Professor Dr. Necdet Serin
University of Ankara
From the moment man learned to use fire, he started changing the face of the earth. Now, more people are at last becoming aware of the way in which modern technology, through its hasty and unthinking applications of scientific knowledge, or of technical facility, has been defacing the environment and lowering its habitability. The murky torrent of pesticides, herbicides, detergents and other chemical pollutants and radioactive wastes now insidiously undermines not only man’s life directly, but that of all the cooperating species with which the well-being of his own existence is involved.
To learn the evolution of physical and biological processes is an indispensable step towards the knowledge one needs before making changes to the land. But it is far from enough. It is necessary to know how the biosphere works.
When designing a flight of steps or a sidewalk there are clear regulations; there are constraints against the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors; society reacts to the sale and use of narcotics. And there are strong laws to deter assault, rape and murder. But there is no comparable concern, reflected in law, that ensures that dwellings are not built on a floodplain, on unconsolidated sediments, in an earthquake zone, or in areas liable to subsidence or landslides.
While great efforts are made to ensure that we do not break an ankle, there are few deterrents to arrest the dumping of poisons into the source of public water supplies or their injection into groundwater resources. We are clearly protected from assault by fist, knife or gun but not from the equally dangerous threats of various pollutants in the atmosphere. There is no protection from the assault of noise, glare and stress. So while a handrail may be provided for our safety and convenience by a considerate government, we may drown in a floodplain, suffer loss of life and property from inundation of coastal areas, from an earthquake or hurricane; the damage or loss of life could be due to criminal negligence at worst and unpardonable ignorance at best, without the protection of governmental regulation or of laws.
It should clearly be otherwise; there is a need for simple regulations, which ensure that society protects the values of natural processes and is itself protected. Presumably development can occur in areas that were suitable where dangers were absent and natural processes unharmed.
As Professor Ian McHarg indicates, the formulation of these requires no new science. The knowledge of the late 19th century would be sufficient. We can initially describe the major natural processes and their interactions and thereafter establish the degree to which these are permissive or prohibitive to certain uses. When this is done, it is the duty of the governments to ensure our protection through the proper exercise of legal power.
If we use water as an indicator of the interaction of natural processes we observe that a single drop of water may appear and reappear as cloud, precipitation, surface water in a river, lake or ground water; it can participate in plant and animal metabolism, transpiration, condensation, respiration, combustion and evaporation. This same drop may appear in considerations of climate and microclimate, water supply, flood, commerce, agriculture, forestry, recreation and scenic beauty etc. We conclude that nature is a single system and any change to any part will affect water, water management will affect land processes. Therefore, nature cannot be considered as a uniform commodity that is appraised in terms of time distance, cost of land and development and allocated in terms of decars or hectares per unit of population. Nature, of course, is not uniform but varies as a function of historical geology, climate, physiography, soils, plants, animals and consequently intrinsic resources and land uses. Lakes, rivers, oceans and mountains are not where we might want them to be, but are where they are for clear and comprehensible reasons. Nature is intrinsically variable (McHarg, 1969).
In many parts of the world it is clear that the biosphere is deteriorating. This deterioration is not only an eyesore, but also a serious threat to the future of our society. It is endangering existence of life. Systematic recource to artificial processes to replace a variety of commodities, such as drinking water and air, which nature arranged to provide us free of charge, is a waste of community’s resources.
More Action Less Words
Considering all those intergovernmental environmental conferences and other meetings we can talk about credibility and acceptability of environmental conservation, but more of political response to the environmental concern generated by ecological scientists. The real test for conservation is the state of our environment and its natural resources. Future generations will judge us by our actions rather than words.
With more and more people each having the right to claim and consume more, a wiser, healthier relationship with earth resources becomes critical. Another fact which we don’t want to see is the industrial technology and international trade that caused a massive waste of human resource, so we are making an industry out of leisure and consuming more natural resources in the process.
The industrialized countries have exported many of the side effects of their economic activities to the developing world. For example, demand for timber leads to destruction of tropical rain forests at an unbelievable rate, leaving sterile ground behind that is exposed to erosion.
Unfortunately, conservation is seen by some groups as contrary to economic interests. It is blamed for hindering developments and slowing economic growth, for adding to costs and thus buttressing inflation.
Hopes for the Future
Many of the objectives of the conservationalists of the 1960’s have been achieved. One is the restriction on the use of certain pesticides which were having a disastrous effect on wildlife, especially birds of prey at the end of the food chain. Another is the creation of a network of nature reserves. Third is the legal protection of much of our natural values.
We must consolidate and improve upon the achievement of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s to start to relate the population to the availability of the earth resources; to keep the air clean; to protect best quality soils, special habitats and sites, and the seas around us and to revitalize and enhance our urban areas. A rational use of our land and water is required, upon scientific and professional assessments of their capabilities and optimal, sustainable yield; and we need to learn more of the scope multi-purpose use.
At the individual, national and international level, we have the task of putting appropriate measures into effect.
Man’s power to transform his environment for better or worse is greater than at any time in history. And this means that we cannot escape or shrink our responsibilities to our fellows on this planet and to future generations. Thus, we should inform everyone about ecological principles and foster a commitment to the rational use of natural resources and the enjoyment of nature.
UNESCO/UNEP environmental education programme set out in the Tbilisi Conference in 1977, demonstrates the revelance of environmental thinking to every facet of modern life. But, since Tbilisi very little has been done by national governments. That would mean we need to adopt better and more rational Biopolitics to be able to conservee the resources of the biosphere aand tto establish a more education system that cares for the future.
Better Education for more Effective Action
Youth does not only possess the future, but claims a massive share of the earth’s natural resources, right now.The population of young people is expected to reach one billion by 1991. Thus, greater attention must be paid to environmental education of youth, which would be the most secure way to develop a sound human interaction with nature, in order to make sustainable use of natural resources.Young people, however, should not be considered as passive receivers of environmental education; on the contrary, they must actively participate in the public environmental discussion.Education in other words, is more than information; it entails involvement, a fact quite categorically overlooked by the eco-establishment of non-governmental and governmental institutions (Byvanck 1985).
As young people account for more than half of the world population, it is of great importance to draw their interest in biosphere and biopolitics. Undoubtedly, the most efficient way is to adopt a different approach that is essential to maintain diversity in the biosphere and an overall ecological balance, while ensuring a long term attitude of individual and collective responsibility to achieve correct biopolitics for the natural environment.
Unfortunately, the matter so far, only partially being taken up by the teaching profession, notwithstanding the growing share taken by environmental education9on in curricula. Formal education plays a necessary and specific role in this field, but it does very little for immediate action.
Children possess an innate curiosity for everything around them, and it is therefore a simple matter to stimulate their interest in nature. But can this be fully achieved by conducted courses in an artificial classroom atmosphere.
It is obvious that environmental education at school does not suffice to develop true ecological awareness among young people, urging them to do something themselves. This calls for the continuous commitment, practical experience e in the field, and freedom of action which belong precisely to the complementary field out of school education, in which voluntary self-governing youth organisations for the study and protection of nature and the environment, pursue their activities. Although there are numerous associations most being affiliated to the International Youth Federation for Environmental Studies and Conservation (IYF) extended their sphere of action to all aspects of the environment, they traditionally devote the major part of their programme to various activities specifically designed to protect natural habitats, fauna and flora.
In addition, youth societies offer valuable help to citizen’s action groups opposing certain planning projects detrimental to the environment, by providing them with scientific arguments justifying the conservation of threatened sites (Pallemaerts, 1980).
Greater understanding of the problems and principles of nature protection, on the part not only of the public but also of people directly or indirectly involved with the exploitation, transformation and management of the land, demands adequate information and education at all social and professional levels.
After all these explanations it is not wrong to say that education, training and information are the cornerstones of nature conservation and biopolitics if we consider the matter seriously. Accordingly dull and theoretical educational approaches must be replaced by vivid, real and considered educational environmental programmes which undoubtedly would contribute developing true biopolitics that will care for our blue planet so for the only life station in the whole universe known by us.
- McHarg, I. 1969, Design with Nature. The Natural History Press Gordon City, New York.
- Boote, R. 1980, Taking up the Challenge Naturapa. No. 34/35 Council of Europe.
- Byvanck, D. 1985, Youth Organizations Natura No. 50. Council of Europe.
- Pallemaerts, M. 1980, The Role of Young People. Naturopa 34/35. Council of Europe.
Professor Necdet Serin was born in Izmir in 1933. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science, Ankara University in 1957, becoming a Full Professor in 1976 and Dean of the Faculty of Political Science from 1982 to 1987. Professor Serin is the President of the Turkish Economic Society and the Turkish Economic Society Foundation, council member of the International Economic Association, member of the administrative board of the European Community Society and member of the administrative board of the Public Administration Institute for Turkey and the Middle East. He is also a founder member of the Turkish Marketing Foundation. He has represented Turkey in many meetings as head of the Turkish delegation. He has published numerous articles and four books on Turkey’s economic development and foreign trade.