In the ongoing debate (which has been great) over the extent to which environmentalism should expand beyond notions of sustainability to the welfare of individual animals, I have never once challenged the core belief that preventing species extinction is of paramount concern to all environmentalists. But once we unpack that assumption a little more, we will discover that the entire realm of environmentalism is fraught with contentious moral and value judgments.
The question arises: Why do we have an imperative to prevent species’ extinction in the first place? The Earth routinely wipes out almost all living things and starts from scratch.
Of course, most of you will point to notions of human wellbeing and argue that our lives will be threatened if we allow massive species extinction.
True, but there are still probably millions of species we could live without. We humans could live perfectly fine lives without having every single species of bird, salamander, frog, deer, fish, whale, etc. In fact, we’re already living proof that we can, since tens of thousands or more species have already gone extinct over the past century.
Others may simply state that we humans don’t have a right to choose which species live and die. Why not? Who says? And if we don’t have a right to make a species go extinct, then why do we have a right to horribly abuse individual members of that species?
Some commenters have erroneously confused making value judgments with promoting something akin to religious beliefs. I have simply laid out a series of observations and facts about the world that I think lead to certain moral conclusions about how we should treat certain animals, and which I think any movement which concerns itself with wildlife should accept. I don’t claim any higher moral authority at all and anyone who agrees with me doesn’t need to either.
But to those of you enamored with species preservation above all else let me throw the ball back into your court. On what principles do your claims rest? And don’t you realize that they are just as impossible to “prove”? That they are fraught with moral ambiguity and strong value judgments?
The truth is that at its core environmentalism is a series of gigantic value judgments. We can and should continually argue about what those values are and why we hold them, which is what I have been trying to do. But to pretend that there is some sphere within environmentalism that is purely scientific and factual, while others somehow represent the imposition of “personal” views is flatly wrong.