There was an Onion piece entitled Natural Selection Kills 38 Quadrillion Organisms In Bloodiest Day Yet which got me thinking:
One of the most puzzling things about environmental activism is the idea that humans aren’t part of the natural order. However, extinctions and mass extermination of habitats have been happening on the earth for as long as anyone can remember. If we aren’t driving species to extinction or destroying habitats, some other species or volcano or meteor are.
So what is so particularly horrible or outrageous if humans do what nature has always done? Why do people call human activity like industrialisation or “pollution” as “unnatural” compared to a volcano covering an entire area with acidic volcanic ashes? Why are humans morally reprehensible for driving species to extinction but not when nature or other natural forces do it?
It seems to me that the ONLY basis for such a judgement is if one believes that somehow humans are above or beyond nature and, as such, justifying human activities as “unnatural” as opposed to the rest. But unless one believes in some kind of divine mandate of stewardship over creation, then the default mode is that of naturalism. Humanity, and all human activity, is as natural as anything else, and everything we do is perfectly in line with nature. Why should we be judged differently for exterminating species when nature and evolutionary processes have been doing it for eons? Evolutionary survival of the fittest means that we are at the apex of the natural order, and may damn well do whatever we please with the weakest. Who imposed upon us duties to transcend the natural order?
As friend of mine later replied:
We are a product of evolution, and everything we use is found in nature or synthesised from something found in nature. What I find particularly strange is the idea that animals are a necessity but humans are not, that animals somehow “deserve” the planet and we don’t. A girl I talked to some time ago said that the planet was fine before we came along, and that it doesn’t need humans. Fair enough, but my response was that it doesn’t need animals either. The planet doesn’t need anything at all, it’s just a rock.
Later on I added:
As a Hobbesian, I am all for acting for self-interest and/or self – preservation. If we want to keep certain species because we like to look at them in zoos, by all means. If we need to pollute less so as not to suffer from poisoning, then by all means.
But our survival and our ability to keep some pets in our zoos is compatible with mass extinction of a lot of the species, and even very dramatic climate change. So we can’t live in Europe anymore, let’s just migrate to Antarctica where the ice has melted.
All in all, unless we’re talking about some moral imperative or intrinsic value to preserving our present ecology, from a self-interested pov, very dramatic changes to our ecology is consistent with our survival and our desire to keep some pets.