Earth rights, public goods and nanotechnology: the new challenge for the social scientist

Peace & Security06 Jul 2010Paulo Martins

The link between human rights and the environment consists of the Earth Rights expressed by the Kasentini Principles.

Earth Rights

The Earth Rights / Kasentini Principles consist of 5 chapters and 26 principles. The first and second principles are very important for the social scientist to understand the relationship between human rights, public goods and nanotechnology:

‘1 – Human rights, an ecologically sound environment, sustainable development and peace are interdependent and indivisible.2 – All persons have the right to a secure, healthy and ecologically sound environment. This right and other human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, are universal, interdependent and indivisible.’

In this text, I assume that the right to a satisfactory environment is a human right because ‘environmental damage has a direct effect on the enjoyment of (a) series of human rights, such as the right to life, to health, to a satisfactory standard of living, to sufficient food, to housing, to education, to work, to culture, to non-discrimination, to dignity and harmonious development of one’s personality, security, person and family, and to peace.

Conversely, human rights violations in their turn damage the environment. This is true of the right of people to self-determination and their right to dispose of their wealth and natural resources, the right to development, to participation, to work and information, the right of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression.’

My conception embraces a vision of justice that encompasses the values of civic participation and freedom, social equity, and ecological sustainability. In this context, I understand that nanotechnology poses big challenges for all scientists, especially for the social scientists.

Roles for social scientists

As criticsWith nanotechnology, the knowledge framework currently consisting of a division of knowledge into natural sciences, the humanities, and the social science will necessarily change. Nanotechnologies are multidisciplinary in essence, so social science has to contribute to this.

As realistsSocial scientists mostly analyze the lack of access to nanotechnology. This is one central point to see who will be outside the use of this technology or will be excluded from this process. Also, nanotechnology promises a revolution in how to produce the goods in general and what will come of the public goods. This is an open field for the social science researchers.

EthicsWith relation to ethics, the social scientist can contribute to distinguishing ethics from prudence, ethics from cost-benefit analysis, and the ethics of technologies not of techniques. Another very good question could be to ask for social scientists that have the rural world as their object of research, as for example the possibility of a total revolution in the agricultural bases of production imposed by nanotechnology. How can this process become an ethical process for the rural society?

As utopiansWe can use our social science imaginations to think more expansively, not about reform, but about large-scale transformations. We – collectively – have to know what will be the new dominant technological trajectory and who it will impact in our society. With this clarified and with sociological imagination, we can understand the large-scale society and conceive and build better societies.