2 thoughts on “Humans and non-humans

  1. I was put off by the sentence at the beginning: “Governments, institutions, and regular people have cheered the material expansion that has cost many species (and tribal peoples) everything.” The contrast of “regular people” and tribal-peoples-in-parentheses, especially in the context of a comment on the genocide of said tribal peoples, seems a lapse by both writer and editor.

    I read the whole article twice, and I submitted a long comment there. The author (a marine ecologist) says that human existence (or even material well-being as we currently understand it) doesn’t depend on any particular species and, therefore, that we can’t invoke such a human need as a reason to preserve species from extinction. The need doesn’t exist, and the request is a political non-starter. Rather, he says, we should appeal to beauty; we should save wild species because we find that they give meaning to our lives. That is true, he says, and also might rally people to the cause.

    I pointed out in my comment that there is surely middle ground between “material need” and “beauty.” Some elements of an ecosystem meet our material needs even if those needs aren’t staggering existential ones (like the extinction of the entire human species). They might be more modest, individual, or probabilistic needs (like whether I, personally, am healthy). And just because my own health may not be a political winner doesn’t mean it isn’t grounded in fact.

    Another thing I didn’t mention on my comment on the article, but that I believe is important, is that even existential material needs do not ensure politically viable arguments. It’s pretty obvious, for example, that nuclear weapons can destroy the planet and wipe out humanity. Do we politically mobilize, on a national or global cooperative scale, to figure out what to do about this? Are we successful in that mobilization? No. The threat of nuclear weapons remains pretty much the same as it’s been for 80 years. So, what’s the answer here? Should we change the line of argument to say that nukes are…ugly? That they make us sad? Is that argument a political winner? I don’t think so.

    Of course there is a difficulty with how we reason about material and scientific problems and how we allocate energy into successful political campaigns to resolve them. I’m just not convinced, though, that we don’t actually need wild species, nor am I convinced that informing people that nature is merely beautiful will yield successful political results.


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