The environmental movement, addressed in “Rewilding North America” by Caroline Fraser, focuses on the negative outcomes of human activities in the environment. It is a movement that restores the environment that humans have damaged. Scientists have addressed the idea, in “A life of its own” by Michael Specter, of using synthetic biology to mend environmental issues. Synthetic biology combines the “elements of engineering, chemistry, computer science, and molecular biology…to assemble the biological tools necessary to redesign the living world” (Specter 364).
There are both positive and negative impacts of a synthetic world on the environment movement. The environmental issues consist pollution, depletion of natural resources, extinction of endangered species, population, protection of natural areas, etc. Synthetic biology can aid some of these issues, but further deteriorate others as well. A way that synthetic biology could potentially enhance the environment is through the creation of “cheap drugs, clean fuels, and new organisms to siphon carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” but only “if the tools of synthetic biology succeeds” (Specter 265).
However, some of the processes that the environmental movements undergo contradict with the ideals of synthetic biology. Therefore, moving towards a synthetic world will hinder some of the environmental movements on several issues such as, the usage of money, habitat and animals, nature, animal cruelty, but the anticipated benefits are without a doubt worth the cost. Although it is disheartening, money controls many decisions that humans make. Just like every other movement, synthetic biology will need funds for the project to initiate, so it will be spent in one of two ways.
Many environmental conservation organizations have already “invested decades and millions of dollars in established programs” to protect endangered species and habitat (Fraser 120). Programs such as these have allowed environmental movements to further their progress in preserving natural habitats. However, synthetic biology would essentially compete against rewilding for funds, and hinder the environmental movement. One example of the competition between the environmental movement is the option of using cores and corridors versus to previous established programs.
Initially, the promotion of cores and corridors was rejected by the organizations at first. Later on, rewilding advocates created a new group, “seeking to reshape the environmental movement,” and acquired money from Tompkins and Johns. The rewilding movement ultimately took money away from other programs, and changed the concept of the environmental movement. Now another decision has to be made between rewilding and synthetic biology. Because money is limited, organizations can only support a limited amount of movements.
By funding synthetic biology, other environmental movements will be halted, whether it is better or for worse. The environmental movement is important, but it does not take priority over synthetic biology. On the issue of nature, the environmental movement and a synthetic world stand at different spectrums. Nature has constantly been molding the earth, and ever since humans came, with their technology, the environment has started to deteriorate. The movement for nature focuses on the negative impact of humans on to nature.
Many of the movements that are in affect “recognized that wilderness cannot be preserved by sealing it (natural forces in the environment) off,” and therefore scientists are trying to assist nature’s independent process (Fraser 112). However, synthetic biology goes against this movement. One of the main purposes for synthetic biology will be to manipulate nature so that humans can obtain the necessities that nature fails to give and is explained by Keasling, C. E. O. f the Department of Energy’s new Joint BioEnergy Institute, of how “we have got to the point in human history where we simply do not have to accept what nature has given us,” and through synthetic biology we can “construct a new metabolic pathway, one that did not exist in the natural world” (Specter 366). Synthetic biology is essentially opposing the process of the environmental movement for nature, by trying to control nature instead of assisting the process of nature.
But even though the process of synthetic biology and the environmental movements are different, the goals of both are them is the same: to create a better world for humans to live in. However, synthetic biology has the possibility to fix many environmental issues. Consider the issue for pollution. The current environmental movement urges us to reduce the amount of fossil fuel. This does not actually ramify the problem of pollution; it only decreases pollution. But, synthetic biology can essentially stop pollution by creating cleaner fuel. Even though ynthetic biology hurts the current environmental movement, synthetic biology ultimately fixes the problem that the current environmental movement could not fix. Because humans have caused habitat and animal loss in many parts of the world, environmental movements have been set out to restore the loss. The environmentalists tried to create space for animals to live in, such as connected parks or animal rehabilitation centers. Siebert explains how “human beings have made use of the earth without much consideration for the environmental needs of other animals,” and therefore caused the decline of animal population and habitat (320).
A synthetic world would only catalyze the decline of animal population and habitat, because a synthetic world would populate more human beings without regulation. The human population will increase through synthetic biology because it allows humans to have a healthier life. There will be cures to diseases, even possibly for cancer. Death for humans will decrease, but as the population of humans increase, the territory needed for humans will increase as well. As a result, animal habitat will be taken away, and cause a decline in the animal kingdom. The progress that the environmental movements made will be reversed by synthetic biology.
However, this does not mean that synthetic biology should not be used, but rather it means that human just have to regulate the growth of society somehow. A synthetic world is worth having but without regulations, a synthetic world can and will ruin the progress of the environmental movements for habitat and animal restoration. The movement Singer and Mason generally focuses on is animal rights. Singer and Mason iterate how livestock have valuable lives, and therefore they have rights on this earth. However, synthetic biology generally opposes the idea of animal rights. Scientists treat experimental animals as equipment.
Humans use animals to test vaccines, and if the vaccine fails to cure the animal, the animal dies. Synthetic biology will only increase the usage of animals as test subjects, and this is iterated when Specter says “we’re just not sure that it would be all that much fun for the mammoth (an experimental subject)” (369). The scientists are using animals as test subjects for human gain, and not environmental gain. The animal rights movement that Singer and Mason support would be deteriorated by synthetic biology. Specter addressed an environmental problem regarding to energy, and how oil and coal “won’t ork any longer” (377). In the case of the depletion of natural resources, a synthetic world would actually aid the environmental movement. Both the synthetic biology and the environmental movement desire to create an alternative power source to stop pollution. Synthetic biology will be used as a tool for the environmental movement to solve the problem of the depletion of natural resources. Synthetic biology has the potential to “produce five times the energy we need on this planet and doing it in an environmentally benign way,” which will solve the problem of depletion (Specter 373).
The synthetic world ultimately creates a new world of where energy and resources are produced abundantly, without damaging the world that we live in. Synthetic biology can be utilized for the environmental movement, and solve many of the environmental issues. Also, synthetic biology helps another environmental issue of pollution. Fossil fuel and coal cause “disastrous environmental consequences,” but through alternative fuel, created by synthetic biology, pollution will decrease (Specter 377). The environmental movements would then focus on helping synthetic biology achieve its goal of producing alternative fuel.
Environmental movements will halt with their current projects and move towards the success of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology has the potential of solving many of the problems that the environmental movements are trying to solve. The purpose of synthetic biology is to undo the mistakes that the humans made. The goals of a synthetic world are to mend the environmental issues in this world: pollution, scarce resources, loss of habitat and species, population growth or decay, nature, and protection of natural environment.
The utilization of synthetic biology promises the creation of cheap drugs, clean fuels, cleaner atmosphere, and more. However, for synthetic biology to initiate, other environmental movements must be sacrificed. It is not because the environmental movements were ineffective, but rather because synthetic biology has the potential to be more effective than the current environmental movements are working now. Therefore, moving towards a synthetic world will hinder some of the environmental movements, but the benefits that synthetic biology promises are without worth the cost.
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