Sunday, October 21, 2007

Groundless Environmentalism

Tibor R. Machan

As one considers all the calls issued by environmentalist for people to desist from interfering with wild animals and plants, one may notice that something vital is hardly ever addressed. For example, a recent program on PBS featured supposedly endangered giant crocodiles and the narrator repeatedly insisted that there must be serious, worldwide measures adopted by governments to make sure that these huge animals remain alive and flourish, even if this means depriving many human beings who hunt them of their livelihood.

Even giant killer crocodiles are protected and elaborate bureaucratic maneuvers are needed in order for professional hunters to save people from them. One such bureaucrat on a program I caught insisted that the giant killer crocodile must not be destroyed, no matter what, never mind the danger it poses to the local human population (in Burundi).

Mind you, I am very glad that there are these animals. I enjoy learning about them, watching their behavior. I am even in favor of not endangering them needlessly, provided this does not intrude on the efforts to nearby humans to live and flourish. I am very much in favor, as a recent book of mine is titled, Putting Humans First (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). Yet I have nothing against efforts to make sure that various interesting animals or plants are well taken care of by those who care about them.

What bothers me a lot is that I do not hear any discussion on the various programs that address endangered species just what criterion is appropriate when deciding whether a given endangered animal or plant species can be left to wither. After all, animals and plants come and go in and out of existence all the time. History is replete with this process of extinction and regeneration. The fact that in some cases the process involves decisions and actions by human beings seems to me entirely innocent. Such is life on planet earth. Unless it is demonstrated that something vital is lost when a species becomes extinct, I am not convinced that it needs to be saved. Mere sentiment cannot suffice as a reason for interfering with the human use of animals. After all, animals are routinely killed off by other animals or by various disasters that occur in the wilds with no help from human beings. Just what is to determine whether the extinction of some living species are part of the natural order or some kind of malfeasance on the part of human beings?

This is never discussed in these programs, although intimations are made that there is something necessarily bad about any extinction or even endangerment. But why is this to be believed? No one appears to address this issue and, instead, narrators keep suggesting that people who kill or endanger wild animals are evil and must be stopped from doing so. There appears to be very little but rank misanthropy afoot here, without a serious examination of whether what people who use wild animals are actually doing anything wrong.

It is no answer to say that such people are hurting animals, or even to claim, perhaps quite truthfully, that they are helping to extinguish animals or plants. As already noted, animals and plants are extinguished all the time, much of the time by other animals and plants. So when people take part in this process, it is not at all clear that they are perpetrating something evil or even environmentally harmful. The mere dismay that some people feel when wild animals and plants are extinguished or endangered clearly does not suffice to make a case for its being wrong to do so.

If it were entirely costless to carry out policies that stop endangering species of life, hardly anyone could complain. But it isn’t costless. Often it is the livelihood of many human beings that gets sacrificed in order to stop endangering non-human life. And that is what should be at the forefront of thinking about this topic—people matter more than other living things, generally speaking.

Of course it would be swell if nothing that is liked by various human beings became endangered. Reckless, wanton destruction is certainly something to be avoided. But that is not what’s at issue here. The misanthropy evident from many who express concern in most p0ublic forums about the environment—a loose term if there ever was one—seems to have no support at all other than sentiment. And such sentiment should not be permitted to undermined human life and flourishing.

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