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608 / UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTAL DISRUPTION

measures. Distribution ofNyaccines) for instance, would viruses against which there is little or no resistance in
be difficult if airlines, trains, and trucks were not_ human populations can easily be done in theory; it may
^running. already have been done in practice. There were at one
In many parts of the world, public-health conditions time rumors of the development by the American CBW
are developing that have a high potential for disaster. establishment of a pneumonic rabies, one that, instead of
The rats that live on stored grain in India have renewed being transmitted by bite, is transmitted in the same way
the specter of a major outbreak of (bubonic plague/ as the common cold: from person to person via exhaled
Nitrate pollution of water is creating conditions in which droplets. This is certainly possible, since under special
dangerous soil organisms are brought into contact with conditions (such as those that sometimes occur in caves
human beings for the first time. The organism that has full of rabid rats) rabies appears to have been transmitted
recently caused cases of a fatal meningitis has been through the air. Such a disease would be a disastrously
identified as a soil-dwelling amoeba.228 It may be just the effective weapon if it were transmitted by infected
first of many such agents to appear seemingly from individuals before symptoms appear, since once they do
,fr nowhere. appear, rabies is (with one notable recent exception) 100
Trrigarinri project8 in the tropics and subtropics aroundpercent fatal. Other possibilities for lethal agents are/lO'
V the world are spreading the Conditions that promote the many—for example^nthrax) which even in its "naturalvCI
/.garasitic diseas^fchistosomiastTTbilharzia]^ which, to- state can be transmitted by contaminated aerosols.
/ gether witHJlnalaris!^ is one of the two most prevalent plague, tularemia, Q-fever, and encephalitis, to name a _
serious diseases on Earth.229 The broadcast use of jew231—disseminated in their natural forms or in the
chemotheragy_and antibiotics has created a serious, form of special "hot" strains that are drug-resistant or
medical problem through the inTrnffyfrinn r>f resistance^ superlethal. Besides direct assaults on human beingj,.
JTL bacteria and other parasitesjModification of the overt or covert attacks on aSarion's food supplt mjgbLbe-
^climate would~also inevitablyjnjuencejdisease patterns^ rnade byintroducing plant diseases. The more crowded i
for example, the length of time viruses remain infectious population is, and me smaller its per-capita food sup-
is in part a function of humidity. A trend toward drying plies, the better a target it would be fos-a biolo;ges!
would encourage some, whereas others would thrive in warfare attack. ATTVocfe. °f\. J off
increased moisture. , Tt is smpfwi^ in addition, that Why would nations develop such weapons? For tfce
feather changes can trigger epidemics.23^ same reason they develop others. They hope to immur.;ii
As if the threat of a natural pandemic were not or otherwise protect their own populations and fc;
gruesome enough, there is always the threat of biological avoid a biological backlash. These weapons have ;
warfare or of an accidental escape of lethal agents from a special appeal for small and poor powers, which see
biological warfare laboratory or, conceivably, from a themselves threatened by larger, richer ones and which
laboratory engaged in genetic engineering experiments ~~x lack the funds or the expertise to develop nuclear
r
(seejnaterial on recombinant DNA research in Chapter") / weapons.252
J4]J Although most laypeople have long been afraid of J Chemical-biological weapons may never be used, but
thermonuclear war, they are just beginning to grasp the that does not rule out the possibility of an accident. Virus
colossal hazard posed by chemical and biological warfare laboratories, especially, are notoriously unsafe. By 196",
(CBW). Any country with one or two well-trained some 2700 laboratory workers had become accidentally
microbiologists and even a modest budget can build its infected with viruses transmitted by insects, and 107 had
own biological doomsday weapons. Constructing lethal died.233 Their deaths were caused by just one group
228 231
J. H. Callicott, Amcbic meningo encephalitis. F. M. LaForce et al, Epidemiologic study of a fatal case of inhalaLi; -
229
K. S. Warren, Precarious odyssey of an unconquered parasite; N. anthrax; J. Lederberg, Swift biological advance can be bent to gescc-.^.
232
Ansari, Epidemiology and control of schistosomiasis. M. Meselson, Behind the Nixon policy for chemical and biolofjiaj
230
K. E. F. Watt, Ecology and resource management, McGraw-Hill, warfare.
2
New York, 1968, p. 162 ff. "Hanson, et al., Arbovirus infections.
DIRECT ASSAULTS ON WELL-BEING / 1609

of viruses. Fatal accidents occur in laboratories where Some level of research might bejgntinuing clandes-
work is done on other kinds of viruses, as well as other tinely in the United jtates ^although the possibility
microorganisms. The inability of government CBW seems remote), and_it would be a simple matter for a
agencies to avoid accidents was made clear by the Skull future administration quickly to reestablish biological
Valley, Utah, CBW disaster of 1968, in which many warfare-xapability. Indeed, with the rapidly increasing
thousands of sheep were poisoned when a chemical agent ability of biologists to manipulate the genetics of micro-
"escaped,"254 and by the possible escape of Venezuelan organisms, dtegossibilities for creating deadly agents
Equine Encephalitis from the Dugway, Utah, proving jieem endless^* FurthermoreTthere^ is littksign that the
ground in 1967. Congressman Richard D. McCarthy of U.S. action has led to the end of work on biological
New York announced in 1969 that CBW agents were weapons elsewhere. Biological warfare laboratories are
being transported around the country in small containers potential sources of a man-made "solution" to the
on commezaal airliners! population explosion^It is essential that some way be
In J969,^President Nixon announced the unilateral found to block all further work on biological weapons—
renunciation by the United States of the use of biological the risk for humanity is simply too great.
warfare, even in retaliation.235 He directed that the stocks It should be clear now that humanity is creating an
of biological agents be destroyed and that further work enormous array of hazards that directly threaten the
onjiefenses _agajnst_ biologica^weapons be transferred health and welfare of all people. Unfortunately many of
from the Department of Defensgjp the Department of these hazards are poorly understood, and many un-
Health, Education and Welfare._Destruction of U.S._ doubtedly remain unrecognized at present. The next
biological warfare materials was systematically carried^ chapter shows that the level ofTindirect threats to human/
out in 1970 and 1971,^feougjC5(l9753it was discovered welfare Is just as high and the level of understanding
that the (Central intelligence Agency\had not destroyed just as low.
some toxins in its possession.
234 ;3
P. M. Boffey, 6000 sheep stricken near CBW center. *P. Berg ct al., Potential biohazards of recombining DNA molecules.
J!5
M. Meselson, Chemical and biologicalv 'ific American,
Mav 1970.

Recommended for Further Reading


Cairns, John. 1975. The cancer problem. Scientific American, November. A superb
semi-popular review of environmental carcinogenesis.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Annual. Environmental quality. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. Extensive data and discussion on recent measured
levels of air and water pollution across the United States, as well as special topics in
energy, land use, transportation, radiation, and environmental legislation and
regulation.
Huddle, N.; M. Reich; and N. Stiskin. 1975. Island of dreams: Environmental crisis in Japan.
Autumn Press, New York. Well-documented and illustrated survey of the serious
environmental problems of one of the world's most intensely industrial nations.
HE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

some research institutes need to be investigating and Could an Escherichia coli strain [a variety of a ubiqui-
reporting on much more detailed questions. For exam- tous bacterial resident on the human digestive tract]
ple, is medical research being done with adequate carrying all or part of an oncogenic virus become
attention to the needs of all segments of the population resistant in the human intestine? Could it thereby
become a possible source of maUgmancv? j^p^ld such a_
and to birth control as well as death control? Are the
strain spread rhrnuphnnf a human population? What
benefits and risks of the breeder reactor being studied in
would be the consequence if even an insulin-secreting,
proper depth? What are the possible dangerous con- strain became an intestinal resident? Not to mention
sequences of further investigating the properties of a the more malign or just plain stupid scenarios such as
given virus or biocidal compound? those which depict the insertion of the gene for
These questions have been settled largely by the botulinus toxin into Escherichia coli>M
scientific community in the past, with results that can
most charitably be described as mixed.26 For a long time In early 1975 an international scientific meeting es-
the thrust in research was that whatever could be tried tablished a set of safety principles under which such
should be tried. Physicists exploded the first atomic research could be continued. The scientists at the meet-
bomb after Germany had been defeated and Japan's ing concluded that the more dangerous experiments
defeat was a certainty, although some of them apparently should be deferred until special "crippled" strains of
thought at the time there was a nonzero chance that the organisms could be developed— that is, strains with a
explosion would destroy all life on Earth.21 It is difficult to very low probability of surviving outside the laboratory
find parallels, outside nuclear weaponry, displaying quite (experience has shown that there is no such thing as an^
this degree of willingness to risk total environmental "escape-proof' microbiological laboratory^. Some of the
disaster, but traces of it arguably are present in proposals scientists, however, argued against social control of the
to "wait and see" what the consequences of assaulting the experiments, claiming an absolute right to free inquiry.
ozone layer with fluorocarbons or SST fleets will be. . Since that meeting, various attempts have been made to
On the bright side, microbiologists Paul Bers; and draft rules that would permit doing this dangerous
Stanley Cohen of Stanford and Herbert Boyer of the research, and there has been continuing controversy.30
University of California in mid-1974 called_oji_ their In these cases, scientists themselves have assessed the
"""""""""•>^™—————•—_«••-—-—^*S53
to bring to a halt research orfcecombinanj
B^BBMBW*""
risks and then "voted" for all of humanity. With regard
^studies involving transfers of genetic material to the atomic bomb, the possible savings in American
from one species to another.28 They recognized that (and Japanese) lives by shortening World War II may-
hybrid microorganisms could cause extraordinarily vir- have come into the calculus, and perhaps also the thought
ulent infectious disease and that die experimental work that sooner or later someone else would blow up an
(could conceivably lead to the spread ot A-bomb without knowing for sure that it would not
antibioticsior to the escape of bacterial strains carrying. destroy the planet. But would the people of the planet (to
oncogenic (cancer-inducing) viruses. A distinguished say nothing of the other living organisms) have voted yes
molecular biologist L Robert Sinsheimerjhas written: to taking, say, a one-in-a-million chance on oblivion in
order to speed victory for the United States in World
War II? (That the chances of killing all life on the planet
> ~6See, for example, the contrasting views of F. J. Dyson, The hidden
cost of saying "no!"; and P. R. Ehrlich, The benefits of saying "yes." turned out to be zero is beside the point— the scientists
->7N. P. Davis, Lawrence and Oppenheimer. There is no doubt, in light involved were not sure of that at the time.)
of present knowledge of nuclear reactions, that the chance of igniting the
atmosphere with a nuclear bomb and thereby extinguishing all life on
Earth is truly zero. A completely persuasive case on the point is made by ''Troubled dawn for genetic engineering. The article also contains 2
H. A. Bethe, Ultimate catastrophe? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, June good, brief, layperson's introduction to the technology of DNA
1976, pp. 36-37. Bethe's further contention, however, that the scientists manipulation.
30
on the nuclear bomb project were completely sure of this in 1945, is not Sinsheimer, Troubled dawn; Nicholas Wade, Recombinant DNA:
persuasive. NIH Group Stirs storm by drafting laxer rules; Bernard Dixon, Recom-
28
P. Berg, et al., Potential biohazards of recombinant DNA molecules. binant DNA: Rules without enforcement? ,
CHANGING AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS / 819

Similarly, in the case of recombinant DNA, although be obscured in attacks on the personal philosophies of
scientists seem to be acting much more responsibly, we experts. . . .31
must still ask whether they are the appropriate ones to
As they pointed out, some mechanism is needed so the
make the decision. J4o laboratory safeguards can guaran^
public and decision-makers can separate the technical
tee that an accidental escape will never occur. Are the
opinions of scientists from their political opinions.
possible benefits to medicine and agriculture of this _
One suggestion for opening up the process of ethical
research worth any risk of releasing a serious plague or
decision-making in science has been put forward by
cancer-inducing organism? We do not know the answer,
physicist Arthur Kantrowitz.32 He proposed that in
but we think the franchise on the decision should be
science policy disputes (such as those over SSTs and
extended to include at least representatives of those who
ozone, DDT and ecosystems, the risks and benefits of
will be taking the risks and (perhaps) receiving the
recombinant DNA research) the technical aspects of the
benefits.
cases be, in essence, tried in a scientific court. The first
step would be to separate the scientific from the moral
f The Science Court J and political questions. What might be done with genetic
engineering technology is a disputable scientific ques-
One danger in allowing scientists to decide an issue for tion, in principle soluble by experiment; what should be
society is that often the specialists in a field disagree^ done is a political-moral question not in principle
violently on the proper course of action for society to, amenable to experimental solution.
take, even though they may have no serious disagreement Once the separation had been accomplished, then
on the known salient facts. For example, qualified advocates of the different scientific points of view would
scientists have been assembled on both sides of issues "try" them before scientific judges. Thus, scientists
such as whether to develop the .SST, ban the use of convinced that DDT posed a serious threat to ecosystems
pesticides and aerosols, or develop nuclear power, to could present their case, and the scientific advocates of
name a few. As Stephen Schneider and Lynne Mesirow the ecosystemic safety of DDT could present theirs. Each
observed regarding the SST battle: side could cross-examine the other. The judges would be
selected for their neutrality on the issue, but would have
An interesting point here is that most of the bitter the benefit of scientific training to help them evaluate the
scientific antagonists in the SST debate were probably opposing views. The final step would be publication
in far greater agreement on what was known and
(within the limits of national security) of the opinions of
unknown scientifically, and on the odds that state-of-
the scientific judges.
the-art estimates would be correct, than they were over
whether the evidence justified opposition to the planes. It is easy for anyone familiar with scientific disputes to
That is, the interpretation of the weight of the attack these proposals. In some cases the separation of
evidence that guided their opposition or support was scientific from moral and political questions is difficult.
based not only on the scientists' technical knowledge Is the question "Are blacks genetically less intelligent
of the issues, but also on their personal philosophies — than whites?" scientific or moral? We would claim that
on whether or not they wanted the SSTs and on the very posing of the question is a political act about
whether they thought the benefits of the project were which a moral judgment can be made—but in theory it is
worth the risks of ignoring the worst possibilities. This a question amenable to experimental investigation.
is not to suggest that most testimony was deliberately A thornier problem would be selection of judges. In
misleading, but rather that scientists, like most people,
many cases today, disputes concern the negative direct or
shade to some extent their perception of the merits of
conflicting evidence with the shadow of their personal indirect effects of technology on humanity or on the
philosophy . . . . The issues facing future generations T/Kgenesis strategy, pp. 188-189.
arc too critical to permit the technical components to 'ScCj for example. Controlling technology democratically.