Intuition and the Creation of a Better World

The Ecology of Hope

M.S. Swaminathan

Dr M.S. Swaminathan has had a remarkable career as a teacher, plant breeder, administrator, advisor, conservationist and practical reformer, both in India and on the international stage. He is Founder and Chair of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Madras, India. The Foundation, based in his native Tamil Nadu, carries out research and community development that is "pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-women". It aims to ensure a kind of development that is not only environmentally sustainable but also socially equitable. This article was first published in the journal People & the Planet, Volume 8, Number 4, 1999 and we are grateful to the editors of the journal for permission to publish it here. For further information on People & the Planet visit their website.

The 20th century [ended] with remarkable achievements in every area of science and technology. In addition to impressive progress in physical and life sciences, [the century ended] with significant accomplishments in social evolution.

There are now uncommon opportunities for providing every child, woman and man with an opportunity for a productive and healthy life during the 21st century. Accomplishing this task will not however be easy, since economic, social and gender inequity is not only widespread but is increasing further.

Achievements during [the 20th] century in improving human health and longevity and food production and security indicate that progress in overcoming chronic social ills can be rapid, provided appropriate blends of political action, social mobilisation and technology development and dissemination can be fostered.

One clear statement on how science and technology could be mobilised to meet the basic needs of every single member of the human family is contained in a declaration by nearly 2000 scientists from all parts of the earth, who participated at a World Conference on Science convened by UNESCO and the International Council of Science (ICSU) at Budapest, Hungary [in 1999].

The Budapest Declaration on Science and the use of scientific knowledge states: "We all live on the same planet and are part of the biosphere. We have come to recognise that we are in a situation of increasing inter-dependence, and that our future is intrinsically linked to the preservation of the global life-support systems and to the survival of all forms of life. Science should be at the service of humanity as a whole, and should contribute to providing everyone with a deeper understanding of nature and society, a better quality of life and a sustainable and healthy environment for present and future generations."

The Declaration further states: "Science and Technology should be resolutely directed towards prospects for better employment, improving competitiveness and social justice." The declaration calls for special attention to the expansion of scientific literacy and skills among women and families living in poverty.

The science agenda-for-action adopted at Budapest calls for scientific advice to become an essential factor in informed policy making. It also recommends that "all countries should protect intellectual property rights (IPR) and recognise that access to data and information is essential for scientific progress".

Thus, the World Conference on Science, while recognising the need for greater efforts in harnessing science for meeting basic human needs, also notes that proprietary science is expanding and that research designed for public good and supported by public funds is shrinking. The earlier slogan, "publish or perish" is getting replaced by a new one, "patent or perish". The veil of secrecy in scientific work is getting rapidly enlarged. The scientific problems relating to the health and livelihoods of the poor will tend to get neglected, since under a market-driven scientific regime, "orphans will remain orphans".

As a follow-up to the Budapest Conference, it is necessary for every nation and for the international scientific community to develop some basic ground rules for ensuring that science serves this public good. Such a paradigm shift from a materialistic to a humanistic scientific era will call for international co-operation in adopting a package of measures such as the following:

* Enhance support from public funds for research relating to basic human needs and environment protection.

* Make a distinction between discovery and invention with refence to patentability. For example, make patenting of DNA sequences in human and plant genomes ineligible.

* Introduce compulsory licensing of rights in the case of patents of relevance to the food and health security of the poor and the ecological security of the planet.

* Reduce the life span of patents particularly in the field of information technology.

* Revise the Trade Related Property Rights (TRIPS) component of the World Trade Agreement so as to harmonise its provisions with those of the ethics and equity provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

* Incorporate in the World Trade Agreement a provision which enables member nations to tailor import policies which will enhance and not erode the livelihood security of the poor.

To help governments ensure that trade and development policies enhance ecological security and livelihood opportunities for women and men living in poverty, a World Trade Agreement Contract Facilitation Service should be established consisting of social scientists, gender specialists, environmental and employment experts. Such a service should be mandated to assist in converting the "trade and not aid" concept of poverty alleviation from rhetoric to reality.

The ecology or hope movement will become a reality only if principles of ethics and equity govern all areas of human endeavour. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of life science industries. For example, what we now refer to as "medicinal plants" are the products of observation, selection and conservation by tribal and rural families over several centuries. Yet these primary conservers of material and holders of knowledge live in poverty, while those who use their knowledge and material in breeding and biotechnological enterprises live rich.

Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, technology has been a major source of economic inequity among nations and communities. If technology has been a cause of inequity in the past, today we have an opportunity to make technology an ally in the movement of social, gender and economic equity. Modern information technology provides this opportunity.

Preventing wars

Knowledge and skills can now be gained at a fast pace. However, the technological and skill empowerment of the poor cannot be achieved through programmes designed on the basis of a patronising, top-down approach. The information provided should be demand and need-driven and the knowledge centres should preferably be managed by women belonging to the socially and economically underprivileged sections of the society. Our aim in the early part of the coming century should be the initiation and spread of a Knowledge Revolution for ending economic and gender inequity.

The accomplishment of the tasks I have outlined so far requires considerable technical, managerial and financial resources. Indra de Soysa and Nils Petter Gleditsch, of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, have studied the causes of armed conflicts during the last 10 years. They found that violent conflicts in most cases could be traced to economic rather than ideological differences. They have hence suggested that investing in agriculture which helps to promote food and livelihood security in many nations is an effective strategy for preventing future wars, eradicating poverty, preventing environmental destruction and reducing violence.(1)

Unfortunately even now, far too high a proportion of national GDP is being spent on arms and military equipment as compared to programmes designed for poverty eradication and meeting the basic needs of the underprivileged sections of humankind. The so called "peace dividend" still remains only in the realm of possibility, as pointed out by the International Commission on Peace and Food. (2)

The year 2000 has been appropriately designated the International Year for the Culture of Peace. Without peace and human security, it will not be possible to ensure the basic human needs to every child, woman and man. It will be appropriate to recall on this occasion what Dwight D. Eisenhower, a great war leader who subsequently became the President of the United States, stated on August 16, 1953: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."

Harnessing science and technology to fulfil the basic minimum needs of every child, woman and man living on our planet will be possible only if this message becomes central to the ethos of human culture.

Guiding principle

To sum up, we are ending this century with a huge stockpile of scientific discoveries and technological innovations. This stockpile is more than adequate to help all nations to provide every adult human being an opportunity for a healthy and productive life and every new-born child a happy future. It is therefore a sad commentary on our political, social and spiritual value systems that the number of children, women and men living in poverty today exceeds the entire human population of our planet at the beginning of this century.

Unsustainable life styles and degrading poverty co-exist everywhere. This is the greatest failure of the developmental pathways and strategies adopted during this century, Can we lay the foundation for the emergence of a new political, social and scientific commitment to end the irony of widespread human misery and deprivation prevailing in the midst of uncommon opportunities for a better common present and future for all? In my view we can, provided every one of the nearly two billion persons who are enjoying a healthy and productive life today will keep the following advice of Mahatma Gandhi as the guiding principle in his/her day-today life and work.

"Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen, and ask yourself, if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny?" Soysa, Indra and Nils Petter Gleditsch, 1999, To cultivate peace รท Agriculture in a world of conflict. International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo, Norway.

2. Swaminathan, M S (chairman), 1994, Uncommon opportunities: An agenda for peace and equitable development, The report of the International Commission on Peace and Food. Zed Books, London and New Jersey.


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