makes prevention a mere chimera even in the more advanced countries. However, the very fact that the risk would be underwritten by a legitimate, credible, and transparent organization should contribute to the consensus needed for taking political decisions to introduce such changes. Ultimately, this would mean facilitating the conduction of area-based governance. On the other hand, defining the criteria for intervention, under the watchful eye of a camera capable of photographing the entire planetary ecosphere, would be a much more delicate matter.

Daily objective data, for example would be readily available to environmental movements that uphold the defence of nature as if it were a divinity or consider it inviolable, to demonstrate just how destructive human development really is. If the global criteria for environmental political behaviour were to become so extreme, the result would be an inferno of civil conflicts between development interests and environmental advocacy groups from which it would be impossible to escape. What is needed therefore, is a more selective concept of environmental sustainability so as to make development itself less environmentally violent, but without preventing it from taking place or burdening it with stifling costs.

In our view, the criterion which would be appropriate to underpin this kind of balanced environmentalism is quite simple: ecological protection must be an absolute prerequisite whenever its absence involves harming human health; in other cases it should be considered a relative concept where the quest for the lowest environmental impact is considered against the criterion of utility (like the construction of a road, for example).

We are aware of the complexity of ecological themes and the difficulties of reconciling short-term utility with a more systemic concept of practical concerns connected with the preservation of biodiversity. In designing a plan for a global political architecture, however, we cannot attempt to devise an environmental political function, which the system now totally lacks, initially as a head-on clash between environment and development. It would be useful to no one.

It would be more advisable to restrict the scope of environmental protection to what is indisputably necessary and what, because of this, could achieve consensus. Moreover, many of the ideas about philosophical environmentalism that argue for extreme protection seem to be based more on mystical or ideological position than on scientific considerations. This imbalance occurs most frequently with those that presume to exclude mankind from nature, and consequently, plan an ecological approach where any human intervention is considered pathological.

The truth is that human beings “are” part of nature, and their constructs are a form of nature itself.

What else could they be?

It is therefore a question of launching a new ecology based on an alliance between humans and nature, between development and environment, and not on the conflict between them as current environmentalist ideology sadly proposes. The language of alliances and pragmatism must be reintroduced into the world of politics on these issues.

Indeed, let us construct the HOME project and understand the problems better and manage the most obvious emergencies better. Then, once we are better documented and informed, we will see how the situation evolves.


2.2. Trusting in technology and the problem of the environmental limits to development


We are aware of the paradox inherent in our underlying conceptual strategy. The principle assumption contends that more growth conjoined with the ongoing technological evolution could lead to the expectation of a reduction in the human impact on the ecosphere and consequently of safeguarding life on earth. This phenomenon, however, involves the continued expansion of human systems that will gradually erode the space available for life itself.

Here is an extreme reflection: even if we had the ability to re-earth-form the planet (i.e. boosting the natural cycle of the earth through artificially-conceived ecological pillars), how many people will ultimately be able to inhabit such a planet in a dignified manner? Some have suggested 250,000 million human beings, others 70,000. We simply do not know. We are conscious of the fact that sooner or later we will have to face this issue, with the central dilemma being that the possible success of the strategy that now seems appropriate and convincing ultimately contains the risk of unsustainability on a broader level.

This dilemma has been resolved in a rash and superficial manner by those who have so far been concerned with it and have proposed enforcing a ceiling of maximum development and have formulated the relative policies of constraint. Many of these analysts are inspired by an anti-capitalist and anti-technology bias as well as the expectation that talking about the future in such catastrophic terms will rally consensus against the free market in the present. All this leads to an irrational strategy: for fear of the future, let us destroy our current potential. This is unacceptable.

The consequent nightmare for the future will increasingly manifest itself in our current existence, as the global population becomes progressively richer, it will have more information and time (i.e. money) available to reflect on these issues, unencumbered by the pressure of satisfying daily needs. The wealth effect, in addition to its many other advantages, also contains a disadvantage of undeniable cultural importance. People forget the reasons that led to their wealth (a pan-social phenomenon), such as pro-activism, risk, and “futurizing” creativity, i.e. projected toward the future, and they largely tend to relax. This tendency is a well-known problem of so-called “mature” systems. The phenomenon is relevant to our discussion since it propels the scenario toward a situation in which the culture of the earth’s middle classes – hoping they will come into being – will show a stronger tendency to accept messages in favour of constraint and oppose those advocating expansion.

This hypothetical projection of a developing consensus, in turn, would make the introduction of constraining measures such as birth control, the curtailment of macro-technological plans, and various restraints to ongoing economic growth more acceptable politically.

This is a scenario we fear but cannot afford to exclude. The reason we fear it is that the available research data on the subject of cultural evolution seem to indicate that in the absence of constant stimuli toward goals of progress, individual power, and the quest for new space, society ultimately retreats inward, stagnates and declines. This is why we are so hostile to any codification of absolute limits to development, however distant in the future, and feel an affinity with the exhortation of the Judeo-Christian ethic to improve oneself.

Without this impetus of cultural development, we suspect that we may have more problems than if were to accept our conviction that there are no limits to development. On the other hand, we cannot be so irresponsible as not to attempt to formulate some solutions to the problem of human expansion on this small planet of ours. One of these, which is almost taken for granted in visions of the future of science fiction writing, refers to the conquest of new frontiers in extraterrestrial space. This solution already requires critical decisions to be made at the present time since the funds that are allocated (in the U.S. and Europe) for future missions of this nature are made up of real and scarce public funds. For example, should we try to earth-form the planet Mars (in the current hypothetical NASA plan, work is due to start approximately around 2080) or would it be better to build self-moving planetoids which, in addition to hosting humans, would also be able to travel in temporal and spatial infinity while still remaining small habitable planets? Which of these alternatives is more appropriate to allocate resources to?

Such scenarios, however, are based on the assumption of continuity of human beings without them undergoing any changes. But what if they were to change? For the time being, rational decision-making cannot rely on options that can be defined a priori on this matter. It can, nevertheless be inspired by the following sub-optimal but practical principle: let us go ahead, grow, and we will resolve the problem through solutions that we are not able to see today but which ongoing progress will disclose.

One might ask: how does this issue fit into a book that deals with the cycle of economic sovereignty?  In truth, it is its key point. In order to resolve the problems raised above in an evolutionary way, the nations of the earth have to quickly resolve the problems of the past, such as finding ways to create wealth which ensure that it is distributed evenly across the population, or the scourge of war caused by the rural culture of local nationalism, so as to have more resources and reasons to look to and manage the most sophisticated challenges of the future. These problems are global in nature, we could even go so far as to say “exo-planetary” or post-human, and will be upon us sooner than we think, through the retroactive (cultural) effect of the present. This future, in fact, is already bursting on the scene in the form of a cybernetic and biotechnological revolution.


2.3. The institutions of “biocybernation”


Believing that technology will resolve many of our problems is not an unreflective act, though one should guard against the possible risks of degeneration. Indeed, there is overwhelming historical proof that the answer may lie in technology itself and consistent empirical data refutes contrary contentions. Despite many examples of mistakes and of the destructive use of technology, it is nevertheless clear that recently, the technological process has proceeded in such a way and at such a pace as to make talk of a veritable hyper-scientific and hyper-technological revolution not just a matter of rhetoric.


2.3.1 Scenario  

Biology has broken through the barriers of the deepest mechanisms of life itself and, for the first time in known history, has the cognitive power to manipulate, and in the foreseeable future, the physical power to actually create it. Physics is penetrating even more deeply in the basic structures of matter, while the science of information, in addition to creating systems of global, total and instantaneous communication is moving in the direction of creating a real artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, capitalism has incorporated this growing technological power into its mechanisms of wealth creation, increasing its evolutionary speed and thus accelerating, in turn, the speed of scientific advance.

Cautious analysts are not prone to talk of a technological revolution because for centuries Western society has witnessed one almost every decade or so: from steam to electricity, from the atom to the computer.  But this time, science is taking us beyond the fixed and unchangeable boundaries that have characterized civilizations over millennia. Farmers, for example, have always been trying to select artificially new and more profitable plant species through crossbreeding and grafting. Now however, since the late seventies, we are able to change the actual genetic make-up, giving the opportunity to extend the same techniques to human systems, driven by the prospect of revolutionizing medical science: from a superficial and external process to a radical and structural intervention (genetic therapies).

Such beneficial promises for all also contain a less consensual aspect: the artificial planning of human life, abnormal manipulations, and selective risks. Moreover, science has recently shown that our biological structure influences our individual potential and behaviour to a greater extent than was previously thought. Many fear a discriminatory use of bio-knowledge. In general, the feeling is that bio-novelties can exceed the average cultural ability to accept them.

The human cultural sphere is under stress. The ecosphere is finding new means of controlling life that are no longer generated directly by nature, but by the mediation of human intelligence that becomes its partner or even its creative substitute. Man is of divine nature and has the faculty to create. This statement by Julius Dedekind in the late nineteenth century addressed to the abstract generative potential of mathematics is now a concrete option.

In the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine, Bill Joy wrote an essay on the risks arising from the fusion of three technological paths: new biogenetics, robotics, and nano-technologies. He fears that in the future, new artificial intelligence systems will have self-replicating capabilities. They will be cognitively more powerful than a single human being. By the year 2030 – he warns – their substitution of the human race could start taking place, leading to its eventual extinction.

If this prophecy had been written by anyone else, we would not worry since many intellectuals have realized that the stress caused by new developments promotes the success of prolific doom literature that cultivates the deepest and most irrational fears of people who are faced with situations they still do not understand through educational deficiency. The above-mentioned scenario, however, has been put forth by the scientific director of Sun Microsystems, the inventor of the innovative Java language on which many of the most sophisticated Internet services are based, and no one can claim that he does not understand the subject.

Even allowing for the fact that personal emotional and ideological factors have certainly contributed to the extreme form of this pessimistic scenario, Joy’s message should be given serious consideration: it is possible that we might lose control over the technologies that we are constructing and, for the first time in history, many of these have the potential for substituting the abilities of human beings as we know them today.

Seen from this perspective, it is a credible concern that adds to the growing discomfort of the populations of advanced countries concerning some of the products of the new biological sciences. The social reaction to the dissemination of genetically modified foods, for example, is very instructive in this respect. On the one hand, these foods are produced under strict control procedures; there is no proof that they can be harmful and, above all, they engender an enormous environmental benefit. The producers, however, have committed a serious error of symbolic management since the early nineties in the United States: they have not wanted to label the new products as explicitly biologically modified. They feared that the environmentalist movements, hostile to every human intervention in natural cycles, could demonise them and cause the early death of this emerging sector through the rising awareness. However, precisely by obscuring this fact, they gave the opportunity to the most radical environmentalists to demonise them even more effectively by further entrenching the associated stigma.

As we write, there is a punitive and biologically protectionist policy prevailing across the world despite the absence of any proof that the products are harmful and the potential usefulness of genetically modified products such as Soya, wheat, fruit and other vegetable products. This irrational outcome is cause for reflection and suggests that it would be unrealistic to expect that a biological novelty would be capable of reaching an immediate consensus. This is because the biological boundary represents a key “moral customs barrier” in our culture that cannot be crossed without a universally recognized passport.

This problem is multiplied a thousand fold where the issue of human genetics is concerned. In the summer of the year 2000, the Catholic Church rejected the destructive use of human embryos to obtain omnipotent stem cells. These are cells which, once introduced into a non-functioning part of our organism, have the ability to reconstruct it by joining together parts of a broken spine, for example, or reorganizing damaged brain cells, and so on. The outlook is for a highly sensitive head-on confrontation to occur between those who trust in appropriating the effects of scientific progress for the future, and rightly see no reason to renounce them, and the Catholic Church which, equally justified in terms of its own moral code, sees these processes as the murder of human life, and perhaps the demise of the basic paradigm of the divine creation of man.

It is to be hoped that this specific conflict will be resolved through technologies that can extract cells endowed with equally omnipotent capabilities from adult organisms, so as to avoid a religious war and at the same time provide individuals with the opportunity of recovering from disabling illnesses. Such attempts are being made, which shows a possible path for resolving the issue: human biotechnologies have to contain implicit restrictions that constrain them from going against deeply held and widespread beliefs. The costs will be higher, but the gains will be on the side of limiting threats to the consensus.

If the costs were to be excessive, this would provide the incentive for devising even more powerful technologies that would override the impasse with a leap. But if such alternatives were not to become available on time, there would be a serious problem.

The above highlights the complexity of the challenges we are faced with. If we multiply them a thousand fold, then we will have a good overall idea of what will happen in the near future when the biological revolution will shift from the current stage of experimentation to the stage of application. The tension between technology and morality will be overwhelming, and will subsequently grow even more as other technological promises are fulfilled.

Industrial robots with independent design capabilities are already under experimentation: the first step toward the self-replicating robots feared by Joy. It would be irrational, however, to halt their development since a more intelligent form of automation would allow industry to perform more efficiently in the future. In particular, it will allow the achievement of continually increasing productivity (i.e. the value yielded by one hour of work). It would be a mistake to think that more automation would mean less available work: it would certainly create a shift in employment but would also create greater employment opportunities in relation to those that were available before.

Economic theory states that the inflationary effect caused by continued growth can be successfully restrained by increases in productivity. Accordingly, if we seek the former (as we would wish for throughout the planet), then the later must necessarily be achieved through the continued development of new technologies, and by means of hyper-technologies hereafter.

But what if they then swallow us up?

It seems clear that there is a priority to resolve the problem of social sustainability resulting from constant technological evolution, so as to avoid social implosion caused by dissent or other short-circuiting mechanisms. We believe two sensible basic strategies could be applied to this end.


2.3.2 Cognitive revolution


The first is to make the global population intellectually more mobile, so as to increase the capacity to accept more novelties and to dominate them culturally. It is also necessary for the populace to be able to handle nascent technologies and increasingly sophisticated systems. In short, it is necessary to have better educated producers and consumers to provide consensus and applicability to the continued futurizing technological evolution.

This problem, incidentally, is tangibly making its way into the American political agenda. In view of its position as the world’s most advanced nation, the U.S. is already experiencing the problem of the implicit quality limitations of human capital that might reduce the constant growth of productivity in the future and consequently decrease the space for continued, anti-inflationary growth. In September 2000, Alan Greenspan appealed to Congress to attribute a higher priority and more funding to programs to qualify the national human capital. This recognized necessity underlines the concreteness and urgency of the problem.

The reader, however, might shudder seat the prospects of this problem projected on a wider scale. The level of educational qualification necessary for advanced countries to ensure they are capable of evolving along the chosen policy direction does not simply require a little more money given to schools and universities, but a real institutional revolution in individual countries: the reallocation of the majority of public resources toward investment focused on continually improving the quality of human capital. A new economic model is needed, based on institutions that provide new guarantees of growth for achieving a mass-level cognitive revolution.

This is an enormously difficult step if we consider the distance between this future-based scenario in relation to the current situation. Moreover, it is compounded by the fact that the institutions thus conceived should be the model of reference for all nations across the planet within the space of a few decades, to sustain the expansive dynamic force of the entire global market. An ambitious but not impossible task: institutions of national growth – i.e. that constantly maximize the quality of human capital – would be connected to (and supported by) a supranational cooperative structure for the dissemination of a global standard to maximize results in this respect. For this reason too, in the previous chapter we placed so much emphasis on the transition from the current welfare state model to that of a growth-based state, inspired precisely by the principles we have just outlined.


2.3.3 Avoiding conflict between morals and technology


The second strategy concerns the even more sensitive problem of ensuring that the flow of the (bio) technological revolution remains confined within ethical “embankments” that prevent it from both overflowing and running dry. Social dissent concerning the biological component of this revolution, for example, could cause it to run dry. The first robot that gets drunk and wipes out a city might kill not only the unfortunate victims but also the whole new sector from which it derived itself.

We clearly need new institutions that constantly ensure the beneficial and safe application of any technological and biological innovation. These institutions should be vested with the power to control but must simultaneously allow the development of modernization as swiftly as possible. To encapsulate the concept in a single word, we thought of the term “bio-cybernation”, which means to generate under control – the real origin of the term “cybernetic” from the ancient Greek “kybernétes” means “helmsman, or controller” – artificial intelligence and bio-generated systems.

The goal of the institutions of bio-cybernation would be to ensure that technological innovations enjoy people’s trust. Obviously these institutions would have to prove their credibility in preventing and sanctioning aberrations by identifying and building bridges between current morality and technology, and would have to be able to maintain the flow of the technological revolution running between the embankments that make it socially sustainable.

We are only at the start of a new age and feel as if we are not in a position to propose detailed plans for an institutional architecture of which there is no previous historical record to deal with a subject which produces novelties daily. Nevertheless, there is sufficient current knowledge available on the subject to justify defining some essential criteria and guidelines, and set out a few of the most urgent structural points of the global mission of bio-cybernation.


·         A biologically modified organism might get out of control and endanger the whole planet. This prospective area needs initially to be managed through a global treaty for bio-safety. Essentially, the goal is to commit governments to defining standards and procedural protocols to ensure that nothing that is produced in a laboratory can leave the lab without being submitted to stringent security procedures. The most delicate issue will be to define the number of accurate tests. If, for argument’s sake, they were to take twenty years and be too costly, this would reduce the incentive for undertaking and investing financially in the research. It is therefore imperative to set balanced bio-standards that are safe and provide incentives. This arrangement will be neither easy nor practicable in the short-term; but this is not the central problem. The answer is to start working toward this in the context of the international community in a cooperative way so as to produce a developing consensus. This would be sufficient to avoid both the risk of bio-protectionism and the possibility that some countries might try to carry out experiments beyond the bounds of reasonable common sense.

·         The main and most immediate danger, in fact, is that the countries with a higher level of bio-ethical sensibility will impose excessive restrictions on experimentation, forcing such activities to migrate to areas where such practices are unregulated. This relationship could lead to a high probability that something very dangerous might get out of hand. For this reason, a visible functioning body should coordinate such logistical oversight responsibilities to reassure the population that there is someone supervising these issues, thereby relaxing any tensions. In particular, an international standard of behaviour should be declared, regardless of how comprehensive, but which commits every nation to the prerequisite of bio-safety and gives all other nations the right to determine accountability.

·         Increased knowledge of genetics could be used for discriminating practices against individuals: I might not offer you a job because I know you have a gene that gives you a predisposition toward something I do not like. A global rule should be fixed in this respect, to be incorporated in every national legal code, to forbid personnel selections to be made on the basis of mandatory genetic tests and restricting choices accordingly. Such genetic information about individuals should be regulated so that it may become readily accessible.  Moreover, the areas where such practices are allowed should be strictly regulated (in research, military and police systems, and specific extremely high-risk jobs).

·         A rich person would be able to buy a longer life and youth, while a poor person would not. These kinds of bio-differences on the basis of income, a risk we cannot exclude a few years hence, would be not only immoral but a probable source of civil strife. Therefore, a right of access to the new opportunities offered by medical science should be defined that is equal for all. In this case too, it should be the bio-medical scientific community that defines a certified platform of knowledge that allows politicians to take technically appropriate decisions. It will certainly not be an easy task, and the systems of public health will have to define new services standards and possibly new costs, which should be kept at low levels. This is something the free market is able to do admirably when it is organized as an operative free competition regime with a functioning political regulating body with oversight capabilities.

·         On a general level, a new generation of “techno-rights” has to be established and introduced in states’ legal codes. For example, if a (really) intelligent robot is piloting an airplane, driving a car, a bus, or a train, or is undertaking any other kind of activity that involves managing peoples’ movements, what is the guarantee that the safety of individuals will be maximized? While we respect Isaac Asimov’s confidence in the possibility of defining three laws of robotics which can make robots perfectly harmless, we are not so sure it is really so easy to assure the general public that a thinking, self-replicating robot will have all of the requisite safety functions necessary to give an absolute assurance that it will never act against human beings or their vital interests. Since these safety functions are expensive, the market will naturally attempt to find short cuts. They may appear adequate but certainly could not attain the level of absolute safety required in this matter. To avoid trouble and consequent opposition to the new technological gizmos that are being developed, it is clear that the subject needs to be regulated by new laws and technical standards.


They should also include a new subject of rights and duties that has not yet come into existence but might do so in the near future (and this is not science fiction since we have already seen their precursors): an artificial system which, in its way, is living and intelligent, but sufficiently sophisticated to make self-conscious decisions. Who is going to program the brain, the self-replicating functions and so on, and how, to ensure that the right to life of this new entity will be balanced against the interests of human beings who are both their generators and their users. It is probably too early to attempt to find answers to this specific question, but we need to start thinking about it so that when it does arise, it will not be too late.  

 3. Conclusions

In conclusion, the solution is to create supervisory institutions that can keep the biological and technological revolution flowing along a path that produces the maximum benefits while minimizing potential damage or risks. Initially, this global role should not be assigned to a single institution but regulated by a treaty that introduces in every nation a bio-cybernation structure (to generate new biotechnologies under supervision) or, at least, an educated local interface that can receive and send data to the rest of the international community in the case of poor countries.

Should the HOME project be realized according to the outline described, it might subsume parts of the technical mission of bio-cybernation that concerns plant and animal life in agriculture and assist each country in the ways suggested above. The goal is to make it possible for a kind of technological progress that constantly improves the quality of life of individuals. Therefore, the main function of factors constraining such progress – our embankments – is to cultivate consensus toward innovations. To achieve this, we need to avoid clashes from occurring between technology and morality at every juncture. The former has to develop while observing the constraints imposed by the latter, though even morality is not a fixed, immutable and homogenous object everywhere. Morality evolves, too. The task of the institutions of bio-cybernation therefore will be not only to keep a watch over technological excesses, but also to educate populations how to understand and to work with new opportunities. In short, to make sure that technology and morality co-evolve in the most harmonious way possible.

This will have to be a core aspect of the new global institutional body: Its engine of futurization.







A) Ecobibliography (By Carlo Pelanda and Anne Rothschild, October 2001)


1. Catastrophic Scenarios

Joy, Bill.  “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” 

Negative prophecy from Sun Microsystems co-founder concerning perilous advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering. 


Lanier, Jaron.  “The Endgame of Humanism.”

Humanism slips second to the development of science.  What effects this might have on psychology and culture, as well as reactions against science.

Rifkin, Jeremy.  “Apocalypse When?”

Introduces term “genetic pollution.” Spells out various dangers of genetic engineering. Discusses who will be liable if there is a catastrophe.

New Scientist.  10/31/98, Vol. 160 Issue 2158, p.34. 

Rifkin, Jeremy.  “Splice World.”

Environmental, social, ethical concerns of genetic engineering. Lists a few short- term benefits of genetic engineering.  Discusses various companies attempting to exert influence and control over genetic commerce.  Predicts positives of life in next century.

Geographical Magazine.  Jan1999, Vol. 71 Issue 1, p.48.

2. Non-catastrophic Scenarios


Bobinsky, Eric.  “Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence.”  Book


Objective, positive review of Moravec’s book.  Cites quotes from text, lays framework of book and high points of prophecy.

BYTE Magazine.  April1989, p.51.

Moravec, Hans.  “Superhumanism.”

Moravec predicts by 2040, robots will supersede humans in productivity and efficiency.  He fully embraces technological advances, and asserts that robots are of most use to humans in domestic and economic senses.  Answers economic concerns.  Pushes the expansion of technology to benefit the world before it inevitably will be taken over by robots. 


Moravec, Hans.  “Robots With Human Intelligence.”

            Moravec’s positive robotic predictions.

            The Futurist.  March-April 1989, p.52.

Watson, James D.  “All For the Good.”

Denounces postponing clearly beneficial research because of dangers that cannot be exactly quantified.,3266,17679-1,00.html


3. GMO, Agriculture (Negative)


“Confab Highlights Biotech Surge.”

            Bt corn produces a bacterial toxin in its leaves that is harmful to insect pests.


“EU, US Set Up Panel on GM Foods.”

            Fears in UK, Germany, France on GMO crop contamination.


“Farmers Plight Shows GM Trouble”

Monsanto accusing farmer of stealing seeds.  Farmer is suing on grounds of polluting his land without his knowledge.,128237088,00.html

“Genetic Altering Down Under”

            New projects with various foods.  Risk assessments.


Pennybacker, Mindy.  “Fooling Mother Nature.”

Dangers of bioengineered foods.  Biotech agriculture promotes chemical dependence on chemical additive.  Failure in labeling of bio-engineered foods.  Impact on sustainable agriculture.

Sierra Magazine.  Jan/Feb1998, Vol. 83, Issue 1, p.14.

Turner, Lisa.  “Playing With Our Food.”

Need for more studies on long-term effects of genetic manipulation.  Dangers to humans and environment.  Production of allergens in foods and unexpected mutations in an organism.  Concerns of genetically altered seeds spreading into other areas where they can threaten wild crops.

Better Nutrition.  Jun2000, Vol. 62 Issue 6, p.56. 


“US Probes Taco Bells Alleged Use of Corn.”

Taco shells sold by Taco Bell tested positive to a strain of bioengineered corn which has not yet been proven safe for human consumption.


4. GMO Agriculture  (Positives)


“In Defense of the Demon Seed”

States that public fear of GMO’s come from poor understanding.  Genetic modification is no more dangerous in the laboratory than in the field.  Defends topics such as antibiotic resistance, changes in plant chemistry, and dispersement  of modified genes to unmodified organisms.  No evidence of harm at this point.

            Economist, 06/13/98, Vol. 347 Issue 8072, p.13.

“Monsanto to Offer Free Rice Tech”

Monsanto to offer solutions for vitamin A rice technology to various researchers in developing countries.  Lack of vitamin A is dangerous to health, but some researchers believe a magic solution is dangerous.,1282,38043,00.html

“Spuds That Stop Disease”

Human immunity to Norwalk virus from vaccine in GMO potato.  Met again with dissent about overdosing and transferring genes from various researchers.,1282,37525,00.html


5. Medicine


Cohen, Karen.  “Biotech Firms Seek Riches in the Secret Life of Genes.”

Pharmaceutical gene industries are about to boom, many companies staking claim.,1118,SFO_274908,00.html

“Science and Business: A Bad Mix?”

            First human death from gene injection during surgery. 



6. Robotics


“Digiscents Mines Human Genome to Make Sense of Smell”

Company press release; Work with DoubleTwist in invention of “Aromagenomics” to revolutionize world of smell.


Morrow, Lance  “Robots: Will They Love Us?  Will We Love Them?”

Robots with human characteristics.  Projections of convergence with humans and robots.,2960,53848,00.html

Rochell, Anne.  “Robot Assists in Pediatric Surgery.”

            Doctor repairs 2-year-old’s heart with help of robot named Aesop.


Suplee, Curt.  “The Robot Revolution Is on the Way”

Various devices entering every life.  Robotics are on the verge of explosion.  Quotes from Moravec and Kurzweil concerning machine competence surpassing any human intelligence.

“The Robot Revolution!” (Robots in Portland)

Various examples of current robotic creations by corporations and people; facts on telerobotic projects; neat inventions.  (13-page website).

“World’s Greatest Android Projects”

18 examples of humanoid robotic projects from around the world.  Honda’s $100 million robot that can walk up and down stairs.  Life-size pictures included.



7. Military


Barnaby, Wendy.  “Blood on Their Hands”

Biologists not owning up to the truth that their work is leading to creation of ever nastier weapons.


 Regis, Ed.  “Biowar”

Various examples of altering organism’s genes for strange experiments such as people with gills, or permanent body armour (Mr. Armadillo). 



8. Ethics


“Embryonic Cell Debate Is On”

Two opposing views of stem cell research.  A wheelchair bound, blind, and partially deaf Director of National Catholic Office of Persons with Disabilities believes humans should learn to appreciate their vulnerabilities.  Professor of cell biology believes people will become accustomed to producing embryos for utilitarian uses.,1286,38401,00.html

McGee, Glenn.  “Ethical Issues in Genetics in the Next 100 Years.”

Projections of bioethics in the next hundred years in three key areas:  bearing children, increasing healthiness of the public through reduction of “bad” genes, as well as the creation of programs in which the ideas are generated that genetics merits it’s own category of analysis and regulation.  (A lecture presented in Kobe, Japan to the UNESCO Asian Bioethics Congress; Kobe & Fukui Japan, November 6, 1997).


Noble, Dennis.  “The Gene’s Out of the Bottle.”

            Argues that a more open style of politics is needed if people are to make educated

            decisions about future uses of biotechnology.  It is wrong to assume that all

forms of biotechnology are potentially dangerous.  Regulation and public information should be directed to ensure that benefits and information be made as widely available to the public as possible.   

New Statesman, 09/27/99, Vol.128 Issue 4456, pxxvi.

“Religion Grappling With Tech”

Science institutions want to help ethical problem that stems from religion through education.,1282,37483,00.html


9. Climate Change


Official Scenarios:


Cutajar, Michael Zammit.  “Press Briefing By Executive Secretary Of United Nations

Climate Change Convention.”

Briefing #2 points:

Likely consequences of global warming include: the spread of insect-borne diseases, a rise in health hazards, sea-level rise, changes in rainfall, increased stresses on agriculture and forests.

Briefing #3 points:

One scenario stated that the Russian Federation, Canada, and countries near the North Pole might have increased opportunity for agricultural production despite various downsides such as different soils and the release of methane.  In addition, global warming is expected to increase the frequency and severity of tropical storms. 

Briefing #4 points:

The challenge is to develop technology that would sell cars which were cleaner and that responded to people’s needs.

Mccarthy, Michael.  “Heat Is On The US As It Claims That Planting Trees Will Stop Global Warming.”

            The UN’s official research body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,

            released a paper stating that hundreds of scientists now think the atmosphere will

warm at twice the rate anticipated a decade ago.  Implies disaster for billions around the globe, namely in agricultural and rising sea-level senses.  Britain’s own climate scientists drew similar conclusions last week.

“The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Forests in Latin America”

UNEP issued baseline scenario stating that poverty and demographic pressures are the main causes of environmental degradation.  Figures of yearly loss of tropical rainforests, as well as assessments of forests at risk.

“United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”

Most reporting Parties stressed they are facing significant vulnerability to current climate phenomena.  All countries assessed climate changes have impacted agricultural and food security, and many have noted possible adverse effects on fisheries, water resources, and human health (in terms of air quality and disease).

Subsidiary Body For Implementation

Thirteenth session, Part II

The Hague, 13-18 November 2000

Agenda item 10 (c)



Unofficial Scenarios:


Ahlstrom, Dick.  “Climate Change May Switch Off Gulf Stream.  Ireland’s Green Fields May Be Replaced

By Frozen Tundra With Severe Storms and Extensive Flooding, If Predicted Climate Change Takes Place.”

Two main scenarios emerging for this region: One, that the Atlantic force more frequent and stronger storms at this region.  Two, that rising temperatures will speed the melting of Europe’s glaciers and cause Ireland to turn into frozen tundra.

The Irish Times.  News Features, p.16. Nov. 2, 2000.


Binnie, C.J.  “Climate Change And It’s Potential Effect On Water-Resources In Asia”

A recent scenario for 2050 shows most of Asia warming by over 1 degrees Celsius.  Mean annual precipitation would decrease in parts of Southern Asia.  Detailed models of Europe show significant changes in seasonal rainfall, which will lead to an increase in domestic and municipal demand for water.  Regional climate change studies must be ordered to develop future water resource planning. 

Journal of Water Supply Research And Technology-aqua.  Vol.46, no.5, pp.274-282, Oct. 97.

Edwards, M.J.  “Security Implications of a Worst-Case Scenario of Climate Change in the South-West Pacific

A worst-case scenario is presented for the island states of the Southwest Pacific in terms of land loss or rendered inhabitable as a result of climate change impacts.  Land loss is the focus of the paper for two reasons: One, land is interwoven with the economic, spiritual, and cultural security of the people on these islands, and two, an environmental threat is more threatening than any other social aspects of these areas. 

Australian Geographer.  Vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 311-330, Nov. 99. 

“Hydro Keeps Emissions Low in Brazil”

            US Pew Center has recently released a study that examines Brazil developments. 

            It produces very little greenhouse emissions due to hydro-electric power,

however, gas emissions are expected to quadruple over the next 20 years.

Water Power and Dam Construction.  p.6. July 31, 2000.

“INSIDE TRACK:  Optimism Over Global Warming WORTH WATCHING”

Scientists published a more optimistic scenario in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists which states that the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is not needed.  Funded by NASA, the study says that instead the focus should be on the declination of other variables such as black soot, ozone and methane.

Financial Times (London).  INSIDE TRACK: p.19. August 31, 2000

Mongomery, David.  “Is Global Warming Hot Air Or a Cold, Hard Fact Of Life On Earth?” 

Predictions for Scotland of global warming changes including: submerged golf courses, increased severe storms and temperatures, loss of biodiversity, and flooding.

            The Scotsman. P.4, Nov. 25, 2000

Vergano, Dan.  “Dispute Burns Over Cure For Hot Air.”

Tensions are rising as various studies of how to stop climate change produce differing answers.  UNEP’s conclusion of an average temperature raise of 10 degrees, in addition to NASA’s focus on reducing black soot, ozone and methane, are resulting in dissent from environmentalists and scientists.

USA Today.  LIFE: p.10D.  Nov. 14, 2000






B) Remarks for an Introduction to Future Ecology (By Antonio Casolari, September 2000)



‘The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason;..’[Condorcet, 1795, ‘Esquisse d’un Tableau Historique des progres de l’esprit humaine’]


Hippocrates [c.460 - c.377 BC], the most celebrated Physician of antiquity, known as the 'Father of Medicine', made the following biting statement:  'There are in fact TWO things, SCIENCE and Opinion. The former begets  KNOWLEDGE, the latter Ignorance.'   It’s a good basis to start a quick look at a field usually covered by misconceptions.

The exercise of Science is possible because '..The universe is governed by a set of rational laws, that we can discover and understand.' [Stephen Hawking [1942 -], Mathematics, Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, in 'A Brief History of Time', 1996, Bantam Books, NY]. Further, Arthur Kornberg [NY, 1918 -] who discovered DNA polymerase - for which he shared the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine - and who was the first to synthesize a viral DNA [Stanford Univ. Med. Center, Dept. of Biochemistry, wrote [Science (1992), 257, 859]: '..Science is unique among all human activities - unlike law, business, art, or religion - in its identification with progress'.


Nature = the universe with all its phenomena. [Webster] 


  Charles DARWIN [1809-1882] obtained wide recognition after publication of his great work  'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection' [1859], founding the theory of Evolution. He was perhaps the greatest expert in living organisms. Darwin published: 'The Fertilization of Orchids' [1862]; 'The Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication' [1867]; 'The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex' [1871]; 'The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals' [1872]; 'Insectivorous Plants' [1875]; 'The effect of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom' [1876]; 'Different Forms of Flowers in Plants of the Same Species' [1877]; 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms' [1881]. 

Discussing on general aspects of Nature  with Joseph D. Hooker, Charles Darwin wrote [July 13, 1856]: '..What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of nature!' [Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol.6; 1990].

  As a matter of facts, one may take a walk in the highway of the Gigantic Disasters of Nature [GDN].

            1st GDN:  INBORN DISEASES [ID].  More than 3,300 genetic diseases caused by ‘inborn errors’ are actually known [McKusic, V.A., 1983, ‘Mendelian Inheritance in Man’, 6th ed., John Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore]. Among the most relevant consequences of ID one may find: autistic behavior, blindness, cretinism, deafness, dwarfism, IQ below 50, mental deficiency, paranoid ideation, skeletal deformity, cardiopathy, cerebral degeneration, cirrhosis, cranio-facial dismorfism, chronic polyneuropathy, growth retardation, impaired intelligence, multiple malformation, neurological disorders, neurosis, psychosis, premature aging, recurrent infections, etc.

Each year come into the world about 120,000 US babies with birth defects; birth defects contribute substantially to childhood morbidity  [in the US 5,000 to 6,000 infant deaths are attributed each year to the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS, attributed recently to the inborn error in the metabolism of  the short-chain L-3-hydroxylacyl CoA dehydrogenase] and long-term disabilities.

[ ]

About 1/3rd  of inborn diseases are accompanied by Mental Retardation, from mild to severe. An estimated 12 every 1,000 US school children have Mental Retardation

[ ].


2nd GDN: A LIFE  THREATENED by DISEASES, SENESCENCE and DEATH. – Human life is threatened by a collection of about 11,000 classified diseases [Intnl Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modifications, 4th ed., 1993, Washington, Public Health Service], caused by thousands of pathogenic viruses, bacteria, parasites, and physiological malfunctions. Furthermore, the benefices of a life threatened by diseases are accompanied by senescence, characterized by impairment of mind, sight, hearing, all the body, caused by the simultaneous and progressive piling up of cells damages [the wear-and-tear] produced by a collection of ‘natural agents’  like ‘natural peroxide radicals’ formed by the ‘natural metabolism’ of  the cells; ‘natural background radiation’ from the rocks and incoming from the outer space, causing multiple damages to the  DNA [‘The Biology of Aging’, J.A. Behnke, C.E. Finch & G.B. Moment Ed., Plenum Press, NY & London, 1978]; ‘natural toxic chemicals’ present in nearly all vegetable and fruits eaten daily [R. F. Keeler, 'Toxins in Plants', in The Safety of Foods, H.D.Graham Ed., AVI Publ. Co. Inc.,Westport, CO, 1982].

Further, one can add to the above grants, a natural collection of  mental affliction – from mild to severe - coming from sadness to despair, to depression, to the Alzheimer’s disease, to the borders of madness. All the above is mixed with the famous ‘struggle for life’, in a world chracterized by violence [men against men, men/animals against animals, men/animals against plants], down to the widespread idiocy. [In connection with the  human ‘natural idiocy’ it can be remembered that during less than 3,700 years [historic age] a total of  3,050  [± 100] wars were fought in the world , for a total of 19,162 years-in-war].

To complete the feast, the phycho-physical degradations are crowned by the very final ‘error catastrophe’, the ‘natural death’.


            3rd GDN: MAN, ANIMALS, PLANTS.

The Nobel Prize for Peace [1952] Albert Schweitzer [1875-1965], Medicin, Philosopher and Humanitarian, wrote: ‘..Nature does not have any respect for life. Beings live at each other expenses. The nature compels them to commit the worst cruelties. Nature is beautiful and wonderful if seen from the outside, but reading in his book it fill us of disgust..’.

Examples of disgusting cruelty in the animal world are innumerable. Only few paradigmatic situations follow.

3.1 - PARASITISM. Two examples would be enough to describe both the cruelty and the disgust. [A]. The ichneumonoidea are wasps living freely, as adults, but passing their larval life as parasites feeding on the bodies of other animals. The most common victims are caterpillars [bytterfly and moth larvae]. The free-living females locate an appropriate host  and convert it to a food factory for their own young: many females lay their eggs directly upon the host's body. Since an active host would easily dislodge the egg, the ichneumon mother often simultaneously injects a toxin that paralyzes the victim. The caterpillar lies, alive but immobile, with the agent of its future destruction secure on its belly. Most often, adult females of ichneumons pierce the host with their ovipositor and deposit eggs within it; the host is not otherwise inconvenienced, at least until the eggs hatch and the ichneumon larvae begin their grim work of interior escavation, by gnawing the inside of the caterpillar, devouring almost every part of it except the skin and intestines, carefully avoiding injuring the vital organs. Finally, the larva completes its work by devouring the remaining internal organs, the heart and central nervous system, killing its victim, and leaving behind the caterpillar's empty shell. [S.J. Gould, ‘Non-moral Nature’ in Great Essays in Science, quoted;]

[B] - The Fieraster, is a small fish living most of the time inside the aquiferous lungs of  the holothuria, gnawing little by little some lung of his host. At night, the Fieraster leave some time his host to search for some fruit, and then recovering to his warm lung at daybreak.


3.2 – FLESH-HEATING MAN AND ANIMALS. Men share with many animals [wolves, coyotes, jackals, foxes, bears, raccoons, cacomistles, coatis, kinkajous, olingos, weasels, linsangs, genets, civets, mongooses, hyenas, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, lines, cheetahs and more than 150 different species], collectively termed carnivores,  the habit of being flesh-heaters. Wild animals usually – but not exclusively – catch animals of  different species, smaller, weaker, defenceless,  inexperienced young, whether or not herbivores. I doubt it exist some ethic guide - other than ‘natural idiocy’ - not regarding as the worst crime the killing of living beings for eating them; the killing of weaker subjects is regarded by common laws as an aggravant. The man exerts the same killing activity as wild animals; even  worse, the man  breeds cattle, horses, sheep, poultry, fishes, etc., in billion of heads, with the exclusive purpose of slaughtering and heating them. Such massive breeding for killing overcome any conceivable justification. It’s an unacceptable cruelty. In the same contest, also the herbivore animals eat living beings, because plant material is made of living cells. Thus even the eating habit of herbivores can be envisioned as an unacceptable cruelty against life. Life is a collection of chemical mechanisms not essentially different in animals and men, with the seldom-revealed exception of the human understanding capacity. Nor the plants are fundamentally different from animals, except for the unique capability of plants to synthesize organic matter from the simplest matters as water, light, carbon dioxide and inorganic salts, what grants to plants the complete nutritional autonomy. The Plant kingdom is the best – although imperfect too - result of Nature.


            4rd – CANCEROGENIC NATURAL CHEMICALS. A great threat to human life comes from cancerogenic substances present in common ‘natural foods’. 'ABOUT 50% OF CHEMICALS - WHETHER NATURAL OR SYNTHETIC - THAT HAVE BEEN TESTED IN STANDARD, HIGH-DOSE, ANIMAL CANCER TESTS ARE RODENT CARCINOGENS.' [Ames, B.N. & Gold, L.S., 2000, Mutation Research 447, 3-13] The two Authors are the major world experts on the matter.

'Dietary Pesticides are 99.99% ALL NATURAL. ..Plants produce toxins to protect themselves against fungi, insects, and animal predators. Tens of thousands of these natural Pesticides have been discovered, and every species of plant analyzed contains its own set of perhaps a few dozens toxins. When plant are stressed or damaged, such as during a pest attack, they may greatly increase their natural pesticide levels, occasionally to levels that can be acutely toxic to humans. The human intake of these toxins varies markedly with diet and would be higher in vegetarians. ..We estimate that Americans eat about 1.5g of natural pesticides per person per day, which is 10,000 times more than they eat of manmade pesticide residues. chronic cancer tests carried out for the purpose, about HALF of naturally occurring pesticides resulted to be CARCINOGENIC...the natural pesticides that are rodent CARCINOGENS are present in the following foods: anise, apple, apricot, banana, basil, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, caraway, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, coffee, collard greens, comfy herb tea, currants, dill, eggplant, endive, fennel, grapefruit juice, grapes, guava, honey, honeydew melon, horseradish, kale, lentils, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, orange juice, parsley, parsnip, peach, pear, peas, black pepper, pineapple, plum, potato, radish, raspberries, rosemary, sesame seeds, tarragon, tea, tomato, turnip. '  [B. N. Ames, M. Profet and L.S. Gold, 1990, 'II. Dietary Pesticides (99.99% All Natural)' in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences USA 87, 7777-7781].

That’s enough to claim ‘ why [the Delaney Clause] isn’t it applied to natural carcinogens?’ [P.H. Abelson, 1993, SCIENCE 259, 1235].


5th – PLANETARY GDN: EARTHQUAKES, TORNADOES, STORMS, FLOODS; CROP DESTRUCTION by PEST; ETC.   The Big Nature does not disregard to ADD some gift of planetary relevance.

EARTHQUAKES: during only the 20th century about 110 major earthquakes occurred,  each causing 1,000 or more deaths, for a TOTAL of about 2,216,528 victims.

TORNADOES, STORMS, FLOODS, ETC.: Number of  DEATHS Caused  from 1888 to 1994: 624,365, equivalent to about  5,890 Deaths / year.

DEATHS by U.S. TORNADOES amount to about  4,905 / 70 years [1925-1995].

PEST: '..the tsetse fly puts about 100 million people and 60 million heads of cattle at risk in sub-Saharian Africa due to the transmission of tripanosomiasis .' [ICIPE, 1997, ‘Vision and Strategic framework towards 2020’, ICIPE Science Press, Nairobi, Kenia ]

PEST accounted for pre-harvest losses of 42% of the potential value of crop [eight crops that together occupy half the world's cropland, with harvest wrote $300 billion over 1988-1990], with 15% attributable to insects and about 13% each to weeds and to pathogens. An additional 10% of  the potential value was lost post-harvest [Oerke, E.-C. et al., 1994, ‘Crop Production and Crop Protection’, Elsevier, Amsterdam]. [American Phytopathological Society;]

'Herbivorous insects are said to be responsible for destroying one fifth of the world's total crop production annually.' []

Maize is the main staple food in sub-Saharian Africa. In the Kenyan highlands, total losses of maize due to pests were estimated at 57 percentage [Grisley, 1997,]

In Zimbabwe, grain damage of 92 % stored maize was reported due to insect pests [Mutiro, C.F.  et al., 1992, Zimbabwe J. Of Agric. Res., 30(1), 49-58 ].  In sub-Saharian Africa insect pests, in addition to fungal diseases, are responsible for 50 percentage damage in cassava [Yaninek, J.,1994, Proc. 5th Symp. Internat. Soc. for Tropical Root Crops-Kampala, Uganda, pp.24-26].

Infestations of stored cowpeas can be as high as 90 percentage in markets and in village stores [Alebeek, 1996,]

In Kenya, the National Food Policy Document reported up to 30 percentage destruction of  harvested maize due to pests during storage and handling [Wongo, L., 1996, Post Harvest Technology, vol. 11, p. 30].  In West Africa, up to 100 % damage to cowpeas may happen in a few months after storage due to infestation of Callosobruchus maculatus [Lienard, V.  & Seck, D., 1994, Insect Science and its Applicat., 15(3), 301-311]. Post-Harvest losses of grains due to rodents is estimated to range between 2 and 12% on the average, rising up to 20-100% in some countries as Egypt, Belize, Sierra Leone, Korea, Ethiopia [Hopf et al., 1976 >>].


LOCUST.  Locusts can damage a wide variety of crops. Damage resulting from adult locusts flying into an area can be sudden, unpredictable and devastating. Migrations of 500-600 km overnight are not uncommon. In 1984, during a major outbreak of the Australian plague locust, estimated crop loss was $5 million. Without control, losses would have been $103 million. The damage caused by an uncontrolled outbreak may reach up to $200 million; in 1990, locust damage in Australia totaled more than $20 million, after widespread spraying cropping areas to control about 70% of locust population.[]


            6th – ARCHAIC GDN: NATURAL MASS EXTINCTION OF ANIMALS AND PLANTS. On the basis of fossil records, there is a general agreement among geologist/paleontologist over the existence of 5-6 major destructive events during earth's history, called Mass-Extinction [ME]. Some scientist suggests that ME were a cyclic phenomenon, occurring every 25-30 million years; accordingly, the number of ME during Earth history would be about 19 - 23 from the Cambrian period.

The cyclic ME theories seem to suggest that such destructive events would be caused by collision events with comets or asteroids having orbits passing through solar system with regular frequency, and colliding regularly with earth. Several evidences suggest that the crater near Yucatan peninsula was caused by an extraterrestrial impact which took place just about 65 millions years ago [the cretaceous period], and disrupting the earth's echosystem to such an extent as to cause ME.

The number of living species, which have ever existed, can be estimated to be about 5 billion. Today the biodiversity is greater than has ever before: the number of living species ranges - according to most scientists - between 12 and 100 million species. That is to say that more than 99.8 % of all species were destroyed by ME. 'Life on earth has suffered its share of catastrophes. In the last 600 million years there have been five massive holocausts of biodiversity, and eleven other mass extinctions of major extent. The great

Permian extinction, some 250 million years ago wiped out 90 per cent of all-preexisting species. At the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago, 60 to 75 % of species were killed off, including most of the dinosaurs, large marine reptiles, ammonites and flying pterosaurs.' [Scientific American, July 1996]. 

The above destructive capacities are well over any destructive capacity of communism [more than 100 million victims – S. Courtois, N. Werth, J-L Panne, A. Paczkowski, K Bartosek & J-L. Margolin, 1997, ‘Le Livre Noir du Communisme. Crimes, Terreur, Repression.’, Robert Laffont editeur, Paris] and nazism [ 25 million victims; Courtois et al., quoted above], though joined together.


            7th – COSMIC GDN. Universe is violence. It’s the greatest conceivable violence, by the so enormous, huge, dimensions and by the essence itself of the cosmic objects. Mind:

 A - The birth of the Universe with the greatest conceivable explosion: the big bang. ‘…The beginning of time would have been a point of infinite density and infinite curvature of space-time….At the big bang, the universe is have been infinitely hot. ..As the universe expanded the temperature of the radiation decreased…One second after the big bang it would have fallen to about ten thousand million degrees..’ [S. Hawking, quoted].

B - What makes the stars shine is a continuous hydrogen bomb explosion. Just our Sun shines, forwarding heat and radiation into the space, through a continuous and infernal tripudium of hydrogen bomb explosions: [four] hydrogen nuclei fuse together to form [one] helium nucleus; the mass irradiated into the space amounts to about 4,000 million kg each second.

C - The number of Galaxies amounts to about 1,000 billions, each made of some ten billions of stars and of an unknown number of orbiting planets. The stars spinning round the center of galaxies, the galaxies spinning round local groups, local groups going away each other in the expanding universe. Large galaxies gently gulp smaller ones or smash into each other (the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are ‘.. closing  the 2.5-million light-years gap between them at nearly 500,000 kilometers per hour.’ [R. Irion, 2000, SCIENCE 287, 62-64], in cataclysms explosion of hellish potency [R. Irion, quoted], (hellish light, hellish roar) forwarding the shine just to the ultimate limit of universe; where only echoes live of such remote explosions, together with only a memory [2.7°K] of the billions degree reached by the cosmic explosion of 12 billion light years ago.  

D – At the center of the Galaxy, the presence of a supermassive black hole of 2.6±0.2 x106 solar masses [M⊙] [F. Yusef-Zadeh et al., 2000, SCIENCE 287, 85-91], in an area spanning 30 light-years, was proposed ‘ explain the tremendous energy –equal to 100 million Suns – pouring from the center ..’ [E. Stokstad, 2000, SCIENCE 287, 65-67].

What’s a vision completely different from the quiet image of the starry night.



The disasters of nature are many, horrible, and of cosmic dimension.

‘The practice of that which is ethically best – what we call goodness or virtue – involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence.  … The cosmic process has no sort of relation to moral ends. The ethical progress of society depends not on imitating the cosmic process, but in combating it.’ [Thomas Henry Huxley, in ‘Evolution and Ethics’, 1893]


Humankind must endeavor to subtract the entire environment to the violent power of Nature. All aspects of life on the Planet must be taken under control, to temperate, modulate the idiotic, criminal, random, senseless violence of nature.

The achievements of Science and Technology in the last century were some thousands. The life span effectively doubled in the last century. Some hundreds millions people survived [were subtracted to the destructive power of nature] to diseases as a result of huge progress in biology, medicine, therapy; hygiene, welfare.

The most insane policy is unable to turn the planetary situation to a level worst of the actual one inherited by the insanity of nature. Anyhow, I trust the time of criminal policies [like communism and nazifascism] ended forever last century.

We, the people, we have freedom and  internet. We are achieving such high levels of Scientific knowledge, that in the nearest future human intelligence will be widely expanded up to leave very few chances to uncontrolled natural events, few chances to violence.

I trust the human intelligence will prevail.

‘…the perfectibility of man is truly infinite;..the progress of this perfectibility from now onwards must be independent of any power that might wish to halt it.’ [CONDORCET, 1795, ‘Esquisse d’un Tableau historique des progres de l’esprit humain’.]



‘It is simply a design fault that we age and die? If cells were not programmed to age; if the telomeres, which govern the number of times a cell divides, did not shorten with each division; if our bodies could repair damage due to disease and aging, we would live much longer and healthier lives. New research now allows a glimpse into a world in which aging – and even death – may no longer be inevitable.’ [J. Harris, 2000, SCIENCE 288, 59].



Recommended readings:

CONDORCET, 1795, ‘Esquisse d’un Tableau historique des progres de l’esprit humain’. [Outline of a Historic Table of Human Mind Progess]

English version of Ch. 10: ‘The Future Progress of the Human Mind’:

Complete French version: